| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Aug 16 When Bill Aulet tries to
hire faculty to bolster entrepreneurship courses at MIT, where
he is a senior lecturer at the Sloan School of Management, he
often runs up against a familiar challenge.
"We bring in people and interview them all the time," he
said at a breakfast in San Francisco last week to mark the
publication of his new book, "Disciplined Entrepreneurship."
"They're not MIT rigor. And we get to see the best of the best."
The paucity of teaching talent underscores what he sees as
the biggest drawback in entrepreneurship education: much of it
is subpar, relying on what he describes as inspirational
anecdotes rather than demanding courses that teach discrete
behaviors and processes. The situation could cause a backlash
against entrepreneurship, he said.
Such a backlash, Aulet said, could lead to undesirable
outcomes including lack of policy geared toward entrepreneurship
- such as tax breaks, or visas for foreign entrepreneurs - or
fewer people starting companies.
"Entrepreneurs won't receive the support they need," he said
in an interview with Reuters.
His outlook led him to write "Disciplined Entrepreneurship,"
which he said fills in some of the gaps for students not lucky
enough to attend entrepreneurship classes at MIT. It focuses on
how to settle on and deliver the right product for a start-up,
through chapters such as market segmentation, product
specification and pricing frameworks.
He sees the book supplementing programs offered at
universities and private institutions such as the incubators
that try to foster young companies, including Y Combinator,
based in Mountain View, Calif., and TechStars, held in several
locations around the country.
Aulet, who is also the managing director of the Martin Trust
Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, is not alone in his reasoning
when it comes to the academic programs and the students they
"We probably have a lot of inflated hopes layered over not
great methodology," said Dane Stangler, director of research and
policy at the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship-oriented
think tank. As graduates start businesses, many of which will
fail, they will come to resent the time and effort they spent on
"I worry a backlash looks like, 'Oh, this entrepreneurship
stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be,'" Stangler said in a
telephone interview. "That entrepreneurship gains a bad name."
But Dave Altounian, an entrepreneur turned academic at St.
Edward's University in Austin, Texas, said he doesn't quite see
eye to eye with Aulet when it comes to academic standards in
"I'm looking at a lot of empirically researched papers," he
says. ""The rigor used to look at a lot of entrepreneurship is
Where he agrees with Aulet is on the need for a blend of
instruction from both sides, including the richness of
experience that practicing entrepreneurs can bring to the
classroom. How to perfect the blend is becoming an increasingly
hot topic at the nation's universities, he said.
At some level, any insights into entrepreneurial methods
that students can gain is helpful, says Alison Wagonfeld, a
partner at Emergence Capital and a former case-study writer for
the Harvard Business School, because it can help change their
An increasing number of Americans are trying their hand at
entrepreneurship. More than 400,000 new businesses started in
2011, data from the Kauffman Foundation and the Census Bureau's
Business Dynamics Statistics show. That is up from fewer than
390,000 in 2010 and reverses several years of declines.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurship education is growing in
prominence, with more than 5,000 colleges and universities
offering entrepreneurship courses, compared with 250 in 1985,
according to the Kauffman Foundation. More than 500 universities
offer formal programs such as majors, minors or certificates in
entrepreneurship, Kauffman Foundation data shows.