Nature Or Nurture

Can entrepreneurship be taught?

No matter how much that degree in entrepreneurship costs, even the purveyors of these expensive educations readily admit that there are key skills that just can't be taught. "You can teach people the quantitative skills of risk arbitrage," says Gregg Fairbrothers, a professor at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business and director of the school's Entrepreneurial Network. "But it's not clear to me that any of us knows exactly what you need to teach people to be superstar entrepreneurs." There is even evidence that some traits important to entrepreneurs, such as likability and risk tolerance, appear to be inherited or at least influenced by an individual's surroundings at an early age, says Howard Aldrich, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Genetics appear to play some role in entrepreneurial behavior," he says. "But it's not clear just how much."

Partly because the field of entrepreneurship is relatively young -- it has taken off only over the past 20 years -- it's hard to say precisely what effect the schooling has on budding moguls. A 1999 University of Arizona study did find that emerging companies that were owned by or that employed Arizona entrepreneurship grads had higher sales growth rates, for example, than those that employed the school's nonentrepreneurship graduates. But a large study looking at the general effectiveness of entrepreneurial training hasn't been done.

Still, even those with the raw talent to become great entrepreneurs might not necessarily have the skills to run a business that could make them successful. That's perhaps where a degree in entrepreneurship can be most useful. As Michael Roberts, executive director of the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship at Harvard, puts it: "Even Ted Williams took batting practice."

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