Proof positive that entrepreneurial training works

Bruce Martin of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School: "Entrepreneurship is now seen as an engine for growth." photograph: jason clarke

Bruce Martin of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School: "Entrepreneurship is now seen as an engine for growth." photograph: jason clarke


INNOVATION PROFILE UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business SchoolAre entrepreneurs born or made? The latter, says a study on the impact of business education

The argument on entrepreneurial education has been raging for many years. One camp holds that entrepreneurs are born and not made, so that training and education are of little value to them.

The other believes that education can make for more and more successful entrepreneurs.

Research carried out by Dr Bruce Martin of the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School might just settle the argument in favour of the educators.

Martin, who is a lecturer in entrepreneurship on UCD Smurfit School’s MSc and MBA programmes, recently arrived in Ireland from McMaster University in Canada where he completed his PhD looking at entrepreneurship in disadvantaged groups with a particular focus on people with disabilities. His research began by looking at entrepreneurship education generally.

“Entrepreneurship education is a relatively new thing and there had been little research done on its effectiveness,” he says.

“Thirty years ago, it was hard to find any kind of entrepreneurship educational programme. Now you are almost tripping over them wherever you go. This is because entrepreneurship is now seen as an engine for growth and it is part of public policy to encourage it.”

He set out to measure the effectiveness of entrepreneurship programmes across the world and did so through what is known as a meta-analysis of previous studies.

“We found that 79 studies had been done on entrepreneurship training over the past two decades and meta-analysis is a statistical method used to combine many studies,” Martin explains.

“Forty-two of the studies were considered valid assessments and our analysis of them showed there was a significant and strong relationship between entrepreneurial education and the formation of human capital assets such as the skills and behaviours required to be successful entrepreneurs.

“There was also a strong relationship shown with outcomes in terms of successful start-ups. This was the first empirical large sample which provided evidence that entrepreneurial education does have a strong impact.”

People with disabilities

He then took the research a step further and looked at how entrepreneurship education might be used to assist people with disabilities.

He points out that World Health Organisation statistics indicate that 15.6 per cent of the world’s population have a designated disability of some kind and the majority of these people are significantly disadvantaged both socially and economically.

“It we look at the western situation, when we stopped institutionalising people with disabilities several decades ago, we did not embrace them either socially or in the workplace,” says Martin.

“We have got better in recent decades but there are still many issues and the WHO data on disadvantage proves this.”

One of the areas where great improvements have been made is the workplace, but there is still a way to go. The focus of employment training for people with disabilities has tended to be on workplace or organisational training rather than on preparing them for self-employment, despite the fact that people with disabilities have higher rates of self-employment than the rest of the population.

“They were spending considerable resources on organisational employment skills, but in recent years in the US and Canada, they have been looking at how they could help people to employ themselves. And there is some evidence to suggest that self-employment better suits people with disabilities perhaps due to mobility, social or other factors.

“There is also evidence that when people from disadvantaged groups are self-employed they are more likely to employ other people from the same groups. This adds to the value of entrepreneurial training for people with disabilities.”

Self-esteem increases

He carried out further research into entrepreneurial education for people with disabilities in Canada and found that there was a very strong relationship both with entrepreneurial behaviours and with the number of programme participants starting up their own businesses.

“There are strong indicators that these programmes are working and they do help people set up their own businesses,” says Martin.

“But we also looked at the self-esteem issue as people with disabilities have a higher likelihood to suffer from low self-esteem than other groups within the population.

“We expected that people who had become successfully self-employed would exhibit increases in self-esteem, and this was the case, but what we also found was that the nascent gestation behaviours involved in starting the business also had a positive impact on self-esteem.

“In this case it is the doing, rather than the success, that has the impact. Oftentimes it is the journey that is the most important thing to an entrepreneur.”

Martin is now continuing his research into the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education with 165 higher education institutions from around the world having signed up to participate in his next study.

He is also in discussions with a number of disability advocacy organisations in Ireland with a view to applying the results of his research here in Ireland.

“I am also bringing the results of my research and what we have learned in terms of the theory and practice of entrepreneurship into the MSc and MBA courses I am teaching on here at the UCD Smurfit School.”

An open evening on the MSc and MBA courses at the UCD Smurfit School of Business will be held on Wednesday, February 20th, at the Blackrock, Co Dublin, campus.

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