Case studies of corporate entrepreneurship from pe teachers: the importance of undergraduate training
The aim of this study is to ascertain the role that undergraduate training can play in entrepreneurship on Physical Education (PE). The problem that stimulated this research was the absence of specific curriculum that promotes an entrepreneurial mindset among PE undergraduate students.
We conducted a multiple case study using semi-structured interviews and content analysis as core research techniques. Triangulation was used by gathering data from the participants’ curriculum vitae, from fellow students (that haven’t any entrepreneurial activity) and from former participants’ teachers. The sample consisted of two PE teachers, aged 54, and recognized corporate entrepreneurs by key informants.
Both have made an important contributionto improve PE and different factors were referred to as influencing their entrepreneurial life course (entrepreneurial attributes, family, contact with professional settings, social/contextual factors and undergraduate training), revealing the importance of their education experience. Subjects, teachers, fellow students, activities/projects proved to be important during undergraduate training.
In conclusion, we can argue that, besides undergraduate training (and if possible, within it), knowledge of and contact with the entrepreneurial and professional fields,professional experience and tasks and activities that require initiative, will enable PE teachers to understand, foresee, plan and then innovate and improve their professional realities.
Entrepreneurs innovate and are in constant search of change, identifying and exploiting opportunities to create a different business or service (Drucker, 2003).
Entrepreneurship is a crucial characteristic in today’s society and is associated with a capacity for innovation, initiative (Drucker, 2003) and creativity (Collins, Locke & Shane 2003; Drucker, 2003; Baron & Shane 2008). It stimulates employment and economic growth (European Commission, 2003 and 2006; Redford, 2007; Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovação, 2007). In Drucker’s opinion (2003) systematic knowledge-based innovation is an entrepreneur’s main tool.
According to the European Commission (1995), innovation is in the entrepreneurial spirit, bearing in mind that practically all companies are born from the development of something innovative compared to others already on the market. We can distinguish between four types of innovation: product (a new good or service), process (a new production process, distribution method or support activity), organisation (new organisational method in business practices, organisation of the workplace or outside relations) and marketing (new marketing concept or strategy) (MCTES, 2008).
Over the years, researchers have described different types of entrepreneurship. In addition to entrepreneurship strictly related to the creation of companies, we also mention other forms not limited to this facet, such as corporate entrepreneurship, which is related with people who develop something innovative inside of an organization, contributing to its development and improvement (Sarkar, 2007; Kuratko & Montagno, 1989; Baron & Shane, 2008).
Some authors stress the influence of personal attributes, such as motivation (Collins, Locke & Shane, 2003; Ferreira, Raposo & Rodrigues, 2007), dissatisfaction (Brockhaus & Horwitz, 2002), persistence (Gomper, Kovner, Lerner & Scharfstein, 2010), determination (Lee-Gosselin & Grisé, 1990), humility, enthusiasm (Toftoy & Jabbour, 2007), locus of control, need for achievement (Collins, Locke & Shane, 2003; Franke & Luthje, 2003), self-confidence (Heinonen, Poikkijoki & Vento-Vierikko, 2007), self-sufficiency (Chen, Crick & Greene, 1998) or a propensity for risk-taking (Franke & Luthje, 2003). While self-sufficiency is a characteristic that makes entrepreneurs stand out (Chen, Crick & Greene, 1998), a propensity for risk-taking may not be (Brockhaus, 1980).
Gibb (in Erkkila, 2000) regards entrepreneurs as people who have the following personal attributes: initiative, capacity for persuasion, propensity for risk, flexibility, creativity, autonomy, problem-solving skills, a need for achievement, imagination, leadership and dedication to work. Fry, Stephens and Van Auken (2006) emphasize the influence of entrepreneurial role models and Erkkila (2000) the influence of exposure to entrepreneurship in family businesses during childhood.
A recent empirical study identified several factors that influenced the propensity to set up one’s own company among university students (personal attributes, entrepreneurs in the family, training, demographic profile, motivation), though it concluded that the most important influence came from training (Ferreira, Raposo & Rodrigues, 2007). On the basis of a study, Naia (2009) showed that undergraduate training was important in the careers of some entrepreneurs, even if there are no explicit guidelines to foster this characteristic.
Entrepreneurship education is a complex process. There are empirical studies that mention experience of success and failure in different countries and reflect considerable diversity and efforts at this level (Gartner & Vesper, 1994) and some authors, after analysing entrepreneurship programmes in Europe, concluded that their diversity and quality were increasing (Garavan & O’Cinneide, 1994). More and more people defend the idea that education systems can help promote entrepreneurship from basic education to university (European Commission, 2006), in all areas (Hynes, 1996).
This is a long-standing concern in the European Community, where a number of practical guidelines were proposed in 1986 for promoting an entrepreneurial spirit, especially in young people’s transition to working life. These guidelines referred to all areas and emphasised the importance of projects, vocational experience, visits to companies, work with entities outside school, the creation and sale of products, company simulations, etc. Where projects were concerned, they highlighted and encouraged initiative and creativity.
In Portugal, recent studies have shown that the education system does not foster entrepreneurship or promote creativity or an innovative spirit (Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovação, 2007). Portuguese schools are beginning to implement entrepreneurship projects and there is even one organised by the Department of Innovation and Curricular Development aimed at the ongoing development of students’ key competences (risk taking, initiative, resilience, planning, organisation, creativity, innovation and communication) and the appropriation of an entrepreneurial spirit by schools and education communities (Ferreira, Figueiredo & Pereira, 2007).
A number of skills are recognised within entrepreneurship – the ability to plan, organise, analyse, communicate, write, evaluate and memorise, develop and implement projects, work in a team, be proactive, and take risks. The attitudes behind the ability to develop these skills involve taking the initiative and wanting to change and innovate (Ferreira, Figueiredo & Pereira, 2007). Shepherd (2004) also stresses the importance of teaching students to manage their emotions when faced with failures, so that they can learn from them.
On the issue of higher education in Portugal, the first tertiary education institution to offer entrepreneurship education was Universidade Católica in 1992 and Redford (2006) sums up entrepreneurship education and mentions two different trends – the teaching of entrepreneurship subjects at different institutions and the development of entrepreneurship centers. Most of the teachers surveyed in the study said that their university planned to set up an entrepreneurship/innovation centre. This development has appeared as a response to current market needs and the teachers’ interest in addressing this subject matter (Redford, 2007).
More and more Portuguese universities have served as incubators for companies and there are initiatives aimed at entrepreneurship training and also the promotion of an entrepreneurial culture. In addition to teaching, they include other activities, such as workshops, seminars, conferences, courses, idea or entrepreneurship competitions, technology fairs and entrepreneurship labs.
During this study, we thought it important to describe the initiatives that Technical University of Lisbon (UTL) – which has seven schools, one of which is the Faculty of Human Kinetics (FMH), the study context, – has undertaken to foster entrepreneurship, focusing on two main aspects: entrepreneurship training (56 curricular units on entrepreneurship and innovation) and university and school support structures (workshops to transfer knowledge and technology, support centres, science and technology park, etc) (Gonçalves, 2010). This author says that around 30% of technology-based companies with connections to universities came from UTL schools, which shows its importance in fostering these initiatives.
In this study we have used the definition of corporate entrepreneurship, which means innovating in an existing business/organization. The main reason for choosing the FMH was because it offers courses in areas in which entrepreneurship is not actively promoted – and yet entrepreneurs are born! – and also because it is one of the schools at UTL where there are few initiatives promoting entrepreneurship and only in the 2nd cycle: entrepreneurship in the Sport Management course and an entrepreneurship education module in the Psychomotor Rehabilitation course. The problem that stimulated this research was the absence of specific curriculum that promotes an entrepreneurial mindset among undergraduate students.
The study analysed the way in which undergraduate training influenced the development of entrepreneurship and then, on the basis of the results, made suggestions as to how to foster this skill in higher education in all areas. This goes against the initial trend of promoting entrepreneurship only in areas related to management, marketing and finance, which is in line with what is being done in other countries and is advocated more and more in higher education policies.
Beyond a study conducted by Naia (2009), no other studies of the impact of undergraduate training on the development of entrepreneurship, in the absence of a specific curriculum formally designed for this purpose was found, which justifies the innovativeness of this study. This is part of research carried through in the scope of my PhD.
The purpose of this paper is:
- Characterise the initiatives of participants and their innovations;
- Understand how academic, personal and social experiences influenced entrepreneurs’ careers;
- Analyse the importance of undergraduate training in entrepreneurs’ careers;
- Pinpoint aspects of curriculum that might favour entrepreneurship.
We conducted a multiple case study using semi-structured interviews and content analysis as core research techniques.
Triangulation was also used by gathering data not only from the participants’ curriculum vitae, but also from other sources, such as their classmates (that haven’t any entrepreneurial activity) and former participants’ teachers.
Participant selection criteria:
- Former FMH student;
– Degree completed at least three years ago;
– Characteristics of corporate entrepreneur in area of degree;
The sample consisted of two PE teachers (Degree in Physical Education in 1980 and 1984), male, aged 54 and recognized corporate entrepreneurs by key informants.
After the entrepreneurs were interviewed, they were asked to give contact information for a classmate with no record of entrepreneurial activity, which was confirmed by an analysis of their curriculum. The classmates were interviewed about the impact of undergraduate training on their professional lives so that we could compare then with the entrepreneurs and try to understand why certain factors instilled an entrepreneurial mindset in some and not in others.
Later, on the basis of a detailed analysis of the interviews and the testimony of the participants and their classmates, we interviewed teachers who the entrepreneurs said had been important to them, in order to ascertain their characteristics and how they influenced their former students’ business careers through subject matter or attitudes that induced change and opened horizons.
Results and Discussion
In this chapter we present participant’s innovations, the aspects that most influenced their careers and the importance of undergraduate training and compare them with their classmates’ and teachers’ views.
Participant 1 innovates because he was the coordinator of the Physical Education (PE) national programs team in 1989 that had breached with the previous logic, not only by the final product, but also by the process used to achieve the main goal that was to organize and stimulate PE at Portuguese schools. Still today, the structure and principles of these programs are updated.
Table 1: Participant 1 innovations
Table 2: Participant 2 innovations
The factors that most influenced the path of participant 1 were entrepreneurial attributes (permanent dissatisfaction related with an idealisation, tolerance of mistakes and later ability to learn), social factors (feeling of social belonging, membership of a team that shares the same ideals and the social wave that any change causes) and undergraduate training. Brockhaus and Horwitz (2002) also mention dissatisfaction and Shepherd (2004) the ability to learn from mistakes as important characteristics in the entrepreneurial process.
The factors that most influenced participant 2 were related to his undergraduate training, such as fellow students and belonging to reflection groups that began at university. He kept these groups up during his career.
Both participants mentioned teachers in their undergraduate training whose teaching practices, knowledge and subjects stood out. They had three teachers and subjects in common (Basketball, Judo and Physical Education for schools). Both praised the work in Basketball training because of its closeness to reality and direct contact with clubs and their relationship with fellow students in the projects that they did together.
Participant 1 highlighted three basic driving forces for his activity in programmes: an eclectic education in the different fields of physical activities with special focus on Physical Education for schools, a cultural view of the value of sport and physical activity and, the most important aspect, an assignment on school programmes and the contacts and support that he received from the teacher of the subject. Participant 2 felt that the most important aspects at school for his career were not only teachers, subjects and fellow students but also the reflection groups mentioned above.
Both said that, during their degree courses in the early 1980s, although there was no reference to entrepreneurship, they implicitly developed a number of entrepreneurial skills, such as proactivity, initiative, critical and reflexive thought, etc. Initiative is also mentioned by the European Community (1986), Gibb (in Erkkila, 2000), Drucker (2003) and Ferreira, Figueiredo and Pereira (2007) as being one of the characteristics of entrepreneurs.
For their classmates, both PE teachers, undergraduate training was a very fruitful time and instilled entrepreneurial skills like proactivity and that it provided experiences that went beyond the curriculum in terms of human relationships and intellectual development. They said that the gains were reflected in their lives and job performance. They mentioned lecturers and subjects in common with the participants. The classmate of participant 1 also mentioned the importance of the internship that they did together, which was the beginning of PE programme activities. Although this was an aspect that participant 1 mentioned during the interview, he did not consider it one of the most important.
Undergraduate training played an important role in the careers of all the interviewees, which can be explained by the richness of this period due to the social and political climate in Portugal at the time (after the 25 April revolution, with the introduction of democracy and the reorganisation of principles) and at intellectual and cognitive level, because of access to knowledge that used to be restricted and also the scientific reorganisation of the institution.
In general, our interviews with teachers revealed the following about the period:
- The absence of explicit initiatives to set up and develop companies, as this was not the predominant culture at the institution, except latter in the Sport Management course;
- The fact that it was a very fertile period with informal experiences that coexisted with and strengthened the formal curriculum;
- Teachers’ personal characteristics (concern, commitment, dedication, motivation, command of subject matter, approachability, thoroughness, innovation, creativity, etc) that were reflected in the quality of their teaching and human relations;
- Fostering a culture of independence, responsibility and critical thought, in which some teachers challenged the students to build their own business;
- Though without talking about entrepreneurship, instilling in their subject matter (and outside it) skills that today are associated with the concept (proactivity, capacity for critical thought, innovation, problem solving, leadership, etc);
- Group work and projects in the practical classes and sometimes contact with the professional world for direct experience of reality;
Many of these aspects tally with what the participants said, which leads us to an approximation between the curriculum planned by the teachers and that experienced by the students, in other words, between the teachers’ intentions and their actual perception of what they do and what the students actually assimilate as a result of their teaching, showing self-sufficiency in their teaching activity.
Many teachers had entrepreneurial characteristics and ended up serving as role models for the students, what is in line with a study by Fry, Stephens and Van Auken (2006), who mentions the influence of entrepreneurial role models. Some of the practices and principles abided by guidelines encouraging an entrepreneurial culture in tertiary education, such as those from the European Community (1986) and those suggested by Ferreira, Figueiredo and Pereira (2007). In general, we found that undergraduate training was important to entrepreneurs, which agrees with the study conducted by Naia (2009).
This work characterised different innovations made by the participants in the field of Physical Education, reflecting the quality of the work done and the growing range of services of excellence.
Different factors were referred to as influencing the participant’ entrepreneurial life course (entrepreneurial attributes, family, contact with professional setting, social/contextual factors and undergraduate training), revealing the importance of their education experience.
Where the influence of undergraduate training on the entrepreneurs’ paths was concerned, they mentioned the importance of the subjects and contents and their direct application to professional activity or activities fostering entrepreneurial characteristics. Teachers were also mentioned because of their attitudes, encouragement, support and sharing of life experiences and because they acted as role models. Fellow students were also important due to their direct support or by sharing the same ideals. Informal activities and projects were also examples that inspired them to take the initiative.
The fact that undergraduate training encouraged an entrepreneurial career for some of the participants, marking the difference in the contexts that they experienced, but not for some classmates, probably has to do with personal characteristics (influencing their receptivity and the way they assimilated and later used knowledge) and some people’s predisposition for taking certain paths characterised by higher or lower risk, each person’s ambitions, ideas and choices of occupation and the opportunities they have had in their lives.
Where the teachers were concerned, we can say that their characteristics and attitudes to knowledge and the learning process in relation to formal (e.g. subjects) and informal aspects of the curriculum, contributed to our entrepreneurs, addressing directly this new option or way of life, or indirectly, by means of the development of entrepreneurial skills that proved useful, leading to a need to systematically improve realities.
While in the past, even without any specific entrepreneurship training at the institution, undergraduate training eventually played a vital role in the careers of alumni, today’s entrepreneurs, why not formalise some of these aspects in order to make an explicit, intentional contribution to an entrepreneurial culture?
If there is to be effective change here, it is necessary to continue to raise the awareness of tertiary education institutions, where teachers occupy a special place, through formal and informal experiences. The idea is to encourage students to be innovative and professionals of excellence in their jobs.
Recommendations for encouraging entrepreneurship in higher education
Finally, we would like to make some recommendations with a view to promoting entrepreneurship at the FMH, which could also be followed in other higher education settings, based on the participants’ testimony. Many are already being applied at some but not all institutions, and a lot remains to be done in this regard.
- Promote contact with companies and work (study visits to companies operating in the students’ future career areas) and promote joint assignments between the entrepreneurial or professional and university worlds;
- Use universities as company incubators;
- Foster the sharing of experiences with entrepreneurs (invite businesspeople from different areas to share their experience with students, analyse examples of success and failure);
- Introduce entrepreneurship skills to subjects (such as activities that develop entrepreneurial attributes such as initiative, creativity and innovation);
- Promote specific entrepreneurship training and optional activities related to entrepreneurship (an optional subject on entrepreneurship and setting up a company for each course, including entrepreneurs from different areas in the teaching staff, optional subjects during internships dealing with these aspects);
- Foster projects (introduce a subject organised from start to finish on the basis of a project to be presented at the end and simulations or real-life projects that instil planning and organisation skills);
- Encourage proactivity and capacity for reflection during classes, giving students problems to solve, getting them to think about and act on them and propose different solutions, thereby fostering a culture of responsibility, assimilation of knowledge and humility with regard to new learning;
- Promote themed reflection groups outside class;
- Encourage students to participate in university exchange programmes abroad;
Suggestions for the future
After this study, we are in a position to make some proposals for future work:
- Conduct more studies on entrepreneurship education in tertiary education, focusing on Sport and other areas that are not normally studied in association with the concept;
- Analyse the impact of undergraduate training on entrepreneurship education in longitudinal studies;
- Study the influence of Sports (especially top-level and combat sports) and the qualities developed when nurturing entrepreneurship;
- Examine the relationship between student associations and the promotion of entrepreneurship and understand to what extent they can be regarded as incubators of future entrepreneurs;
- Analyse the influence of experience of education abroad on fostering entrepreneurship;
- Examine the life histories, especially childhood, of entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, to see which factors in this period facilitate and obstruct the decision to set up a company;
- Invest in parent training to foster the transmission, during childhood, of initiative, innovation and creativity, which may be reflected in an entrepreneurial career later in life;
- Invest in training teachers in entrepreneurship education.
Subtitle: Entrepreneurship Education in Physical Education
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