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Blog | Dec 5, 2019

Can entrepreneurship be taught? Why Maki co-created Starting Up

Can entrepreneurship be taught? Why Maki co-created Starting Up
Reading time 3 min

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of launching Starting Up — a free, open-access university course on the fundamentals of startup entrepreneurship — on the Slush Founder’s Stage. I was joined on stage by Dr. Ling Ge, Chief European Representative at Tencent, and Kahoot Founder Johan Brand. We spoke about edu tech and modern methods of teaching, and had a good discussion on where the future challenges and focus points lay. Then I asked them what they thought about teaching entrepreneurship.

Ling responded that “the best way to learn entrepreneurship is to start a company of your own.” Johan agreed, comparing it to his art studies: “you can’t teach entrepreneurship without doing it — you have to work on the business, much like art students work on their art.”

Now your first thought might be that that’s not necessarily the most encouraging thing to say to someone who’s just spent months collaborating on an online course on entrepreneurship, let alone launched it on stage just minutes before.

And I wouldn’t fault you — this was an issue our project team had discussed, too. If entrepreneurship is a learn-by-doing field, why are we creating an online course on it? What do we hope to accomplish and what can we promise those who’ve completed it?

© Pasi Salminen, Slush

Starting Up provides an introduction to the fundamentals of startup entrepreneurship, covering topics from basic terminology to themes like validating an idea and go-to-market strategy. The course is a practical toolkit designed to equip anyone interested in starting a business, introducing a new product or service in their own company, or even just entering the field and discussing new ventures with tools to get started. While the course can’t prepare its graduates for every speed bump and surprise that entrepreneurship undoubtedly entails, we’re confident that it can give tools to get started — and make them accessible to audiences beyond the reach of the existing startup circles. This, I argue, should be every startup ecosystem’s priority come 2020.

If you disagree with me, just look at the recent State of European tech report: the report once again showed that in 2019, only 8% of capital invested went to founding teams that are all-female or mixed gender — and this is only taking into account diversity in the narrowest sense. Meanwhile, when looking at European tech companies that have raised series A or series B rounds, we see that for every female executive there are 12 male executives. In light of the numbers, it’s clear that we’re excluding a lot of potential.

Working in the VC industry, I see that those who don’t have basic knowledge and tools are at a great disadvantage compared to those who do — in order to convince a VC to invest, it helps to know the basics of the game you are playing. Still, even many of the founders that we talk to don’t know how investment processes work or understand employee stock option plans or other industry conventions. If founders are puzzled, what about those outside the startup scene?

I firmly believe that by improving access to basic knowledge, we can decrease barriers to entry and make entrepreneurship a more attainable career option for many. And that’s why we created the course: because the startup world doesn’t just need more women, or other genders, or a diversity of ethnicities or age groups — we also need people with different skills, interests, educational backgrounds and experiences. People who have different motivations to solve unique problems. People who are intrigued but lack the tools to pursue, as well as those who might not yet realize that the startup life could be for them.

People who — equipped with the right tools — might start the next Apples, Glossiers and Tencents.

And while we can’t promise to teach them everything there is to know about entrepreneurship in the span of one course, we hope to give them a solid toolkit to pursue hands-on studies in the field.

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Josefiina Kotilainen is Maki.vc’s Senior Financial Associate, who is passionate about helping aspiring entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

Starting Up is an Aalto University course created by Kiuas Accelerator, Maki.vc, Aalto Ventures Program & Reaktor. The course is available online for free at: starting-up.org

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