Journal of Entrepreneurship Education (Print ISSN: 1098-8394; Online ISSN: 1528-2651)


Universities' Influence on Student Decisions to Become Entrepreneurs: Theory and Evidence

Author(s): Tsipy Buchnik, Vered Gilad, Shlomo Maital

One definition of creativity (of a great many) is “widening the range of choice” (Ruttenberg & Maital, 2014). Increasingly, universities are informing students that they have a choice-they may choose to launch startups, after graduation, and to create their own business, as well as work for existing organizations. This has become a part of universities’ so-called “third dimension” goal of social responsibility, in addition to the two traditional goals of teaching and research, partly because startups and small businesses help to create jobs and wealth. The purpose of this study is to provide both theory and evidence, on the key question, how can universities best foster entrepreneurship? The theory was proposed for the students’ decision process to become an entrepreneur and adapted from the stage-gate innovation process. According to this model, students choose to open a series of startup “doors” or gates, from awareness through intention and skill-building to the post-graduation startup act itself. Basic Chi-square statistics were used to link entrepreneurial activities and studies with startup launches. Empirical evidence was provided drawn from a survey of graduates of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, many of whom launched startups after graduating. The survey results from complementary studies of the antecedents of entrepreneurship intention, with evidence on the antecedents of actual startup behavior. Among the main findings were “Narrative” (story-telling) stage-gates foster awareness of the startup option, experiential stage-gates that simulate startup activities strengthen intention and skills; and since learning styles vary widely, offering a wide variety of entrepreneurship activities is probably optimal for today’s science and technology students. In other words: different strokes for different folks. However, while influential and impactful, entrepreneurial activities of all kinds appear neither necessary nor sufficient for students to choose to launch startups; a significant proportion of graduates go on to launch startups without ever experiencing any type of entrepreneurial activity during their undergraduate studies. The high failure rates of startups suggest that students could benefit from more business skill-building courses and activities. This study seeks to fill the gap between studies of entrepreneurial intention (to launch a startup) and studies of those who actually launched startups. The most effective way universities can foster entrepreneurship among their students is to offer well-mentored experiential simulations of the startup process.