When culture matters: Brits and the entrepreneurial spirit

American youth need their entrepreneurial enthusiasm channeled; British youth need to be talked into it. But there's progress.

Photo illustration / Glowimages / Newscom
The culture of entrepreneurship is growing in the UK. A new study from Britain's National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship finds a 50 percent increase in the number of students engaged in enterprise and entrepreneurship, and that 63 percent of universities include enterprise and entrepreneurship as part of their core mission.

The role of culture in entrepreneurial activity cannot be overstated. Historically in America, our culture was a major contributor to our entrepreneurial spirit. In places like Eastern Europe, where communism suppressed free enterprise and limited private property, their culture still seems to hold back entrepreneurial aspirations among many of their citizens.

England is an interesting case in point to the interplay between culture and entrepreneurial activity.

A number of years ago I was approached about co-authoring a special American edition for an Entrepreneurship textbook that was published in England. The book had been very popular in the UK, so I was intrigued.

As I read the text I quickly realized that most of the text was geared toward trying to encourage people to consider entrepreneurship. It was almost as if students needed to be coaxed into considering entrepreneurship.

I talked to the author and expressed that in the U.S., our students were eager to be entrepreneurs and to wanted to learn the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed. His text, even though it ran over 600 pages, never even got to the point of "how to". It seemed to be stuck on simply "why."

We agreed that the project just would not work. The entrepreneurial nature of our cultures were just too far apart. In England, they were trying to foster entrepreneurial thinking in a culture where it was not a norm. In the U.S., we were simply trying to harness, shape and form the entrepreneurial nature of our students to help prepare them for success.

It seems that others in the UK also recognized the need for a culture change and apparently have tried to do something about it through the infusion of entrepreneurship education.

National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship released the 2010 Survey of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, which examines entrepreneurship in English universities.

Highlights from the study include:

  • 16% of the student population are engaged in enterprise and entrepreneurship; a 50% increase on 2007;
  • 63% of universities have enterprise and entrepreneurship as part of their core mission;
  • More start ups than ever are being created through our universities: up 27% from 2007.

The survey portrays a landscape that has grown and developed since 2007 with enterprise and entrepreneurship now firmly established as part of the campus student experience.

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