Australian Innovation Research Centre

Entrepreneurship

Commencement Date 01 November 2014
Project Status Current

Summary

Enterprise and the enterprising spirit lie at the heart of innovation. One of the AIRC’s goals is to encourage entrepreneurial thinking through research, teaching and outreach programs.

Description

Encouraging an enterprising spirit, the foundation of innovation, is one of the principle aims of the AIRC.  This is achieved through research, teaching and outreach programs. Honorary Fellow Associate Professor Jack English has had hands-on experience and success as an innovator and entrepreneur, in business, as a university lecturer and as a best-selling author of 25 books about small business, the stock market and personal financial management.  He has spear-headed the development of teaching  programs in conjunction with the University of Tasmania’s Faculty of Business including  undergraduate majors in Entrepreneurship and Commercialisation together with a Graduate Certificate in Commercialisation. He has successfully introduced similar programs at several Australian universities.

A/P English is particularly interested in innovation evaluation systems that can be used to identify new business opportunities.  Drawing upon his experience in business, he has devised a unique analysis tool, the Innovation Development Early Assessment System (IDEAS), which can be used to evaluate the commercial potential of new ideas very early in the innovation process.  IDEAS offers a low-cost, comprehensive and systematic analysis that provides a uniform, easily communicated and understood basis for assessment.  As part of the AIRC’s outreach program, A/P English has introduced IDEAS throughout Australia, and it has been published by Allen & Unwin under the title Discovering New Business Opportunities.

“I was looking for a way to test the merit of a new idea from the first moment of inspiration” says A/P English.  He originally developed the IDEAS model based on the way NASA evaluated the commercial potential of its space age technology.  Eventually, he extended the system to include 40 criteria that test eight different aspects of a new business opportunity.  IDEAS reduces some of the uncertainty that a potential entrepreneur faces by establishing if there is likely to be a viable market, anticipating the potential risks and how they can be mitigated, and what sort of a business model would make sense.
Although A/P English admits IDEAS is not a definitive assessment, nor should it replace other forms of independent evaluation, he says, “It’s a qualitative system that is designed for people with varying levels of expertise that helps them to build a series of diagnostic maps to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their particular idea.”

Already proven to be a successful evaluation tool in the private sector, A/P English is now adapting IDEAS for the public sector, and AIRC Deputy Director Carol Harding is developing a specialised version for Universities.

Much of what A/P English has developed with IDEAS has remained the central focus of his teaching career as well.  When asked how you teach someone entrepreneurship, he answers, “this is a debate that has gone on for some 30 to 40 years. There are aspects of entrepreneurship that can be learned so therefore there are elements of entrepreneurship that can be taught. However, some aspects of entrepreneurial behaviour cannot be taught but they can be encouraged.”

A/P English believes more students need to be exposed to organising and operating their own business as an alternative to a career as an employee.  The main thing he wants his students to come away with is self-belief. “We can and do teach them a lot of skills, but what they really need is to believe I can do this. The educational experience from kindergarten to university is based on finding a job, but we want to broaden this perspective to include self-employment.  We know that many of our graduates will not necessarily become entrepreneurs, but they will nevertheless launch into whatever career they choose with greater entrepreneurial spirit,” he says.

AIRC research fellow Dr Colin Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship.  Describing himself as a ‘pracademic’, Dr Jones’ teaching technique focuses on problem-based learning where students are encouraged to be reflective.  “Unlike traditional university education that is convergent, driving students to one desired end point, what we do is divergent education, that is assessing the process of learning rather than only the outcome,” he says.

This student-centred, experiential, workshop model of teaching is something Dr Jones describes as a move away from “The sage on the stage to the guide on the side.  What we are ultimately trying to develop is for our students to be the Reasonable Adventurer.”  An expression coined by the late Roy Heath, an American psychologist who pioneered studies into behavioural risk taking, Dr Jones has taken this to new heights with his research and teaching program.  “Entrepreneurship is about learning to manage risks and what our course develops is a life rather than business orientation.”

Dr Jones’ teaching aims to develop six attributes identified by Heath as being prerequisites for having an enhanced ability to create opportunity.  There are:

  1. Intellectuality, the ability to alternate between being a believer and a sceptic.
  2. Friendships, or the ability to discover individuality in others.
  3. Independence of value judgements, or the ability to rely upon personal experience rather than known external authorities.
  4. Tolerance of ambiguity, to be able to suspend judgement until sufficient information is obtained to make the right decision.
  5. Breadth of interest, or an uncommon interest in the commonplace.
  6. Sense of humour, that is being capable of being sensitive towards others across conflicting circumstances.

Dr Jones’ applied learning techniques may be seen by some as somewhat loose and unstructured.  However, he has to date received nine teaching and research excellence awards for his work.  By accessing what already resides in each and every student, they develop a capacity to face the challenges and opportunities life continually serves up. “What we try to encourage is the development of an enterprising way to get information and to react to it, to cultivate a real ability to deal with uncertainty and to not to be dominated or intimidated by it,” he says.

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