What’s the Best Way to Teach Entrepreneurship?

“Passion” is a word frequently associated with entrepreneurs. It’s likely at some point you’ve heard (or, like me, said), “Follow your passion and start a business.” But while passion is critical, passion alone is not enough to build a strong foundation for a successful business.

As made clear at the recent Future of Entrepreneurship Education (FEE) Summit in Washington, D.C., passion needs to be complemented by education. The 2nd annual FEE Summit’s goal was to gather “top leaders from different sectors of the entrepreneurship ecosystem (government, foundations, education, corporations, media, entrepreneur support organizations, and entrepreneurs)” to collaborate on helping “make entrepreneurship a viable career pathway, and help solve the jobs crisis.”

At the conference, even successful entrepreneurs recognized the value of education. Take Ryan Everson. He’s only 21, but has already started (and sold) several successful businesses in Flint, Michigan, his economically depressed hometown. After realizing he “didn’t know everything,” Everson is now in college, studying auto dealership marketing so he can join (and improve) the family business.

A decade older at 31, Robert Nicholson is a veteran serial entrepreneur. He started at 18 when he moved out of his parent’s home and bought a duplex that he partly rented out. From there he began buying apartment buildings and launching businesses. Today he runs The Nicholson Center, which provides services for developmentally disabled adults, and has interests in several other companies, which together bring in more than $2 million in revenues. Nicholson, too, believes there’s always more to learn and is getting his MBA online from Babson College.

Obviously, Everson and Nicholson believe in the value of entrepreneurial education. But what’s the best way to teach entrepreneurship? Currently most colleges offer entrepreneurship classes as part of their business schools. But Doug Mellinger, a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist, and investor in his own right, believes deeply that entrepreneurship needs to be taught across all disciplines, so he helped restructure and relaunch Silicon Valley’s Cogswell Polytechnical College with a curriculum that fuses digital art, engineering, and entrepreneurship.

Ironically perhaps for a college trustee, Mellinger likes to tell aspiring entrepreneurs to embrace failure. Most successful entrepreneurs, he points out, did not succeed on their first try. The company that finally hit pay dirt might have done so its 5th or 6th attempt. The key is to keep trying, be flexible, and learn from your failures.

But the FEE Summit, conceived and hosted during Global Entrepreneurship Week by the team at empact (formerly Extreme Entrepreneurship Education), was all about sharing ideas for entrepreneurial education and success. A panel of young entrepreneurs offered three “big ideas” for how to transform entrepreneurial education.

Big Idea #1: Teach coding in middle schools and high schools as if it were a foreign language (meaning not as a science elective). In fact, coding and software development was considered so important to future business success that tech entrepreneur Jeremy Johnson, the CMO of 2tor, a company that partners with prestigious schools like the University of Southern California, the University of North Carolina, and Georgetown University to provide online education globally, declared, “Coding is the gateway drug to entrepreneurship.”

Big Idea #2: Teach entrepreneurship in high schools (or even grade school).

Big Idea #3: Celebrate entrepreneurial heroes and role models, particularly those that do well and do good.

That kind of celebration was overwhelming at the FEE Summit. Even as they discussed education, there was so much passion in the air that you just knew you were witnessing the start of something significant. Everyone was there to make the world a better place for entrepreneurs, which, in turn, will make the world a better place for everyone.

Follow Rieva on Twitter @Rieva and read more of her insights on SmallBizDaily.com.