5.3.21
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Anneli Xie

Social Learning Enhances Entrepreneurial Education

How can entrepreneurial education benefit from social learning; and what really is social learning? In an academic study of one of xPlot's previous ventures – Barcamper – we may find the answers to our questions.

In 2016, Barcamper, an accelerator program for the cultural and creative sector, was launched. An office on wheels, Barcamper traveled through Skåne to help 82 entrepreneurs further develop their business ideas. With an international team of creatives, investors, and business coaches, Barcamper minimized the search for business resources, instead delivering them straight to their users. In its core, Barcamper was about making the business development process fun and simple rather than complex and difficult; one of xPlot's core values to this day.

On our journey through Skåne, we also had the privilege to be joined by Dr. Diamanto Politis of Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship, Lund University and Dr. Jonas Gabrielsson of Halmstad University. Politis and Gabrielsson, who are both professors and experienced researchers within the field of entrepreneurship, came along to conduct research on entrepreneurial learning in a venture accelerator program like ours. Joining our team as outsiders gave an objective dimension to the quality of our work. In addition, the findings of their research has proven highly valuable for our future projects. Their study was recently published in The Learning Organization, an international journal focusing on challenges to current thinking around organizational learning.

Rather than focusing on the one-sided growth of accelerator programs, measured by e.g. the number of start-ups that survive and the number of employees they have, Politis and Gabrielsson focus instead on the individual. 

- Conducting our work, we wanted to research how individuals take in, retain, and carry knowledge with them into the future. One of our core aims was to study the entrepreneurial spirit; the ideas an individual has and chooses to focus on may change, but the entrepreneurial qualities and knowledge remain, says Gabrielsson.

Dr. Diamanto Politis, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship, Lund University. Photo: Håkan Röjder.

In their study, Politis and Gabrielsson investigate how the environment in and around accelerator programs creates conditions for enhanced entrepreneurial learning. In their research, they identified three catalysts that create conditions for entrepreneurial learning to flourish:

  1. Social learning, or “peer atmosphere” the idea that participants in accelerator programs can learn – and do learn – a lot from each other, rather than just learning from experts within the field.
  2. Affective motivation; being part of an entrepreneurial community in which they can seek support, encouragement, and inspiration. Affective motivation also enhances entrepreneurial identity, which is important for self-efficacy.
  3. Constructive feedback; learning to think critically about their own thoughts and ideas in a supportive, friendly, and welcoming environment, in which participants are encouraged to share their ideas, struggles, and feedback – and in which they are also open to receive them.

Politis and Gabrielsson also identified some core challenges to designing accelerator programs. For example, Politis points out that it may be difficult to tailor content to a heterogenous group of participants:

- Some participants had a lot of previous entrepreneurial experience and thus absorbed knowledge differently from those who were entirely new to the field. This is an important challenge to remember for everyone designing accelerator programs. 

Whereas different accelerator programs may have different aims and end goals, it is important to remember that a theoretical approach can benefit from Politis and Gabrielsson’s ideas of social learning and peer atmosphere. 

- In the world of academia, we tend to forget the importance of being able to gain experience from others and that we also gain experience and are strengthened by helping others. Social and collective learning is the basis for acquiring entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, says Politis.

- Those who work with incubator and accelerator programs should, of course, not neglect theoretical knowledge, but they need to be aware that peer learning can contribute with dimensions that academia sometimes might struggle to include in their courses, says Gabrielsson. As such, the social learning that can be incorporated into accelerator programs has the possibility to complement the more theoretical approach of entrepreneurship that exists in academia, thus promoting a collaboration between the two. Entrepreneurial education can have different pros and cons without having to compete with each other; it doesn’t have to be one or the other. In Lund, we aim for them to work in an integrated and intersectional entrepreneurial ecosystem, in which each individual may find their niche. 

Dr. Jonas Gabrielsson, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Halmstad University. Photo: Joachim Brink.

Finally, Gabrielsson concludes by stating the importance of collaboration between academia and projects run out in the field, such as Barcamper, in which both sides can learn and benefit from each other.

- We have experienced great openness in the Barcamper project and its coaches, Lars Mattiasson and Katarina Scott, who have been very open to learning from our research. It’s been a mutual benefit; our results not only benefit the research community but can also impact the entrepreneurial education for decades ahead, Gabrielsson concludes.

We at xPlot are thrilled to have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Diamanto Politis and Dr. Jonas Gabrielsson and are looking forward to future collaborations.

––––––––––––––––––––––––

Read more about the Barcamper study

Politis, D., Gabrielsson, J., Galan, N. & Akele Abebe, S. (2019) Entrepreneurial learning in venture acceleration programs, Learning Organization. 26(6), 588-603.

Learn more about Barcamper

See more of Dr. Diamanto Politisand Dr. Jonas Gabrielsson's work

Nordic entrepreneurship Hubs (2019). Project Summary.

Gabrielsson, J., Politis, D. & Billström, A. (2019) University spin-offs and triple helix dynamics in regional innovation ecosystems: A comparison of technology intensive start-ups in Sweden, Global Business and Economics Review, 21(3/4), 362-381.

Gabrielsson, J., Politis, D., Persson, K.M., & Kronholm, J. (2018) Promoting water-related innovation through networked acceleration: Insights from the Water Innovation Accelerator, Journal of Cleaner Production, 171, 130-139.

Gabrielsson, J., Dahlstrand, Å. & Politis, D. (2014) Sustainable high-growth entrepreneurship: A study of rapidly growing firms in the Scania region. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 15(1), 29-40.

Politis, D. Gabrielsson, J. & Lindholm Dahlstrand, Å. (2014) Academic entrepreneurship: multi-level factors associated with female-led incubator projects, in Lewis, K., Henry, C., Gatewood, E. & Watson, J. (ed.) Women's Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century: An international Multi-level Research Analysis. Edward Elgar Publishing, p. 32-49.

–––––––––––

Original text and interview by Caroline Wendt published on Future by Lund, March 1, 2021.

Edited and translated by Anneli Xie.

12.5.21
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Jonathan Wintoft

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Hossein Lavi

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