Rethinking Entrepreneurial Education: A Nordic Perspective on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Learning

​​​​​​​December 29, 2019
by Eilif Trondsen
Rethinking Entrepreneurial EducationRethinking Entrepreneurial Education

Evolving Entrepreneurial Education Needs

During the last decade, growing numbers of universities and colleges around the world have embraced the world of entrepreneurship and innovation with greater intensity and ambition than ever before. Although the last year has seen growing push-back against some aspects of “Silicon Valley tech culture”—including the growing dominance and signs of predatory business practices that some tech platforms have been accused of using, and “rapid growth über alles” funded by large amounts of venture funds—the appeal of startup entrepreneurialism is still strong, in both the Nordics and Silicon Valley. Colleges and universities have added growing number of courses with both theoretical and practical foundations for how to start, manage and grow companies and serve markets around the world. Some of these efforts have included creating incubators on or off campus, and we have seen greater collaboration between academia and private industry, leveraging the unique strengths of universities in basic scientific research and development to build companies. And greater training of growing numbers of young people in computer science and other fields in high demand in the startup world has taken place over the last decade.

But in both the Valley and in the Nordics, we see growing interest in “social/impact entrepreneurialism,” where “profits or revenue growth” is only one of many goals. Other goals have been gaining prominence, including those of perceived greater societal importance, such as meeting improved environmental and sustainability conditions, as well as avoiding worsening the income and wealth disparities that have grown steadily. These growing social concerns align well with the thinking behind “Nordic capitalism” which has long accepted greater balance between the role of the state (government) and private industry. The Nordic countries have also long accepted higher taxation as a way to ensure the affordance of social services, including adequate health care and education for all.
In view of these trends and developments, we should also expect that educational and training initiatives for innovation and entrepreneurship will continue to evolve, in order to give budding entrepreneurs a well-rounded education and training—with a mix of theoretical and practical foundations that will prepare them for tackling emerging opportunities and challenges ahead. And just like large and small firms now emphasizing agility and being able to quickly recognize and react to new, and often unexpected, changes in the business environment, teaching budding entrepreneurs to become self-directed and life-long learners will likely become increasingly important.

International Entrepreneurial Education (IEE)

IEE is a new and innovative entrepreneurial education program in the Nordics that intends to meet the new needs of entrepreneurs around the world. Not surprisingly, given Finnish success in building strong and innovative educational institutions and practices, two Finnish friends of mine—Peter Fagerstrom. Founder and CEO of Educraftor, and Juhani Koivuviita, Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Educraftor, are among the leaders of the IEE, and have built in strong learning processes and principles into their IEE initiative.

A pilot of IEE will be launched with a cohort of 12-15 students in a 5-month program will launch in February 2020 (at a very reasonable cost of Euro 2,000), living at a boarding school hosted by Millcamp, an educational center in Asnaes (40-50 miles from Copenhagen), a rural area of Zealand in Denmark. The facilities consist of a dormitory building and a farmhouse (school) building.

Details of the program are available at the IEE website, under the headings of “living”: Values; Facilities & Activities; House Rules; and Roadmap; “Learning”: Apply Now; Learning Theory; Program Details; and Experts & Facilitators; “Creating”: Courses; Events; and Ecosystem; and “Working”: Our Team; Join Us; and Volunteer. More information is also available at the program’s Facebook page.

The five month kick-off pilot starting in February, 2020—followed by the launch of the full, 10-month program in August, 2020—will consists of the following program elements and activities:
  • Personal Power & Entrepreneurial Mindset
    • Base Camp—Activities to develop personal strength and competencies
    • Reflections—Includes keeping journal and creating a portfolio of learnings, and reflecting on them
    • Learning to learn—Gaining tools for life-long learning and achieving success
    • Start with WHY—Examine underlying drivers of what you want or don’t want
    • EDUMining—Active learning via research, questioning, data gathering, dialog & discussion, probing and understanding cause & effect
  • Teamwork, Ideating & Rapid Prototyping
    • EDUJam—Generate ideas, share with other while ideating and innovating
    • EDUHack—Work in team to collaboratively create unique solution using your own ideas in 48 hrs
    • Concepts Teamwork—Learn to discover team’s role and competencies and learning as a team
  • Business Incubator—Organization & Operations
    • Project Writing—Structure your idea into a business proposition and a business model
    • Research & Planning—Study and understand customer behavior and what influence their choices
    • Budgets & Strategy—Gain understanding of sales and marketing strategies, cash flow and profit & loss projections
    • Sponsors & Fund Raising—Examine how you can engage with different individuals and organizations that may become critical in your business success
    • Design Thinking—Learn creative thinking, sketching & modeling, testing hypotheses and evaluate, as well as role of social media and much more
    • Production & Supply Chain—Create wireframe and simulate or produce a physical prototype for user testing
    • Legal Issues—Various legal aspects of starting and running a business, and their implications, will be examined
    • User Testing—Meet face to face with customers and gain insights from users about your product
  • Business Incubator—Customer Value & Management
    • Product Launch & Social Media—How do you crate anticipation and excitement about your product, and use social media to gain successful launch
    • Product Maintenance—How to you plan for the future of your product, process and service?
    • ‘Knock Your Socks Off’ Customer Service—What are key ‘best practices’ for ensuring world class customer service of your products?
    • Financial, IT & Management—What are key, practical things that you need to understand and master in terms of financial, IT and management system
  • Presentation
    • Prepare ‘Show & Tell’—Think through and prepare plan and execution of final ‘Show & Tell’ presentation of products, services and processes you have created
    • ‘Show & Tell ’- Final—Share what you have created as well as key learnings for the future

IEE and the Future of Entrepreneurial Education

In my view, IEE may fill a gap that exists today between the two main ways of getting a startup education today: (1) business schools—I.e. going through a formal MBA program, and (2) attending a typical incubator or accelerator program. The former tends to be long and heavy on theory (and—sometimes—too many old case studies that do not reflect current business and technology realities). The latter is very short (usually 3 months), relatively narrow and very practical. IEE has some common characteristics with the emerging “co-working space,” where entrepreneurs can learn from each other, but IEE has a much more formal and wide-ranging education and learning program (usually missing in co-working spaces).

The IEE program and activity list of topics and issues, noted in the bullets above, include a range of important aspects of not only launching and running a business, but also emphasize a range of learning elements as a key aspect that will help ensure budding entrepreneurs know how to best leverage and benefit from a vast range of resources available to them (as their business challenges vary over time), so they can build purpose-driven business ecosystem (for more on this topic, please see This broader IEE approach, and its innovative and action-oriented learning elements (like EDUMining, EDUJam and EDUhack), are activities and processes that Ingerlil Teute (the Danish project partner of IEE) and Educraftor have used in many of their past projects, and I am glad to see them now incorporated into the formal entrepreneurial education program of IEE.

Locating the first IEE program and cohort in Denmark, and being hosted by Millcamp, will have numerous advantages, especially in terms of building strong personal relationships between the learners likely to come from different parts of the world, and represent a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Living together and being part of teams that solve business and technology problems together, will likely result in valuable business and personal learning experiences. Over time, I suspect that numerous subsequent cohorts, both in Denmark, and likely in many other parts of the EU (and perhaps beyond), where future programs will be located, will create a valuable alumni network that should become a valuable business and learning resource for current future IEE students.
I expect the IEE leadership team will also bring a large number of knowledgeable and experienced guest speakers, coaches and facilitators and other volunteers who will also become important future resources for IEE students now and in the future. Since I know that both Peter and Juhani have intimate knowledge of the principles of Purpose-Driven Business Ecosystems, as laid out in the book by Kim Robert Wilson, I am sure IEE students will learn these principles and use them in building successful and global businesses.