Is entrepreneurship the new black?

Is entrepreneurship the new black?

Since I joined MaRS in 2007, I have to admit that it has felt at times as though we are somehow moving against the grain and that what we are doing maybe isn’t that important (despite being fully convinced otherwise). Like the outside world just didn’t get it. Know what I mean?

Not that it matters much, though. As an organization made up of unreformed entrepreneurs we are used to having to punch well above our own weight and forging our own paths to move forward. Undeterred, we have kept on working away.

Recently, however, things have started to feel different: as though more people have opened their eyes to entrepreneurship; as though they appreciate what we do to help entrepreneurs; and as though entrepreneurship matters not just to budding entrepreneurs, but that it also matters in the “grand scheme of things.”

Let me share some numbers from our entrepreneurship programs last year that I believe will illustrate my point.

  • 26,787 people attended our 30 Entrepreneurship 101 lectures in person and online. That was a 55% increase from the previous year, which saw 17,315 attendees.
  • 1,665 people participated in our 124 experiential workshops across the province of Ontario—a 47% increase from the year before.

I could go on. All of our program metrics show the same pattern of growth. Clearly, entrepreneurship is important to Ontarians and we are pleased with the increased demand and the positive feedback that we are receiving from participants. (Our workshops are rated an average of 9.1 out of 10 by participants.)

The Entrepreneurship 101 lecture series and our experiential workshops are both part of what we call the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit, a highly curated collection of resources available to entrepreneurs across Ontario. These resources include articles, videos, workbooks, templates, best practice events and workshops all put together to help entrepreneurs who have strong technical expertise acquire the business skills needed to move their ventures forward.

A field experiencing rapid change

Increased demand from entrepreneurs who are starting new businesses is why we are experiencing such growth. To help them, a lot of effort is made at MaRS to ensure that our content is both relevant and accessible to the diverse needs of Ontario’s entrepreneurs. On the content side we are working hard to ensure that the most relevant trends in “entrepreneurial management” are reflected in our offerings.

With most of the academic research relevant to startups having been conducted in the last decade, the field of entrepreneurial management is advancing fast and is very dynamic. For us, it is clear that the emergence of new research and best practices within this field is making entrepreneurship a more appealing choice for many. Examples of important publications in the field include:

  • The work of Harvard professor Clayton Christensen is fundamental to most thinking on entrepreneurship. His books on innovation provided scope and clarity to a field that many felt was simply a black box that entrepreneurs could only traverse through with an almost unattainable mixture of luck, persistence and genius. Understanding the sources of disruption and the jobs-to-be-done concept as determinants of value are now integral parts of entrepreneurial management.
  • Published in 2005, Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany, is the book that has proven to be the most influential in our field to date. The book introduced the Customer Development Model, which has since formed the intellectual basis for the Lean Startup movement.
  • In 2009, Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur published their highly anticipated book Business Model Generation. Integrating design thinking into solving the age-old problem of identifying a sustainable business model, the book offered a visual tool that has quickly become integral to all entrepreneurship education and business planning.
  • In 2011, Eric Ries, an entrepreneur and a former student of Steve Blank, published his book The Lean Startup. Building on the philosophy behind Blank’s Customer Development Model, Eric integrated practices from agile development to demonstrate that the Lean Startup approach fundamentally breaks from established management theory.

At MaRS, our job is to both contribute to the field with our own experiences and act as translators and curators to help Ontario’s entrepreneurs understand and use new approaches in their businesses.

Entrepreneurial management is not just for startups

Interestingly, medium-size and large-scale businesses that are seeking to improve their innovation efforts have taken a keen liking to the new entrepreneurial management practices, with companies like General Electric even adopting the lean approach. As BlackBerry, Canada’s leading technology company, is currently trying to find new owners, I’m left wondering whether other established Canadian companies are starting to feel the need to sharpen their entrepreneurial practices.