Overcoming Institutional Barriers to Entrepreneurship Education

entrepreneurship education

The disruptive nature of entrepreneurship runs in direct opposition with the bureaucratic culture within many higher education institutions. In fact, some faculty have felt their institution squashed initiatives to launch Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) programs. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome institutional barriers to facilitate entrepreneurship education on campus.

An interdisciplinary team of educators at Penn State experienced many such obstacles when they developed the Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI). Bob Beaury, Mark Gagnon, and Anne Hoag share how they successfully navigated the intricacies of creating a novel program across multiple disciplines.

Connect across disciplines

Academic disciplines develop strong boundaries and identities for various reasons. However, interdisciplinary collaboration is central to entrepreneurship education. How did we balance the need for disciplinary boundaries with our need for interdisciplinary collaboration?

Engage informally: We started by having casual conversations about our program ideas with innovative faculty in other departments. We first reached out to influential stakeholders on campus. We made sure not to place requirements upon those we hoped would get involved. We also highlighted the tangible benefits of entrepreneurial discovery.

Recognize and promote accomplishments: Recognition of successes with interdisciplinary collaboration is very important. We’ve increased stakeholder engagement by telling our story and sharing how all of our stakeholders contributed to our success.

Understand the bureaucratic system

Higher ed institutions are often fraught with control mechanisms, hierarchy, and rigid procedures. However, bureaucracy also helps establish order where self-interest conflicts with collective interest. Our challenge was to bring entrepreneurial initiative forward without undermining the interests of others. How did we innovate within these bureaucratic tensions?

Utilize the informal organization: Organizations are built on human relationships. Highly productive relationships are built on trust and rely less on formality. We’re fortunate to have a strong informal network of entrepreneurship educators who are committed to student development versus politics. We’ve been able to rally and accomplish goals at an amazing pace including the rapid development of our Intercollege Minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission: Following Dr. Hopper’s advice, we’ve found that things will work out when our instinct tells us it is the right thing to do. Constantly seeking institutional approval can kill innovation.

Enlist and frequently recognize staff administrators: Seasoned, savvy, and highly-effective staff administrators will help you navigate institutional barriers. We cannot thank our staff members enough. Without them we would still be buried in red tape.

Find the right people to teach entrepreneurship  

Teaching entrepreneurship requires intensive classroom methods. Many of us can recall when we had classes on the edge of chaos as we attempted to flip back our group to debrief after an exercise. That’s why it’s so important to enlist great entrepreneurship educators – preferably those with entrepreneurial experience. Here are some approaches that have worked for us.

Foster your local educator ecosystem: We partially addressed the challenge of instructor recruitment by building our local network of qualified instructors. We’ve also been able to build on instructor skills through classroom observation, shared teaching experiences, and through professional development.

Maintain quality control: When an instructor is underperforming, we hear about it from our students well before the teaching evaluations are even distributed. Selective teacher recruitment and regular instructor development and support are ways to avoid this issue.

The challenges above are just a few that we have encountered in bringing I&E programs to our university. Fortunately, there is a community of educators that are here to help. We encourage you to attend VentureWell’s OPEN conference, the USASBE meeting, GCEC or engage in many of the online forums to learn additional best practices.

Bob Beaury is an instructor in the School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs at Penn State. Beaury’s classes focus on teaching engineers and business students how to create and market innovative products.


Mark Gagnon is the Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Scholar and Entrepreneurship Coordinator for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. Gagnon’s current research examines the role of entrepreneur cognition and decision making on new firm practices and performance.



Anne Hoag is an associate professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Penn State. Hoag teaches and conducts research in the areas of media entrepreneurship, media economics, and telecommunications management.



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