Encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset

When you think about the word ‘entrepreneurship’ what sort of images does it conjure up? It’s unlikely that whatever you’re picturing will be in a school or classroom environment, but this is exactly where teachers are encouraged to sow the seeds of the start-ups of the future.

Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia, released by the Office of the Chief Scientist in 2015, looks at how universities and schools can help build a culture of entrepreneurship. This includes following the lead of other countries who’ve made it a priority.

When the report was released late last year, the then Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb talked about the need to encourage an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ at all levels of education – starting in schools. In the report, he says the pop culture view that entrepreneurs are somehow rogue geniuses who manage to make it in business ‘without, or in spite of, education’ is simply not true. ‘If we cannot teach entrepreneurship, we can only recognise the born entrepreneurs; and get out of their way whilst they get on with the business of change.

‘Yet nations across the world have not been content to wait for the one-in-a-million person to seize a once-in-a-lifetime chance. From the United States to Korea, fostering entrepreneurs has become a national priority, pursued with energy, ambition and imagination.’

He adds that while there’s a focus on universities, schools should also act. ‘If students come to higher education with their attitudes hardened, they will not see or welcome its possibilities. You do not make a cake by icing a brick.’

What’s happening in other countries?

  • UK charity Young Enterprise runs the Fiver Challenge for primary schools, where every student is given £5 ($10). They are challenged to set up their own mini business, creating some kind of product or offering a service they can sell or provide for a profit. After one month they pay back the funding - and a suggested ‘legacy donation’ of 50 pence ($1) to help the challenge continue to grow - and keep the profit.
  • One of the WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) Award winners for 2015 was a Ugandan project focusing on developing leadership and entrepreneurship skills. The East African country already has a national entrepreneurship curriculum. The Educate! Experience project is a partnership involving secondary schools, reaching more than 90 000 students in five years.
  • The Chief Scientist’s report also highlights work in South Korea – where the Korean Creative Economy initiative includes entrepreneurship education for primary, secondary, high school and tertiary students. A similar initiative exists in Singapore, where there are several programs aimed at developing entrepreneurship education at a school level. In addition to South Korea and Singapore, report author Colin Kinner (Director of Spike Innovation) also singles out Israel and the US as examples of other countries where entrepreneurship programs are offered in schools.

Kinner’s report also includes a contribution from Bill Bartee, Partner at Blackbird Ventures. ‘Kids need to know that starting and building a business can be a fun, rewarding life path,’ he says. ‘Education on how to become an entrepreneur has to start early at home and in school when kids first set up their roadside lemonade stand ...’

He cites a study (Huber, Sloof & van Praag, 2012) into the effect of primary school entrepreneurship programs on the skills and attitudes of students involved. ‘[It] found a significant positive effect of early entrepreneurship education on skills such as persistence, creativity and pro-activity.’

And, discussing best practice programs in schools, Bartee says: ‘[They] encourage children to ask themselves “What do you want to create?” rather than “What do you want to be?”, and are more about opening their eyes to opportunities than about teaching complex subject matter.’


Huber, L.R., Sloof, R., & van Praag, M. (2012) The effect of early entrepreneurship education, Institute for the Study of Labor, Discussion Paper No. 6512.

Office of the Chief Scientist, (2015). Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia: Spike Innovation.

This article was originally distributed to Teacher School Learning Community members in 2015.

In what ways do you encourage an ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ in your classroom?

Consider the examples above of what's happening in other countries. How could you adapt these initiatives to work with your students?