Future entrepreneurs: exploring paradigms in the entrepreneurial learning experience

In the recent book chapter, Prof Helen Lawton Smith and Dr Muthu De Silva present a unique multidimensional approach to supporting future entrepreneurs at Birkbeck University of London, “London’s evening university”.

Teaching entrepreneurship at Birkbeck is important.  What distinguishes Birkbeck from many others is the scope of the learning experience. In line with best practice, this includes innovative programmes in the curriculum and exciting extra-curricular programmes.

The core question addressed in the chapter focused on: “What teaching and learning paradigms are most effective for students of entrepreneurship?” 

  • The activities at Birkbeck combine research-led and practitioner-oriented approaches. This combination is achieved by innovatively combining theory with practice. Such combinations are possible through the involvement of guest speakers and a growing body of mentors, the use of case studies, the use of blended learning approaches, and the promise of opportunities for students to engage in research centre seminars and extracurricular entrepreneurial learning activities.

Entrepreneurial activities are also facilitated by the external engagement of academics, through which they generate impact from their research. Often academics capitalise on such engagements to enrich teaching. Birkbeck’s academics are thus both academically rigorous and practically well informed; this has enriched the student experience. All of this serves to ratchet up the overall entrepreneurial nature of the college.

  • Our teaching offers a platform for co-creation of knowledge. Often students are given a platform on which to co-create knowledge though close engagement with their peers, academics, guest speakers, mentors and other networks introduced through modules, research centre and extracurricular activities. Such formation of knowledge is extremely important. Students are able to increase both their employability and the application of their learning in professional engagements. These are short-term outcomes, but there are also longer-term outcomes. In the longer term, students who graduate from Birkbeck’s programmes interact with academics and students as guest speakers, mentors and gate-keepers to their corporate and policy organisations. Alumni also act as role models to our students.
  • Birkbeck offers an evolving broad approach to entrepreneurship. The definition of entrepreneurship includes entrepreneurship in different contexts ranging from start-up-, corporate-, academic-, public-, and civil-. Entrepreneurship has increased the applicability of Birkbeck’s teaching. Therefore, a diverse range of students are able to fulfil their objectives to become entrepreneurial in their own context. This is also supported by research and applied research expertise in innovation (e.g. CIMR) that has resulted in enriching student experience and employability.

This multidimensional approach is shown in the Figure below. Opportunities include undergraduate and post graduate modules in the Department of Management and in the School of Science. The aims of the courses include learning to start, learning to grow, learning to fail and entrepreneurial ecosystems. In all of the modules the guest speaker programmes afford students opportunities to engage with entrepreneurs and professionals who have real world experience of all four.

Extra-curricular experiences provide both practical support for students and possibilities for engaging in debates and workshops on entrepreneurship, innovation and policy issues. The Pioneer programme (funded by Santander) is open to any Birkbeck student interested in developing skills in enterprise and entrepreneurship. The Centre for Innovation Management Research (CIMR) is a hub for enabling collaborations; teaching and sharing of research, ideas and practice to create impact and facilitate more effective management; commercialisation of innovation; and the development of effective policy. It also helps create impact for the academics and others involved.

Students consistently express very high satisfaction with the entrepreneurship learning experience at Birkbeck. And this does not end when students graduate. Many alumni succeed and go on to be valued members in the CIMR community, continuing to participate in the entrepreneurial teaching and learning.

For more details, please read our recent publication:

Lawton Smith, H., and De Silva, M (2022) ‘Future Entrepreneurs: Exploring Paradigms in the Entrepreneurial Learning Experience’ in Colette Henry., Barbara Filipa Casqueira Coelho Gabriel., Klaus Sailer., Ester Bernadó-Mansilla., Katja Lahikainen (eds) Strategies for the Creation and Maintenance of Entrepreneurial Universities, IGI Global, pp.168-193: DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7456-0.ch008

To learn more about Birkbeck’s Entrepreneurship Education:


This post has been contributed by Prof Helen Lawton Smith and Dr Muthu de Silva