Musings on Entrepreneurship and Education: Reflections Inspired by MIT’s new College of Computing

Last week, MIT celebrated the new College of Computing with a multi-day conference filled with talks by luminaries like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Joi Ito, Henry Kissinger, Megan Smith, Thomas Friedman, and many more. When Eric Schmidt (Technical Advisor to Alphabet and former Executive Chairman of Google) opened the panel for Entrepreneurship and AI, I was struck by his comments that the world needs more entrepreneurs; that the world needs more of us to become entrepreneurs to solve the problems of our times. I’d read about Schmidt’s previous calls for more entrepreneurs in 2016, but hearing him reiterate the point felt like a call to action.

MIT was founded in April 1861, two days before the start of the civil war. It was founded before we knew of the existence of DNA or atoms, before cars, before telephones, before the internet. And yet it has endured and innovated to stay at the forefront of technology, while becoming a model for college level entrepreneurship education.

Today, it’s become commonplace for universities to nurture entrepreneurs and to teach entrepreneurial skills. But few high schools, middle schools, or elementary schools incorporate entrepreneurship into their curriculum. MIT has done its part to inspire high school student entrepreneurs with the spinoff of LaunchX (originally started as a program of MIT called MIT Launch) and by the relatively new creation of a world education lab dedicated in part to reinventing preK-12 education. And there are many other programs here and there for high school student entrepreneurs.

But I believe that we need to do more to empower our children (including younger children) to become the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. To help them become change-makers who will make “a better world” (to borrow the name of MIT’s $6 billion campaign). Moreover, I am confident that an entrepreneurial education gives students the skills to succeed in any career or workplace.

What do I mean by an entrepreneurial education?

First, there’s the obvious — supporting students of all ages to turn their ideas into companies. But to me, it’s more than that. It’s giving students low stakes opportunities to fail. It’s showing students how to find joy in challenging themselves and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s helping students apply their learnings to real world problems. It’s nurturing their natural creativity, curiosity, and ability to find patterns and make connections. It’s providing opportunities to pursue interests and passions, and to collaborate and work in teams. It’s grounding education in ethics, empathy, and compassion so that they can prevent biases. And it’s teaching skills that are crucial to success in entrepreneurship, skills that are transferable to other careers and to life in general.

These skills are innumerable. But as a start, they include empathy, persistence, grit, confidence, self-awareness, communication, collaboration, curiosity, prioritization, flexibility in thinking, integrity, computational thinking, creative thinking, resourcefulness, optimism, conflict resolution, story telling, and so much more. It may sound old-fashioned, but I believe character education and ethics are also central to nurturing tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. Social emotional and ethical learning (SEEL) is not an over-hyped buzzword; this kind of education is critical for success in today’s hyper-connected world. As every job function becomes augmented with automated computing, it’s “soft skills” that will give our kids an edge. Moreover, we’ve all read about the misdeeds of Facebook and other Silicon Valley start-ups, and it seems clear to me that empathy and ethics could have prevented some problems.

As the world becomes more complex and interconnected, so does the work people do. As machine learning and artificial intelligence begin to do more of our work, it will become more important for people to do work that machines find it harder to do. An entrepreneurial mindset will help our students to succeed in work of the future. And it is imperative that tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are fundamentally ethical and trained to recognize and overcome biases.

MIT’s celebration left me feeling hopeful and inspired.

Hopeful that we can give tomorrow’s innovators, thinkers, doers, and leaders the ethically-grounded education that will allow them to use machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, and other tools that have yet to be developed for the good of the world.

And inspired to help make that future a reality.

What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship and education, and the future of education?

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.