Are accelerators the better business schools? The secret of their success in educating entrepreneurs  

by Maximiliane Naß, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany

Entrepreneurship education is booming lately. Never before has there been such a variety of programs. One of them being accelerators. The cohort based and fixed-term programs can be defined as a relatively  new form of entrepreneurship education. And while higher business institutes (HEI) like universities and business schools may have more experience, it seems that accelerators have an advantage in stimulating the entrepreneurial learning of their participants. So: What do they do differently? 

HEI still heavily rely on the traditional teaching methods they have been using for generations even though they have been proven to be less influential on entrepreneurial attributes. Within lectures, case studies and group discussions students don’t get the possibility to put their knowledge and insights into practice. And also the more innovative methods used in HEI, like project works or business plan creation, are only partially able to create a realistic learning experience. 

Therein lies one of the advantages of accelerators. They are able to create an authentic learning experience. The participants directly apply  their new knowledge, competencies and insights to their own venture. And as each cohort consists of a variety of ventures, the participants are able to learn from each other by watching the decisions of their peers and their outcomes. Accelerators also provide intensive mentoring services. In their recent study Hallen, Cohen and Bingham identified the broad, intensive and paced consultations (BIP consultations) as a distinctive method so far only used by accelerators. There are four distinctive qualities of BIP consultation: 

  • Learning in accelerators happens through consultation, a form of knowledge exchange during which an expert is heavily involved into the process and can provide first-hand experience tailored to the specific situation. Participants experience consultation for example during mentoring.   
  • The term broad describes the large number of interactions with a large variety of contacts. Contacts can range from fellow entrepreneurs to potential customers or experts of a certain field. 
  • “Six meetings a day, six days a week, for six weeks” – the consultation process over the course is intense and participants invest up to 40+ hours per week into the knowledge exchange.
  • Accelerators additionally provide a temporal structure. They decide when a topic is in  focus and for how long. Learning is paced.
Broad, intense and paced consultation is a distinctive method identified by Hallen et. al (2020). It is so far only used within accelerators.

Hallen and colleagues assume that BIP consultation could be transferred into other environments.  However, more research is needed to say this for sure. 

Even though it seems like accelerators have an advantage in stimulating entrepreneurial learning at the moment, HEI still play an important role within the field.  They are able to create awareness and interest into entrepreneurship, often being a first point of contact to possible future entrepreneurs. Moreover programs at HEI are available to nascent entrepreneurs who have not yet founded their venture. Accelerators aren’t replacing HEI, but they could inspire new forms of education.

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