To what extent can live projects contribute to creating entrepreneurial learning environments? A critical evaluation of the MBA Enterprise Elective


The paper provides a critical evaluation of the extent to which live projects on the Oxford Brookes MBA enterprise module can support the creation of entrepreneurial learning environments. The main premise argued is that entrepreneurial learning cannot be achieved through traditional class-based environments with pedagogical approaches, rather that entrepreneurial learning is an andragogical process which enables rather than determines student learning. Live projects provide such an opportunity and particularly provide for an environment in which students can be stimulated to do something entrepreneurial which requires an investment of self and in doing so learn experientially, including through failure. There are obvious challenges in adopting this approach: to students, who have been acculturated into seeking greater clarity and uncertainty; to clients, many of whom want solutions not simulated experiments, and to universities who have to balance the tension between the two. It is argued nevertheless that these tensions need to be managed If we are to equip graduates with the skills and attributes to manage and lead in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.


How enterprise educators teach should mirror what they teach; thus process and content collide to create a unique, perhaps entrepreneurial learning environment. This enterprising environment represents a culture of creativity, calculated risk taking, opportunity identification, rigorous analysis, spirited debate, and thoughtful planning. Above all an entrepreneurial learning environment demands a teaching perspective that acknowledges that enterprising learning is a process of learning in enterprising ways as well as becoming enterprising: it is conative and affective (Gibb, 2008) whereas education is often more comfortable in the safety of cognitive learning.

This paper provides a critical evaluation of live- project approaches adopted on the Brookes MBA Enterprise module over the last decade and their contribution to creating an entrepreneurial learning environment. Over this time the module has developed a variety of student and client-led experiences which have largely been classroom-based. Creativity, innovation, flexibility, and risk taking are all attributes that are demanded by today’s environment, organisations, employers and employees. These attributes and the associated (in) ability of education providers to meet this need is well-covered by the executive education press. The MBA is coming under pressure in terms of market perception of value. Further, Business Schools and MBA programmes have been criticised for not preparing their students for the contemporary, dynamic business environment. Criticisms focus on their over-theoretical nature with teaching and learning methods of classroom-based, case-study learning as not engaging MBAs with ‘real’ problems and not developing the skills of risk-taking, creativity, flexibility, resilience and self-efficacy.  Current provision it is argued is supply-led and does not fully reflect a demand-led approach that values how entrepreneurs learn (Pittaway & Thorpe, 2012) therefore lacking credibility within the entrepreneurial community of practice.

The paper draws extensively from the most recent run of the Brookes MBA Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development module in which live -projects were undertaken by MBA students on an intensive weekend away off-campus, working to support enterprises in the Green Valleys Social Enterprises network in Mid-Wales.  These were real businesses with real and immediate needs. Untypical of most other programmes due to the level of risk involved, project scope and deliverables were negotiated between client and student teams and the role of tutors was of facilitator or learning coach.  On the most recent run of the module reviewed here, more condensed, tight timescales and immersion in the client’s locale ensured the situation was pressured, with a degree of emotional intensity generated by the inherent ambiguity and risk of working in real time, of student-client negotiated projects with no apparent formal tutor-led structure or input.

Live-projects provide potential for greater student-led experiential learning. This paper also provides a critical reflection on the realistic potential for creating entrepreneurial learning environments through this method where projects are ‘real’, that is not simulations. We make a distinction between simulation and stimulation of entrepreneurial learning. For many students and even some teachers the unspoken purpose of teaching and learning is the reduction of uncertainty (Kember, 1997; Gordon, 2006). Creating learning environments of uncertainty and risk is an important potential feature of live projects. However, entrepreneurial learning environments need to mimic the entrepreneurial life-world typified by uncertainty and where failing is a key component of entrepreneurial learning (Cope, 2011). The extent to which these live-projects can genuinely meet this challenge whilst managing the potential tensions between ‘educational’ objectives and the requirements and expectations of other key stakeholders (client and learner, not to mention university), is of fundamental importance. The paper is therefore of both academic and practical importance and feeds into the current development of the Undergraduate Enterprise pathway and the MBA Core Enterprise Module launched in April 2015.

The paper begins by exploring the nature of entrepreneurial learning and related challenges for enterprise educators. In doing so it places entrepreneurial learning within an andragogical rather than pedagogical paradigm where learning is experiential and more student-led, before considering this in relation to simulation and simulated activities. We introduce and discuss the Brookes MBA approach in this respect. Conclusions are drawn which have relevance for both understanding and praxis.

The nature and challenge of entrepreneurial learning

Although entrepreneurial education is quite a new phenomenon in higher education, as a field of inquiry it is one of the most rapidly growing areas of research.  Whilst ontologically and conceptually underdeveloped there is consensus that traditional pedagogical methods of learning alone are insufficient to adequately develop entrepreneurs to deal with the complexities of running and creating business opportunities. There is a growing need to cultivate innovative ways of thinking and new modes of pedagogy to fully enhance and develop entrepreneurial approaches to learning and teaching (Higgins, Smith and Mohammed, 2013). Entrepreneurs may have different learning styles compared with managers, and thus conventional teaching approaches may restrain the development of entrepreneurial behaviours, skills and attributes (Gibb, 1987; Hytti & O’Gorman, 2004; Lourenco & Jones, 2006), which requires greater experiential uncertainty. Much entrepreneurial education delivered in traditional modes may provide little insight into the personal pressures of uncertainty and complexity in the life-world of the entrepreneur (Gibb, 2011).

It is posited that the test of any particular entrepreneurial pedagogy is the degree to which it is focused on specific aspects of personal entrepreneurial development. A wide range of pedagogies are available to meet this challenge and it is important for enterprise educators to be aware of these, understanding how each might contribute specifically to desired outcomes (Gibb, 2011) Drama for example could be used to create empathy with entrepreneurial values, stimulate creativity, build self-efficacy and communication skills, stimulate decision-making under pressure and support team building capacity.  Drawing could be used to explore ways of seeing things, to develop creative metaphor, and to explore emotional intelligence and examine frameworks used in intuitive decision-making.  The enterprise educator’s challenge is to ensure that approaches deal with affective and conative as well as cognitive aspects of learning (Kyro, 2006).  Affective development relates to the response to the subject in terms of likes, dislikes, feelings, emotions and moods. Conative development embraces the active drive to make sense of something. Cognitive development is concerned with reception, recognition, judgement and remembering (Gibb, 2011).

Understanding where entrepreneurship education sits within the web of education theory and concept needs developing. Arguably entrepreneurship education can find its place comfortably within a number of well-established concepts broadly clustered under the umbrella of social constructionist theories of knowledge and learning (Gibb, 2011). There is no space in this paper to explore these in detail but the main theories impinging upon entrepreneurship education are: Bandura’s (1977) concept of self-efficacy which underpins the importance of instilling competency (know how) and capacity to act; theories of experiential learning (Papert & Harel, 1991); tacit learning (Polanyi, 1983); intuitive decision making (Sadler-Smith, 2004; Blake, 2009); heuristics (Holcomb et al., 2009). These all support entrepreneurial learning and emphasise learning by ‘doing’.

Overall, for enterprise educators, conclusions suggest the importance of self-awareness, self-reflection and self-regulation in learning, and in particular the androgogical emphasis on student-oriented learning and the intention to act (Knowles, 1970). Whilst there is no explicit definition of entrepreneurial learning (Pittaway & Cope, 2007) it is accepted that entrepreneurs are action-oriented and that learning occurs through experience and discovery (Rae, 2000; Sarasvathy, 2001). Researchers argue that entrepreneurs learn through doing and reflection (Deakins & Freel, 1998; Cope & Watts, 2000), including ‘learning by copying; learning by experiment; learning by problem solving and opportunity taking; and learning from mistakes’ (Gibb, 1997, p.19). Overcoming opportunities and problems has been identified as a central feature of how entrepreneurs learn (Rueber & Fischer, 1999; Minniti & Bygrave, 2001) and ‘major setbacks’ (Reuber & Fischer, 1993; Deakins & Freel, 1998) and discontinuous critical learning events have become emerging themes (Deakins & Freel, 1998; Cope, 2003).  Whilst not without challenge (e.g. Frankish et al, 2013) the notion that entrepreneurs learn through ‘failure’ has been highlighted more recently as a learning opportunity (Shepherd, 2003).  Cope (2011) argues that failure is an essential prerequisite for learning.  Drawing on organisational behaviour and social psychology he asserts that failure plays a central role in facilitating more sophisticated entrepreneurial mental models facilitated through a process of critical self-reflection and reflexivity.

There is also a social dimension: the entrepreneur identified as embedded within the entrepreneurial task environment (Gibb, 1997). Hines and Thorpe (1995, p. 680) argue that ‘learning takes place in context, and that experience shapes learning, described as a ‘process of co-participation’ where learning involves ‘reflecting, theorising, experiencing and action’ (Taylor & Thorpe, 2004, p.204)  More recent work suggests that entrepreneurial learning should be seen as a social phenomenon (Rae, 2002; Higgins et al., 2013) and entrepreneurs viewed as practitioners who operate in social communities of practice (Cope, 2005).

Simulating and stimulating entrepreneurial learning

We assert that key to entrepreneurial learning is more than simulation, it is stimulation. The key distinction being that the latter provides ‘real’ experiential learning opportunities which increase levels of uncertainty and risk. Simulating learning linked to how entrepreneurs learn is difficult and the role of simulations as teaching methods under-researched (Romme, 2003). Simulation of entrepreneurial learning requires creation of uncertain and ambiguous contexts encouraging students to step outside taken-for-granted normal educational processes and assumptions (for example tutors as providers of content; the existence of model answers; achieving right first time). Such an approach could be limited to reflective assignments rather than essays but could extend to the creation of simulations which expose learners to greater levels of risk and uncertainty but within supportive environments (Rolfe, 2010).

Simulations where ‘failure’ is a key learning outcome are however rarely seen. Uncertainty, with the possibility of failing, in an educational programme replicates the circumstances in which an entrepreneur operates. Failure is tough but has substantial information, learning and knowledge experience (Shepherd, 2003; Rolfe, 2010). However, in an age of certitude (Gordon, 2006) typified (including and especially in education) by greater levels of prescription and organisational bureaucracy this presents enterprise educators with challenges.  Building-in failure or rather ‘failing’ as an objective goes against the grain of most educational paradigms. It is however fundamental to genuinely entrepreneurial learning.

Further, ambiguity heightens emotional exposure, which is inherent in entrepreneurial learning (Cope, 2003): students working on unfamiliar activities where student dynamics are crucial but uncontrollable (Mumford, 1996). Emotional exposure can be created in course design by asking students to work on a problem they personally conceptualise and feel committed to. It is this significant ‘investment of self’ that shapes learning (Cope, 2003). There are limitations to this approach: it is arguably difficult to successfully simulate these affective and conative dimensions of entrepreneurial learning in its entirety. For example, financial exposure can only be experienced (Pittaway & Cope, 2007). Genuinely entrepreneurial learning environments may be those exposing students to the real lived-world of the entrepreneur and their business and all the inherent problems entailed.

In summary, entrepreneurial learning environments feature uncertainty and complexity and lead to personal development through affective, conative and cognitive learning. Entrepreneurial learning environments provide learning ‘by doing’ and from ‘failure’ with reflexivity and social co-participation as enablers. This greater student-orientation places entrepreneurial learning within an andragogical rather than pedagogical paradigm.  Simulated projects provide contexts whereby students are stimulated to do something entrepreneurial which requires an investment of self and in doing so learn experientially, including through failure. But genuine entrepreneurial learning only comes through experiencing real entrepreneurial situations. Next the research on entrepreneurial learning is reviewed in order to consider how to develop student stimulation and the role of live projects.

Brookes MBA Entrepreneurship module

The Oxford Brookes MBA entrepreneurship module has a long tradition of engaging with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial learning.  Initially developed and run through the Business School’s Enterprise Centre, the module ensured that learning was closely aligned with the entrepreneurial life-world, with learning facilitated through a series of live case studies. These gave students the opportunity to learn through the lived experiences of visiting speakers drawn from the Enterprise Centre’s network, including successful entrepreneurs such as: Sinclair Beecham, co-founder of Pret a Manger; Sir Christopher Gent Chief Executive Officer of Vodafone and subsequently Chairman of Glaxo Smith Kline; Diane Woodhouse Chief Executive of Camelot; and a wide range of local businesses. These entrepreneurs experienced and shared with students their success and failure. Importantly, drawing on the andragological mode, learning was intentionally student-led with the nature, length and direction of each session following where and how long the interest and questions of students went and remained.  Students were encouraged to develop their networking skills with many subsequently developing relationships with speakers, so developing their own active entrepreneurial skills and task environment. Risk was inherent for student and tutor with the live speaker and student-led nature of the sessions meaning learning was not pre-defined or assured – the plenary provided an opportunity for the tutor to stimulate reflexivity and hence learning.

The Brookes MBA entrepreneurship module has historically developed live project opportunities for entrepreneurial learning through practice with small student teams working as consultants to apply entrepreneurial thinking to predominantly local business challenges. The nature of projects ranged from developing growth strategies (including raising venture capital) to succession planning, product development and marketing strategies. Unlike in other institutions where project scope and deliverables are pre-determined, Brookes MBA entrepreneurship teams were expected to meet with the client and agree the project terms of reference themselves.  If students then agreed to a project scope that was too big, it was understood that they would be working throughout their summer to deliver it. Tutors were critical friends, facilitating learning rather than directing projects, and guiding reflexivity from moments of ‘failure’ (e.g. failure to secure access or satisfy at interim client reports/meetings). Uncertainty and risk but also affective and conative learning was inherent in the student-negotiated project. Deliverables and presentational method were agreed between client and team. The phrase ‘back of a fag paper’ often used in preparatory sessions reinforced the client-led nature of the project and recognises that entrepreneurs have found it difficult to see how university courses will support their business with genuinely useful outcomes (Gibb, 1997).

Balancing the needs of client, student (and university) is not easy. Where projects emerged from the Enterprise Centre’s network, and therefore the Centre’s credibility was at stake, tutors had to be confident in the process of affective and conative learning (understanding that students had already engaged in cognitive learning). Some early broad negotiation with new clients was a way for tutors to manage the risk.

Responding to increasing demand for entrepreneurial employability skills and attributes, more recent changes to the module have reflected the need to move to greater experiential learning and in particular a stronger focus on live projects and stimulation of entrepreneurial learning.

Entrepreneurial live projects

A more fully experiential approach was introduced in 2013 to meet the need for more real, entrepreneurial skill development.  The module ran as an intensive four day study trip delivered partly off campus, in situ of a number of real challenges faced by real enterprises. Designed to expose and immerse MBA students to real-time, real-business, time-bound, action-learning in a context of uncertainty and ambiguity, these require creativity, innovation, pragmatism and business knowledge to address and problem solve a diverse range of issues and opportunities. The more intensive and client-based format heightened tension and risk.

Taking place in the Brecon Beacons in South Wales in 2013 with a social enterprise focus, MBA students had 48 hours to respond to briefs and develop strategies for sustainable business diversification for local two clients:

Talgarth Mill in Brecon, Wales, a restored mill, powered by the Rive Ellywe. Restoration of the mill had been funded by Lottery Money and was running as a community social enterprise with mill tours, café, weekend pizza restaurant, gift shop and subsequently manufacture and local sales of flour. The Mill now needed to grow revenue.

Twizy Cars run by Eco Travel Network (ETN) was a fleet/network of 2-person Renault electric vehicles targeting domestic and tourist use in the Brecon Beacon National Park area. Set up initially with Brecon Beacons Sustainable Development Funding and owned by a husband and wife team, the ETN had 20 charge points and vehicles were leased by hotels and other regional businesses. ETN now needed to grow revenue.

Presenting a chronological outline of this delivery of the MBA Enterprise module, we explain and evaluate how it created an entrepreneurial learning environment. The tight 4 day timescale heightened the sense of complexity of the learning experience with expectations on the part of student, tutor and client of some outcome.  Criteria on which to judge the successes or failures of this new approach would include evidence of learning, impact, implementation: students’ innovative and pragmatic problem-solving approach to real, time-bound challenges; clients’ valuation and use of the solutions presented.

The first day and a half took place on-campus with an introduction to enterprise and creativity workshop.  This embodied a cognitive approach but also, with active creative thinking exercises students were engaged in entrepreneurial ‘practice’ and ‘doing’. For many students this workshop challenged them to think differently and reflect on their own level and type of creativity, embodying uncertainty, affective and conative approaches. The workshop specifically encourages students to ‘have a go’ and to experience their tendency to stay inside the box rather than successfully think outside the box. This leads to emotions of frustration and ‘failure’. Encouraged by tutors to reflect on this, students were engaging in reflexivity from the outset.

A three hour mini-bus drive to Wales via Hay on Wye allowed for tutor-student discussion about new insights, questions and outline briefing of the 48 hour schedule. This embodied social co-participation with everyone getting to know each other en-route. We observed also that affective, conative and cognitive aspects converged during this drive through spectacular Brecon scenery: students (particularly from other continents) showed real emotion and new insight about the UK beyond Oxford and London. Further, with little prior information about where we would be staying, risk and ambiguity were inherent at this stage.

Accommodation for the two days was Brecon Beacons style in remote mountain-top farm. Early evening briefing with the clients happened over a cup of tea around the farm-house dining table. Talgarth Mill Director and Miller and Twizy Car owners/EcoTravel Network founders presented their businesses, issues and objectives for the two-day live-project. The students had two hours to discuss and gain insight into the client needs and to negotiate what was achievable within the timescale. The tight timescales and understanding that these were real clients with real needs and expectations heightened the sense of risk for students alongside affective and conative learning: this was evident in the concentration of the students.

Failure to adequately grasp what the client needed was a real risk. Over dinner discussion took place between tutors and students to start to make sense of the brief that had just been negotiated and how to approach the projects. This discussion embodied reflexivity and a social dimension as students shared understandings and plans. Students were put into teams of two but open discussion of both projects meant social, shared learning was taking place. Affective and conative approaches underpinned the end of the evening: gathered around a self-built campfire discussing the projects continued the reflexivity and social sharing. Darkness, campfire flames, surrounded by trees in a remote location was a significantly sensory and unusual learning environment away from the traditional classroom.

Next morning a mini-bus drive to Talgarth Mill allowed for further questions, discussion and sharing of ideas. A short follow-up with clients allowed for revision of plans from any ‘failure’ the evening before to secure appropriate information or negotiation of the brief. A tour of the Mill and drive in the Twizy Car provided hands-on understanding of the reality of the projects and to meet key people (staff, customers, locals) who might provide insight and networks for the projects.

Students worked on the projects all day in a small ‘base room’ above the Mill surrounded by bags of flour, the noise of the watermill turning below them and customers coming in and out. Students conducted their research using whatever was available: university Ipads; personal laptops; Mill/café staff/customers; local businesses (post office, shops, residents); university tutors. This created a ‘real’ environment experienced by many business owners (literally working above the shop or factory floor and drawing on personal resources/networks). The busy, noisy environment with few of the conventional resources available and 48-hour deadline to produce a client presentation heightened the risk.  The entire day and evening activities were student-driven: they came and went and had breaks as they saw fit. The only imposed structure was a 6 o’clock mini-bus back to the farm house and dinner at 8.00. Affective and conative learning and entirely student-led approach: students had to make sense of their projects, time-line and resources available to them.

A key feature throughout was the on-hand presence and phased tutor support. Present at the Mill and farmhouse, tutors watched and followed student discussions and activities. Tutors periodically sat alongside individual groups and engaged in their discussions or called short time-outs to provide input to the whole group through a short presentation or discussion. This provided cognitive learning (e.g. referring back to some theoretical concept previously studied) and helped students engage in reflexivity and sharing. These occasional tutor interventions reminded students that their peers, tutors, mill staff, customers were part of their knowledge network/community of practice. It also allowed for learning from failing during the day: short interventions to help reflection on whether they were heading in an appropriate direction, utilising all resources available, maybe needed to change track or focus.

Project work and discussions carried on over supper and into the early hours. Late night working was facilitated by provision of refreshments and tutors but continued the student-led approach.

The next morning mini-bus back to the Mill allowed for mini post-mortem of the previous day’s progress and achievement (or otherwise), and final project work, before lunchtime client presentations. The student groups presented a series of prioritised, costed proposals including: for the Mill the opportunities to develop the Mill as a Food Festival centre; for Twizy the opportunities with retail partners. The presentations, feedback and discussion with clients allowed for understanding the degree to which the students had delivered to client expectations.  The mini-bus drive back to Oxford was an important penultimate part of the entrepreneurial learning experience allowing tutors and students to de-brief, discuss experiences, learning, positives, negatives, pleasures and pains, achievements and frustrations. Any failing in process or output by the students was able to be reflected upon and learning used: the final student written assignment (the university assessed part of the module) asked students to evaluate enterprise and entrepreneurship from their experience. The mini-bus drive and assignment required reflexivity.


The experiential nature of this module is key to its design and its success. So too is the inherent risk involved in this pedagogical approach. The range of intellectual, cultural, sensory experiences (and in some cases challenges) are purposively created to encourage, indeed require students to develop their tolerance for uncertainty, and provoke and develop their levels of  creativity and flexibility through exposure to an environment which is as far removed from a classroom as possible. On-going action learning was facilitated: tutors were part of the experience, on-hand throughout enabling on-going discussion, questioning, challenge, suggestion, laughter, frustration, encouragement, reflection, action, reflexivity. This on-going interaction started in the creativity workshop, continued in the bus journey, included the client briefing, evening dinner, camp fire, breakfast, working all day and into the night, client presentation and mini-bus journey home. The role of tutors was entirely facilitative, and students came to understand these as sources and resources much like the café staff, miller, local residents etc. In this regard the approach to teaching and learning on the module is andragogical rather than pedagogical – closer to the realities of the entrepreneurial experience.

The potential to fail was inherent: the Internet may not work; the café owner may be too busy to talk; local businesses for market research may not be available on Saturdays. Students have to demonstrate creativity, flexibility, risk-taking, networking, awareness of issues facing entrepreneurs. For example with limited time and resource for local market information they resorted to walking the local streets talking to locals, telephoning the regional Co-Op office regarding supplier details, doing calculations based on estimates which they had to justify, adapting rather than applying some of the classic theories, using creative idea generation and idea evaluation tools to get started quickly and cut through disagreement.

Freeloading, often seen as a problem with simulation (Pittaway & Cope, 2007) is less of a problem where teams work on real challenges meeting and working with client organisations. These projects provided learning by doing, conversion of knowledge into strategic and problem-solving mind-maps as a basis for flexible decision-making, ownership of learning, relationship learning (Gibb, 1997) and learning by trial and error. The work of Lave and Wenger (1991) and Wenger (1998) emphasises the importance of context in learning and the power of ‘unintentional’ learning via heavy engagement in the ‘community of practice’. Client-based live-projects conducted in situ, in groups, surrounded by tutors, client, employees and customers, provided ample ‘unintentional learning’ in a ‘community of practice’.

Emphasis on the importance of social interaction to learning supports entrepreneurship educators who begin with exposure to practice (not theory), subsequently allow ample scope for reflection and personal meaning (“what do you think?”) and only then seek to add meaning through introduction of relevant concepts and theories. The work of Vygotsky (1978) supports this approach underpinning the entrepreneurial education notion of learning on a need-to-know basis, linking the potential to learn with what the individual currently knows and sees as possible to act on. This approach of exposure to practice followed by theory and then self-reflection and self-regulation (Bransford et al., 1999) is unconventional, creating ambiguity and risk for students and educators, but live projects have the potential to provide this.

The intensive four-day entrepreneurial live case studies experience, supported by on-going and summative reflexivity with peers, tutors and final essay embody this approach.  Judging against the criteria of learning, impact and implementation, the immediate evidence of success is positive. Students advise us that it’s the best part of their MBA because it was real, hands-on, pressured and fun. They cite learning so much about themselves, about pragmatism, to apply but adapt their knowledge to the circumstance, acquiring insight into real enterprises and challenges facing social entrepreneurs. Students cite the impact of this module as developing in them a ‘can do’ attitude. Two students linked the module’s learning and impact to their subsequent win on the Exeter University 2013 MBA Coca Cola Sustainability Competition: acting and thinking fast under time pressure, cutting straight through to task in hand, honing in on requirements, presentation skills.  Further  student  impact and ‘implementation’ evidence comes through networks developed from this intensive – between students, between students and tutors (on-going alumni links supporting the programme), between students and clients (one student now counts the client as a customer for her business).

Learning, impact and implementation on the part of the client is arguably less easy to gauge immediately and would require longitudinal research to follow-up on implementation of proposals. However, clients stating that they were surprised and impressed with the calibre of work achieved and the intention to implement certain proposals is immediate evidence of success. For example the Twizy car clients said they would follow-up specific retail contacts made by the students; the Mill clients responded to the food festival idea identifying personal links they would pursue. The personal networks established between students and clients referred to above provide evidence of our expectation that the MBA Entrepreneurship Module will facilitate follow-up/continuation projects through the final MBA capstone 50 credit Individual or Group Consultancy projects.

One key problem is the potential clash of expectations. Where simulations allow for experiment, and entrepreneurial learning contexts provide opportunity for students to fail and learn from failure, real-time business projects require teams to deliver to a client’s real business need. Students may get a lot out of live projects but the risk is that the client does not. This leads to risk for the educator. In this sense Enterprise educators themselves need to be entrepreneurial, tolerating uncertainty and managing expectations of all the different stakeholders (students, university, client). This is worthy of further study.


The Oxford Brookes University MBA Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development Module is delivered through an Enterprise Intensive action-learning trip exposing and developing a range of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills. Real time, real enterprise issues problem-solved in enterprising ways by MBAs and facilitated by enterprising tutors and their contacts is providing an action-learning experience which is second-to-none.

This intensive enterprise action-learning experience is not limited to specific settings or types of organisation. In the case illustrated here it incorporates, demonstrates and develops a broader view of business beyond the corporate. MBAs can become increasingly relevant to markets such as those wanting to be social entrepreneurs.  This format will be adopted in subsequent modules although with a different focus each year.  For example forthcoming ‘Enterprise Intensives’ in-planning include working with a Gibraltar tech start-up incubator and an Italian regional food-service cluster.

The paper has explored the extent to which live-projects can support the creation of entrepreneurial learning environments. The main premise has been that entrepreneurial learning cannot be achieved through traditional class-based environments with pedagogical approaches, rather that entrepreneurial learning is an andragogical process which enables rather than determines student learning.  Live-projects provide such an opportunity and particularly with a focus beyond simulation or stimulation.  Adding ambiguity into the course design and creating pressures in terms of timescales is significant in replicating the entrepreneurial life-world and supporting affective and conative learning. There are obvious challenges in adopting this approach, not least student expectations which in more recent times ask for greater clarity and certainty. This requires careful discussion with students to establish the risk but also justify approach. To-date there have been no problems in this regards. There are other challenges as there are other stakeholders. Meeting learning objectives where failure is viewed as a learning opportunity may not necessarily meet the needs of the client many of whom need solutions not simulated experiments.

The UK government recently published a review of enterprise education and its leader Lord Young makes clear he expects more focus on development of entrepreneurial skills and attributes across the HE sector. There is a lot happening in UK enterprise education but the classroom nature of teaching and typical focus on short-term ‘success’ is hindering genuine development of entrepreneurial attributes which can only really be developed within contexts of uncertainty and where failing is central to the learning process.  The Brookes MBA Enterprise module adopts an innovative approach which is risky for students and tutors but is producing MBA graduates ready, able and willing to manage and lead in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.


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Richard Beresford

Richard Beresford is a Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and formerly Director of of the Centre of Creativity and Enterprise Development at the same institution. He was a member of the Executive Group of the recent Enterprise Education Review led by Lord Young (2014) having previously worked on the government Cox Review of Creativity in Business. He is currently a Director and Vice Chair of the Enterprise Educators UK, a national network comprising over 90 universities across the UK. Faculty of Business Oxford Brookes University OX33 1HX 01865 485958

Nicolette Michels

Nicolette Michels is Director of the MBA at Oxford Brookes University. She has worked on numerous enterprise education programmes both in the UK and abroad and has extensive experience in developing university collaborations with business.

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