Entrepreneurship as a degree course: Start-ups for beginners

Young entrepreneurs plan a project
© Getty Images/Lyndon Stratford

A good idea alone is rarely enough to build a successful business. Company founders also require business management and organizational skills – which they can acquire by taking a degree in entrepreneurship.

“You can really make a difference by starting a business”, says Karim Tarraf, sliding a small hexagonal box across the table. A palm-sized sensor, it measures air quality and can be easily affixed in any urban location. The data are collated on a platform and represented on a map by small red dots, indicating where and at what times of day the air is particularly polluted. This allows targeted measures to be taken in those areas with the biggest problems.

Born in Cairo, Karim has a degree in business studies and has long been concerned about environmental issues. At first, however, he did not have any particular business idea. “But then I came up with my idea at uni”, explains the 29-year-old, who is taking a master’s in Management and Technology with a specialist module in Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). During a practical project, students were required to design a concrete business model, which is what got Karim thinking. “What I found important and inspiring was the general atmosphere, and the people one meets in this kind of degree course, which is what made things click into place in my mind”, observes Karim Tarraf. Together with his interdisciplinary team, he has developed a prototype for his idea at the TUM’s Entrepreneurship Center. Now it is time to search for investors.

Entrepreneurial spirit and business expertise

What is needed to turn a brilliant idea into an marketable product? Entrepreneurial spirit alone is not enough, and investors like to see a solid background in commercial or business studies. The range of academic courses on offer has grown considerably in recent years, with more and more universities in Germany running new, specialized degrees in entrepreneurship. According to the business start-up research organization Förderkreis Gründungs-Forschung (FGF), the number of entrepreneurship departments in Germany has risen to 135 since the first chair in the subject was established in 1998.

In a bid to foster a culture of autonomy, the country’s federal and state governments are supporting universities in their attempts to motivate students at an early stage to found companies. This environment gives rise to degree courses that prepare students specifically for starting a business. The courses on offer are diverse, ranging from bachelor’s degrees for prospective company founders and master’s courses specializing in entrepreneurship, to MBA programmes targeted at students with several years’ professional work experience. Many are aimed at students with a degree in business studies, while others have a technological focus and are designed to attract engineers, scientists or IT specialists, providing them with knowledge about spin-offs, innovation management, financial planning and leadership.

Practical in orientation

What all business start-up courses have in common is their highly practical orientation, featuring modules in which students can directly apply their theoretical knowledge. “We have thrown everything overboard that is not important for our target group”, explains Professor Armin Pfannenschwarz, director of the bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship at Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW). This degree course, designed to be taken part-time by people already in professional employment, is aimed at students from small and medium-sized businesses who have already started their own company or are being prepared to take over a company. “The curriculum was heavily influenced by my own rather dramatic experience”, reports Professor Pfannenschwarz. After completing his degree in business studies, he took over his family’s business – and found himself utterly unable to cope. Looking back, he observes that conventional business studies courses are far too theoretical and are insufficient preparation for the challenges of actual business practice. “Very specific questions from the everyday business life of our students are addressed during our lectures”, he explains. “The idea is that they should be able to directly apply what they are learning.”

This combination proved of great benefit to Lydia Mössner. She successfully completed the degree course at the DHBW in Karlsruhe in 2014, and together with two business partners now runs an online shop called “Path in Me”. In cooperation with artists, the company sells eco-friendly t-shirts with individual motifs. “We spotted a gap in the market that would allow us to make some very beautiful things while at the same time doing our bit for a more sustainable world”, explains the 28-year-old. Lydia, who has a first degree in economics, originally came to the DHBW with a different idea, but her dream came to nothing – as was quickly demonstrated by a market analysis she undertook during her entrepreneurship course. “At the beginning I did not have the tools to obtain a realistic view of the situation”, says the young entrepreneur. Besides expert knowledge and methods, it was above all the network that was important for her. “This kind of degree course brings together people who are all heading in the same direction”, she notes. “I profited enormously from the experiences of the others, and from sharing thoughts and ideas with them.” The proof of this is in the success of her online shop: her t-shirts are popular – especially with music bands. 


The article was originally published and was republished with permission from Goethe-Institut.

Text: , Gunda Achterhold

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