student experience

5 entrepreneurial skills today’s students need

As teaching changes to become less “sage on the stage” and more “guide on the side,” students must also adapt to a new learning culture by becoming more entrepreneurially-minded.

entrepreneur-student-skillsSince the 2005 publication of his highly impactful book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman has been teaching his readers and listeners to think differently about our world and how we interact with each other. Friedman consistently talks about new skill sets that are required for anyone who wants to not only survive but truly thrive in the hyper-connected world that is life in the 21st century.

One group that has taken on this challenge is Metiri Group, based in Marina Del Rey, California. Cheryl Lemke, CEO and Co-Founder of Metiri Group, is leading the way on expanding the concepts of 21st Century Skills. Metiri Group, through their collaborative project with North Central Regional Education Laboratory, enGauge 21st Century Skills: Literacy in the Digital Age, (Metiri & NCREL, 2003), helped to define the term “21st Century Skills” in the context that it is now widely known.

Today Metiri Group, as the beneficiary of a Small Business Innovation Research Grant, awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in January 2015, is focusing on the importance of developing entrepreneurial skills within the context of teaching and learning for all students, with the goal of embedding these skill sets as learning components of core curriculum instruction. Lemke and Metiri Group based their concepts on research involving cognitive science that supports entrepreneurial behavior.

To identify their entrepreneurial skills, Metiri Group mined emergent literature on entrepreneurship in business. A key source was a five-year study by Dr. Amy Wilkinson, a Stanford researcher, who identified a set of entrepreneurial skills common to the 200 entrepreneurs she interviewed (Wilkinson, 2015). Another key business resource was “The Entrepreneur Equation” (Roth, 2012), which provided a frank discussion of the skills entrepreneurs will need and a reality check for future entrepreneurs as to the challenges they can expect.

Metiri Group sought to link the entrepreneurial skills identified by the business sector to corresponding skills for teaching and learning, based on key education research. Writings on growth mindset (Dweck, 2006), authentic learning (Newmann, 1996), critical thinking (Halpern, 2002), cognitive and social engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004), and creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, (1997); Nijstad & Paulus, (2003); and Sternberg, Kaufman, & Pretz, (2002) all factored into Metiri Group’s strategies for developing students’ entrepreneurial skills via classroom instruction and learning activities.

At the core of Metiri Group’s work is the belief that the skills that are necessary to be a successful entrepreneur are the same skills that all students require in order to be voracious, engaged learners. Metiri Group identifies five competencies that are essential to building entrepreneurial skills in all students:


1.Self-Direction: The importance of instructional practices which create student-centered learning experiences, rather than relying solely on teacher-delivered content, is gaining a great deal of traction in the education community. The realities of a world in which workforce processes are no longer strictly directed in a top-down management structure necessitate the importance of everyone having the skill sets needed to drive their own learning. Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset, referenced above, (Dweck, 2006) as well as Barry Zimmerman’s collaborative work on self-regulation (Zimmermann, et al., 2006) come into play here. Metiri Group identifies self-directed learners as those who have the skills necessary to set their own learning goals, institute plans to accomplish those goals, analyze and solve problems, own and manage their own learning and improvement, while working within a growth mindset (Lemke, 2015). Teachers who provide students with feedback and praise for their effort – perhaps even giving a grade for effort rather than just the end result – help to build self-direction skills in their students.

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2.Evidence Based Thinking: Empowering students to support or refute ideas, using concrete evidence based on reliable data and findings, is critical to building entrepreneurial skills in students. Even though innovation is prized, the thinking behind new ideas and concepts must also be sound. Critical thinking can be learned. It is a skill that should be included in the learning repertoire of every student, along with an understanding of common fallacies in thinking to avoid (Halpren, 2002). Students must learn how to construct and communicate their positions on issues based on sound data, facts, and sound logic. Teachers who provide such opportunities for their students will commonly use instructional strategies that begin words which encourage critical thinking such as “Confirm”, “Criticize” “Demonstrate” “Question” “Analyze” and “Interpret” in order to give their students the opportunities to develop patterns of evidence based thinking.


3.Persistence: Persistence (defined as the ability to continue with a task and maintain attention despite setbacks, resistance, or distractions) is key to success in both entrepreneurial and new learning processes. Students today must learn how to carry on with an assigned task and keep focused, despite challenges. A growth mindset, as defined by Carol Dweck (Dweck, 2006), is essential when building persistence in students. Two key instructional strategies that teachers may implement in order to develop persistence in their students are: 1) chunking longer assignments into smaller segments, which enables students to build on a pattern of success; and 2) providing students with choice, which increases their motivation and engagement.

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4.Calculated Risk Taking: This phrase may almost seem like an oxymoron when combining the terms “calculated” and “risk taking”. However the ability to consider and weigh multiple options and mitigate potential negative outcomes before taking a risk is a skill that too many people only learn after a disastrous consequence. Metiri Group defines this skill as “the ability to carefully consider all the factors related to the decision being made, calculate the chances of a positive outcome and the consequences of a negative one, determine ways to reduce risks along the way, and then determine whether or not to take the risk based on this information” (Lemke, 2015). Many educators today are beginning to understand that failure should be viewed as part of a powerful learning process, provided it is accompanied by timely, targeted feedback. (Hattie, 2009). Rather than simply labeling the student as a failure, today’s savvy educator helps students to leverage failure as a means for making corrections, noting lessons learned in the process, and then moving forward with continued learning. One of the ways in which students can come to understand the process of calculated risk taking is to carefully examine real life case studies – with both positive and negative outcomes – to recognize the circumstances under which the risk was taken and to discuss and debate the merits of the decision.


5.Tolerance for Ambiguity: At first glance, it may seem that this particular skill is the opposite of “Evidence Based Thinking” as described above. The reality is that in a world that changes as rapidly as ours does today, sometimes all the evidence needed to solve a problem is not crystal clear nor readily available. It is essential that today’s students develop the skills to think through ambiguous situations and stay with the question – in a state of ambiguity – until they have the time to examine various aspects and perspectives on the issue. One way that educators can support students in dealing with ambiguity is to include in their assignments open-ended questions, where students are asked to provide multiple options for resolving a problem. This helps students to expand their thinking and dig deeper when an immediate answer is not obvious.

When we as educators set out to assure that all our students have the opportunities to master entrepreneurial skills as defined in the work of Metiri Group, we empower our students to not simply survive, but truly thrive in the world.

For additional information on Metiri Group’s work on entrepreneurship, see and

Ann McMullan is an educational technology consultant based in Los Angeles, CA who works throughout the United States and internationally as a speaker, writer, & consultant focused on leadership, professional development and curriculum for maximizing technology tools for learning.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. HarperPerennial, New York.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of educational research, 74(1)

Friedman, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Halpern, D. F. (2002). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking. Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge. New York

Lemke, C. (2015). Are Your Students Entrepreneur-Ready? 21st Century Skills of Entrepreneurship edWeb. (2015, May 20).

Newmann, F. (1996). Authentic achievement: Restructuring schools for intellectual quality (1st ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nijstad, B. A., & Paulus, P. B. (2003). Group creativity. Group creativity: Innovation through collaboration, 326-339.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and Metiri Group (2003).
enGauge 21st Century Skills: Literacy in the Digital Age

Roth, C. (2012). The Entrepreneur Equation: Evaluating the Realities, Risks, and Rewards of Having Your Own Business. BenBella Books.

Sternberg, R. J., Kaufman, J. C., & Pretz, J. E. (2002). The creativity conundrum: A propulsion model of kinds of creative contributions. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Wilkinson, A. (2015). The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs. Simon and Schuster.

Zimmerman, et al. (2006) Developing Self-Regulated Learners: Beyond Achievement to Self-Efficacy. American Psychological Association. Washington, DC. 2006.

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