STEM Education and Entrepreneurship: 5 Big Skills that Overlap
There’s no denying that STEM is in high demand, and rightfully so. The more we prepare our students for careers in this high-growth field, the better equipped they will be in the future. In a future increasingly focused on the gig economy, STEM education and entrepreneurship will be more closely linked than ever before – these skills will be applicable in more than just traditional, ‘stable’ jobs.
In fact, entrepreneurship skills and STEM education go hand-in-hand. The competencies required to succeed in STEM–creativity, problem-solving, foresight, adaptability–are equally suited for success as an entrepreneur.
At the heart of every great entrepreneurial venture is the desire to solve a problem. That underlying ideology is what makes STEM so enjoyable for many of our students. Give students the tools and skills they need to solve a problem and watch them work it out on their own!
More so than in perhaps any other field, STEM teaches actionable skills to students:
1: Adaptability and Flexibility
Students need to be able to analyze new problems as they arise and develop solutions rapidly. Keeping an open mind is fundamental to success in both STEM education and entrepreneurship. After all, nothing ever goes as planned the first time around!
Flexibility ties into persistence (discussed below). The best way to approach problem-solving is with an open mind towards creative, unique solutions.
Ask anyone involved in coding or software engineering and they’ll agree: persistence and dedication are absolutely necessary to succeed. STEM careers are notorious for tasking workers with problems that require a lot of elbow grease to solve.
Likewise, it’s difficult to think of a single successful entrepreneur who didn’t top the charts in terms of persistence.
3: Data Above Everything
Entrepreneurship requires vision, but also requires a firm understanding of practical realities. STEM emphasizes data-driven decision-making and successful STEM professionals base their decisions on hard facts.
Making decisions on what we feel or think may pay off occasionally, but it’s universally better to make decisions based on what we know. The more we stress data-driven decision-making to our students, the better prepared they will be for both STEM and their own business ventures.
Perhaps the most paramount skill in the STEM + Entrepreneurship overlap is creativity. Think of all the great entrepreneurs in history — Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Benjamin Franklin — and consider just how impressive their accomplishments were and still are.
These are people who had the foresight and creativity to imagine solutions to problems that didn’t even exist yet! That’s the sort of forward thinking we need to stress to our students.
Tip: Asking students to explain “why” in their own words is a great way to elicit creative responses.
No one, not even the most brilliant entrepreneur, exists in a bubble. Engineers work in teams. Designers and software coders? Teams. And entrepreneurs? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates started entire companies built on a bunch of teams bundled in one. That collaboration catapulted them to the forefront of modern STEM/entrepreneurship discussion.
Tip: An old trick is to ask students to discuss how they would cross a hypothetical wall or barrier. Continue adding more barriers (a moat, perhaps a dragon if you’re feeling inventive) and see how your students naturally turn towards teamwork as the solution.
Of course, STEM education also provides practical skills for students to succeed. Knowledge to actually perform the STEM task set before them — whether it’s coding or designing a building — is invaluable.
Think of it more as a theoretical background, though. For example, any practicing engineer will tell you that they rarely (if ever) use the “calculate this differential on paper” method taught in universities. But where STEM education shines is teaching students how to think, not what to think.
STEM and entrepreneurship require many of the same skills. STEM skills are applicable in a broad range of ventures outside of careers in hard science. After all, STEM education teaches students how to think above all else — that’s invaluable.