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Uncoupling innovation and entrepreneurship to improve undergraduate education

Nick Swayne (James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)
Benjamin Selznick (School of Strategic Leadership Studies, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)
Seán McCarthy (School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communications, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)
Kimberly A. Fisher (James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 13 November 2019

Issue publication date: 4 December 2019




When it comes to undergraduate education, the terms “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” are often used interchangeably with respect to curricular practices and their associated learning and developmental outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to chart a course through the vast and growing multidisciplinary literature covering both topics to argue that innovation and entrepreneurship are not only different concepts, but they also play out in postsecondary institutional contexts in different and important ways.


Based on these differences, the authors propose that developing innovators must precede teaching future entrepreneurs and that the home of innovation education is not necessarily in the business school at all. Ideally, the authors believe innovation should be taught separately from any one disciplinary context. To illustrate the concept, the authors point to an existing program where professors and students from different disciplines work together on actual problems provided by external clients from both the public and private sectors.


Based on the authors’ rationale and approach, the authors propose an agenda that would allow for a deep analysis of the interaction between organizational behaviors and student outcomes, providing insight into effective practices and strategies for mobilizing institutional efforts aimed at teaching innovation and better aligning innovation with entrepreneurship education.


The authors provide a clear rationale for separating innovation and entrepreneurship pedagogy in higher education, terms that have been conflated in literature and in practice for nearly a century. The authors do this in an original way by pairing a theoretical framework with a short case study of an education program that has developed innovation pedagogy at the undergraduate level.



The project referenced in this paper is internally funded by the state/institution – no external funding sources were involved.


Swayne, N., Selznick, B., McCarthy, S. and Fisher, K.A. (2019), "Uncoupling innovation and entrepreneurship to improve undergraduate education", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 26 No. 6/7, pp. 783-796.



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