Bridging the Gap between Entrepreneurship Education and Small Rural Businesses: An Experiential Service-Learning Approach
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This paper provides theory-based practical applications and concepts underlying the development of experiential service-learning projects for university students majoring in retailing and hospitality management. The goal of the service-learning projects was to enhance students ' entrepreneurial identity and entrepreneurial management competencies through the development of comprehensive business sustainability plans and makeovers that integrate competitive, brand-building, and experiential marketing strategies for small rural businesses in the Main Street program. The service-learning projects were also designed to enhance student entrepreneurial self-efficacy, create awareness of opportunities in rural communities, and improve the entrepreneurial performance of rural businesses. Assessments of the service-learning projects confirmed their success in enhancing (a) students ' entrepreneurial competencies and (b) competitiveness, brand image, and attractiveness of the local business sector.Keywords: experiential service-learning, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial perfonnance, rural businesses, rural communitiesINTRODUCTIONAlthough small business management and entrepreneurship has traditionally been the domain of university business schools, the intense interest has led non-business programs to increasingly focus on entrepreneurship education (Johnson, Craig, & Hildebrand, 2006). In support of a university-wide approach, Morris, Kuratko, and Cornwall (2013) maintain that entrepreneurship subject matter and entrepreneurial thinking have important implications for literally all disciplines. Educators in the Human Sciences/Family and Consumer Sciences-related disciplines (e.g., retail merchandising and management, hospitality management, and related creative industries such as fashion and event management) recognize the need to include management and entrepreneurship training in preparation of the 21st century workforce (Niehm, Gregoire, & Austin, 2005; Carey & Matlay, 2010; Stanforth & Muske, 1999). These disciplines provide ample business ownership and management opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs in product and service areas, such as retail stores, restaurants, apparel and interior design Finns, and consulting practices. Considering that an entrepreneurial mindset is a component of a skill set increasingly in demand within the retailing, hospitality, and creative industries (Carey & Matlay, 2010), it is imperative that curricula include development of such knowledge and skills that will prepare majors to meet the challenges presented by the contemporary job market.In response, an experiential service-learning approach (Ash, 2003; Kolb, 1984; Shinnar & Young, 2003) was used to fortify students' knowledge and skills related to entrepreneurship and small business management. An experiential service-learning approach fosters student learning through application of entrepreneurship, marketing, and management concepts and competencies in a real world setting, which requires critical thinking and creativity to balance perspectives of multiple constituents and to optimize limited resources (McCrea, 2009). Accordingly, the experiential service-learning project presented in this paper bridges several gaps in entrepreneurship education. Following suggestions by Carland and Carland (2010), effective entrepreneurship education requires an interactive pedagogy that provides student-centered and action oriented projects. Summers (2003) concurs that successful entrepreneurship programs provide skill development through a variety of hands-on learning activities, consulting experiences, simulations, and mentoring. He additionally offers that entrepreneurship education is highly effective when it can be meshed with real-world needs and event of individuals and communities. The present project answers this call by developing a learning model aimed at building entrepreneurial management competencies and enhancing student awareness of entrepreneurship opportunities in rural communities.
This accepted article is published as Niehm, L.S., Fiore, A.M., Hurst, J.L., Sadachar, A., Bridging the Gap between Entrepreneurship Education and Small Rural Businesses: An Experiential Service-Learning Approach. Journal of Business and Entrepreneurship. Spring 2015; 129-161. Posted with permission.