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7 May 2019
It’s The Thought That Matters: Marlin Hoffman On Effectively Educating Entrepreneurial Students

(Published - 7 May 2019)

“South Africa is experiencing the legacy of a past that marginalised millions of South Africans for more than 300 years. One way to redress the inequalities and injustices of the past is through more effective entrepreneurship education.”

It’s that belief that drives Dr Marlin Hoffman - a lecturer at the the University of the Western Cape’s School of Business and Finance (SBF) - and formed the backbone of his PhD thesis, Commerce Faculties: The hidden pipeline of entrepreneurs, a model of entrepreneurial intention.

Youth entrepreneurship development is considered an investment in the future of the country to reach the goals put in place by the National Development Plan 2030. Entrepreneurial education is vital to the development of entrepreneurs entering the economy, which would alleviate unemployment and ensure economic growth.

“Universities are needed to develop entrepreneurs of the future, who can sustain businesses and negotiate the changes occurring in markets,” Dr Hoffman notes. “Universities can also be used to inculcate an entrepreneurial culture and increase entrepreneurial intention, to provide entrepreneurial role models for students.”

Dr Hoffman’s research focuses on the effects of four factors (attitude towards entrepreneurship, role models, entrepreneurial leaders, and resources and opportunities) on the entrepreneurial intention of final-year entrepreneurship students.

“Simply put, before any behaviour there is an intention - the behaviour is just us carrying out our intentions,” he explains. “The question then is what influences intention; what creates the thought to do something? And what makes that something entrepreneurial?”

“At the moment, research shows, many people are either pushed into entrepreneurship due to unemployment or pulled into entrepreneurship because they see opportunities and gaps,” Dr Hoffman says. “If we can influence entrepreneurial intention, we can develop more entrepreneurs who really want to be entrepreneurs – and we will ultimately have more successful entrepreneurs.”

The study showed that attitude towards entrepreneurship is perhaps the biggest contributor towards or influencer of entrepreneurial intention. So how do we develop/influence the attitude of students towards entrepreneurship?

“Students from different walks of life have different attitudes based on their experience and exposure. Being truthful and discussing the pros and cons of entrepreneurship is important to developing a healthy entrepreneurial attitude.”

Role models in the form of lecturers encountered at HEIs will also contribute towards the attitude students have towards entrepreneurship.

“Many students do not have entrepreneurial role models in their homes or neighbourhoods. Lecturers who facilitate entrepreneurship programmes should have some entrepreneurial experience so they can act as role models for students - and provide authentic experience and not only book knowledge.”

Beyond role modelling, it’s also important that faculties employ entrepreneurial lecturers who can spot challenges and opportunities within the education space.

“Entrepreneurial leaders within faculties are vital so that gaps in the education or education pedagogy can be identified and exploited. We need academic staff to be entrepreneurial so that the best or most recent – and most relevant – entrepreneurship education can be offered to our students.

Lastly, resources and opportunities at university are vital to the survival and establishment of new entrepreneurs. Particularly important is the notion of introducing students to new various business networks and exposing them to new opportunities.

Walking the Talk: A LifeLong Entrepreneurial Education

Dr Hoffman knows firsthand the challenges his entrepreneurial students may face: his path to academia was a winding one.

Born and bred in Kensington, he went through the navy, worked at ABSA Bank, and for Homechoice, amongst others. He resigned, started a business with his father, grew it, and sold it. He worked at Capitec Bank as a Business Analyst. Around that time, he decided to pursue his formal studies, and wrote an entrance exam at UWC on the basis of Recognition of Prior Learning. And he scored well enough that, when he received his acceptance letter, it was for BCom Honours – he skipped undergrad entirely!

Completing his Honours while working, he went on to do an MPhil in Future Studies at Stellenbosch University, exploring scenario planning and future thinking methodologies. He worked as Head of Credit at NSFAS, did a TEFL course, taught English at an international school, and travelled a bit. He then started another business teaching English.

In December 2015, he came to UWC again – this time to teach, as well as learn.

“As I got involved in lecturing, I realised our educational pedagogy for entrepreneurship is lacking in some respects,” he notes. “It’s not conducive to the journey entrepreneurs need to take, in some ways. So I decided to take a look at this.”

His passion will always remain: to influence entrepreneurs – and to make a difference.

“I would love to have my own entrepreneurship school someday, on a farm somewhere - a smallholding,” Dr Hoffman reflects. “A place where we don’t just talk about research, and learn about business plans and market share, but also a place where we can develop the self holistically – body, mind and soul.”