Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE
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Entrepreneurship: a life-long journey

of learning, action and value creation. 

Interview Paulo Camargo, Entrepreneur, Educator, Writer and Speaker, Brazil.

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial skills, education, creativity, startups, São Paulo.

How did you first become interested in innovation and entrepreneurship?

I can see now my entire life was filled with entrepreneurial experiences. Since my early years in childhood, I was always challenging myself with hobbies (such as aquarium keeping), sports and extra-curricular projects (making and selling kites and other toys to my friends in the neighborhood) that certainly helped me to develop my very own repertoire of innovative and entrepreneurial skills.

I know I'm not alone. Many innovators and entrepreneurs I know acknowledge they have been forged during their lifetime with educational and also ordinary experiences, following their interests and passion, as well as exposing themselves to new projects and challenges.

During my two bachelor's degrees, in biological and economical sciences, I now realize I was much more interested in learning fundamental interdisciplinary concepts and developing skills that were highly transferable to other knowledge fields and convergent with many jobs and professions that are now a real trend. For example, have you ever analyzed Eric Ries' lean startup method and its influence from Darwin's evolution theory? Or how psychology and sociology scientific advancements have contributed to the understanding of entrepreneurial traits and mindset?

In fact, as an adult and professional, I'm driven by the opportunity to understand people's problems and needs and see how I could help them with what I know and can do. This is my very own understanding of what entrepreneurship is: to synthesize and share value.

What are the essential skills people need to develop if they want to one day become an entrepreneur?

We could say dozens of skills that are highly valuable to a person that intends to act as an entrepreneur. But for now, I'd like to highlight five skills that I recognize and really appreciate in every entrepreneur I meet.

1. ability to synthesize: I believe this skill is one of the most underrated human faculties today. Entrepreneurs are skillful synthesizers, capable of processing tons of information and impressions into learnings, decisions, and actions. I like to say entrepreneurs are capable of synthesizing chaos into value through action. Educators are also excellent synthesizers of knowledge. Synthesizing is not at all trivial, yet educators and entrepreneurs do it with such mastery that it seems simple and easy to us. Believe me – it is not! And that's because of the second skill I want to talk about.

2. resourcefulness: being full of resources means the person possesses a wide set of competencies that can be used whenever needed. It's your repertoire, your tool box. And it's intriguing how related to current discussions on the importance of education it is: you may learn something or develop a skill and don't see the practical application to that right away. But this becomes part of what you know and can do, and you'll be able to activate it when you need it the most. Imagine how powerful it is!

3. self-efficacy: as coined by Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy refers to a person's belief in their own ability to perform a certain job or a specific set of actions, overcoming adversities and obstacles and maintaining confidence that the goal will be achieved. Entrepreneurial self-efficacy, on the other hand, assesses a person's belief in their ability to mobilize resources, lead people, make decisions and follow courses of action with the ultimate goal of running a successful business (or generating and sharing value). How confident are you when you need to perform a task you've never done before?

4. authenticity: it's the power of being original, free and independent to make decisions, act and express yourself. Authentic innovators or entrepreneurs turn their deeds and businesses into an expression of their innermost values. They attract employees, partners, customers, and investors that share the same principles, that desire the same goals. They experience the constant feeling of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's state of flow, performing their best while in activities that most challenge and motivate them. They are dangerous, underdogs, real divergent!

5. grit - there's nothing more powerful than the explosive combination of passion and perseverance. That's the concept of the term, as stated by the American psychologist Angela Duckworth. A highly passionate, determined, and skilled entrepreneur is indeed unstoppable, unbeatable. Don't you agree?

In your experience as a Professor, what types of education help students to develop the right entrepreneurial knowledge and skills?

It's an amazingly interesting question and speaks directly to the heart of what education really is (or should be). In this regard, I can't help remembering Sir Ken Robinson and his outstanding lifetime work in favor of education and creativity. In his book "Creative Schools" he argues that the purpose of education should be to empower students to discover their interests, passions, and life purposes, develop their talents and potential, and be their best versions, as individuals and citizens. And, in my understanding, entrepreneurial education is the most suitable approach to the teaching and learning process in order to achievethese goals. Entrepreneurial education is the essence of education.

In my book, published in Brazil in 2022, "Synthesis of divergent - purpose-inspired learning", I portray, as the result of an extensive systematic review, an analytical comparison of problem-based learning, project-based learning, and entrepreneurial education. The key takeaway here is that, for being a codifiable and empirically evidenced method, entrepreneurial education can be taught and applied in practice through numerous processes and tools. Entrepreneurial education is indeed a bridge between traditional and progressive education, as the Swedish researcher Martin Lackeus points out.

So, coming back to your question, any well-designed teaching approach can help students develop entrepreneurial knowledge and skills. But what delivers the most impressive contributions are the activities that combine theory and practice, develop both cognition and emotional intelligence, and are challenging enough to push students to trial-and-error, risky experiences, out of their comfort zone, as well as expose them to feelings such as the risk of failure or the pleasure of a really hard achievement.

As Alfred Whitehead, another well-known British educator once said, the vitality of modern education lies in the practical connection between knowledge and the zest for life. I must say I regard the expression "zest for life" as one of the most beautiful concepts of the English idiom. It is so pithy and possesses so many implications in positive psychology and Maslow's work on transcendence. I like it so much that our community of entrepreneurs and educators in Brazil is called "Zestedu" (www.zestedu.com.br).

"Entrepreneurial education is an investment in future prosperity and sustainability."

Paulo Camargo


Picture Credit: Zestedu

Tell us more about some other findings in your book.

You can say the book is a manifesto in favor of entrepreneurial education as the driver of signficant changes we so desperately need in the educational system. I advocate that entrepreneurial education is an investment in future prosperity and sustainability. One can divide my rationale along the book in three main parts.

Firstly, inspired by the European Union policies and the WEF studies that incentivize entrepreneurial education, I discuss its mission to not only shape the mindset of young people with principles and values for the future, but also to provide them with knowledge, skills and attitudes that are indispensable for human society in the 21st century.

Secondly, highly influenced by EU’s EntreComp Framework and UK's QAA guidance on Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education, I propose a comprehensive framework to integrate a series of entrepreneurial education practices in the mainstream educational system, which I call "Journey of entrepreneurial learning". One important part of this journey is the activation of the entrepreneurial mindset.

And here, I agree with Paul Coyle, Director of the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network, on the power of the mindset as a specific set of beliefs and logical processes that guide entrepreneurial attitudes and behavior. The entrepreneurial mindset propels the entrepreneur to decipher and create opportunities in a dynamic context, overcoming and learning from challenges, constantly questioning the dominant logic and re-asking supposedly simple questions.

In the end, I discuss strategies and methods to assess the learning outcomes and students' transfomation derived from entrepreneurial experiences. We look at it from the perspective of the emergent competency-based learning, examining knowledge and skills but also evaluate behaviors, attitudes, and intention, using Bandura's self-efficacy conception and Norris Krueger's proposed models of entrepreneurial potential and intention.

You have had a lot of experience as a founder and co-founder. What are the most important lessons you learned about launching and running a business?

It's been so fun! It is challenging, for sure. But you must enjoy the journey as well. So surround yourself with people you really like and admire. This is a lesson I must share. I'm privileged of being an entrepreneur in the 21st century. There's so much information available, so many resources, so many opportunities to be tackled.

So, I get back to basics and stress the importance of being prepared to when the opportunity comes. All my previous educational and business experiences shaped me to be the entrepreneur I am today. All the studies, lectures, books and simulations on business modelling, design thinking, customer development, hypothesis testing, lean innovation, agile mindset and soon are not in vain. They made me ready to think clearer and better and eager to take risks and move to action when needed. Invest in yourself. Invest in your team. Invest in networking. It will all pay off, sooner or later.

Also, my experience as entrepreneur made me a firm believer in Sarasvathy's theory of effectuation logic. Your business evolves day by day, action after action. Do not pursue long-term goals with unpredictable outcomes. Instead, advance steadily towards your goals, mitigating and managing risks and uncertainties, prototyping and experimenting with solutions, making mistakes and learning. Take a leap of faith every day, and learn from it.

São Paulo City, Brazil

São Paulo City, Brazil

Picture Credit Konevi on Pixabay

What can you tell us about the startup scene in São Paulo?

São Paulo is today a thriving ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as an important business hub. Some of the biggest companies and wealthiest investors of Brazil and Latin America are in São Paulo. Many universities and other educational institutions have campi in São Paulo and provide outstanding training opportunities. Talents are abundant in the region.

São Paulo is, for certain, a very welcoming state to those who plan to launch and run their business. It is no coincidence that many prominent startups have offices in São Paulo. To name just a few of the most famous names: Nubank, IFood, Mercado Libre, Gympass.

My current venture, iTalents (www.italents.com.br) also has offices in São Paulo, besides Brasília and Lisboa. We help startups and companies attract and retain the best talents, recruit better, customize trainings and level up their staff's skills, as well as extend their IT teams' delivery capabilities.

An important player in the startup scene in São Paulo has been FAPESP, a governmental funding agency. Itsupports research projects in higher education and research institutions, as well as in startups and small businesses, in all fields of knowledge. FAPESP maintains cooperation agreements with national and international research funding agencies, including the UK Research Councils. I already had two projects funded by FAPESP that evolved to startups and gave me the opportunity to attend training programmes in London delivered by Oxford University, funded by Newton Fund and organized by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Due to these opportunities, today I can say I am a proud member of the Royal Academy of Engineering Leaders in Innovation Fellowship and have very dear friends in the UK. ◼️