Evaluating the Impact of a Start-up Simulation on Entrepreneurship Education in the Business School & Beyond

Adam Frost
Queen's University, Belfast

Karen Bonner
Queen's University, Belfast

Introduction and aim

Henry & Lewis (2018) in their review of entrepreneurship education research, state that entrepreneurship is now seen as a widely accepted component of most business and management schools and is a recent addition to many non-business disciplines.

Within the UK, QQA (2018: 11) highlights a key role of entrepreneurship educators being to “motivate and inspire students to develop enterprising and entrepreneurial behaviours, attributes, and competencies”. QAA identifies 15 competencies that entrepreneurship educators should develop within their students. These come from the European Commission’s (2016) “Entrepreneurship Competence Framework” which was developed to act as a framework for the basis of curriculum development. QAA (2018) states that these competencies should be developed in ways that focus on experiential learning with the use of high engagement and high impact activities such as simulations.

Research into effective methods of entrepreneurship education has demonstrated the importance of experiential learning approaches. Neck et al. (2014: 13) state that entrepreneurship education should focus on “the acquisition of skills, knowledge and mind-set through deliberate hands-on, action-based activities that enhance development of entrepreneurial competencies and performance”.

In a study comparing different teaching methods in business education, Farashahi and Tajeddin (2018) found that students perceived simulations to be the most effective teaching method for developing their interpersonal skills and self-awareness. Both simulations and case studies were also preferable to lectures when it came to problem solving. Anotinaci et al. (2015) argues that simulations have the capacity to create opportunities for students to have concrete experiences and that these can have an important role for the development of an entrepreneurial mind-set.

Within Queen’s Management School there has been an increasing focus on entrepreneurship education with the use of “SimVenture Classic” start-up simulation. The simulation challenges students to start-up and run a new business for 36 virtual months.

A study by Williams (2015: 390) into the effectiveness of SimVenture Classic found it to be “a stimulating and engaging vehicle for experiential teaching and learning about, for and through entrepreneurship”. A limitation of this study is that is focused solely on management students.

Various studies have highlighted the need for more focus on how non-business students are taught entrepreneurship, for example within the arts (Thom, 2017) and within STEM subjects (Watts & Wray, 2012). In other schools across Queen’s University, there has been an increase of entrepreneurship education. However, no other school uses the start-up simulation.

This study aims to assess the viability and effectiveness of using the simulation with non-business students engaged in entrepreneurship education. It will investigate whether the simulation increases non-business students’ perceived entrepreneurial competencies. It is also one of the first studies to use the EC’s “Entrepreneurship Competency Framework” in an assessment of teaching methods. In undertaking this study, the aim is to address a gap in literature in the area of entrepreneurship education.

Research methodology

The study will assess the effectiveness of the simulation with 4 different groups of students. The students will come from business, engineering, health sciences and the arts.

Each group of students will have been engaged in some form of entrepreneurship education. With each group, the researchers will run sessions with the different students using the SimVenture start-up simulation.

A questionnaire will be administered before and after each session that measures changes to students’ perceptions of starting and running a business and their entrepreneurial competencies (based on the Entrepreneurship Competency Framework).

Interviews will also be conducted with teaching staff from the non-business disciplines engaged in entrepreneurship to assess the viability of the simulation being incorporated into their curriculums.

Results and implications

At this point, research has been undertaken with 35 final year engineering undergraduate students near the end of an entrepreneurship module. Below is a summary of the initial key results:

- Students felt their degree had “somewhat” prepared them for setting up their own business (mean rating of 4.1, median 4*)

- Students perceptions’ of the competencies required to start and run a business changed; for example “coping with ambiguity, uncertainty and risk” was ranked 4th post-simulation compared to 10th beforehand

- At least 40% of students perceived the simulation had improved their abilities in all 15 entrepreneurial competencies. The most improved were financial and economic literacy (89% perceived an improvement), planning and management (80%), spotting opportunities (77%), motivation and perseverance (77%), coping with ambiguity, uncertainty and risk (71%)

- Overall, students perceived the simulation to be effective in enhancing their understanding of running a business (mean 3, median 3*)

* Rating scales were 1 to 7 with 1 being most positive

Sessions with the other 3 groups of students and interviews with staff from the non-business subjects are scheduled between January and March 2019. The full results of each group, comparisons and implications will be outlined in the conference poster.


The initial results support previous work that has highlighted the positive role that experiential learning in the form of simulations can have on entrepreneurship education. These results demonstrate that these positive aspects can be seen with non-business students.

The completed study aims to outline if these positive impacts are consistent with different groups of students and discuss the overall effectiveness and viability of using such tools in entrepreneurship education beyond the business school.