The creative sparks and entrepreneurial beginnings – becoming a student of past students

Andy Penaluna, Director of the International Institute for Creative Entrepreneurial Development at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Swansea

In recent years I have been reflecting on how much I have learned from my past students, and how their entrepreneurial flair has inspired me to learn more.

Whilst I am now honoured to work amongst some of the world’s best entrepreneurial educators and researchers, it was these creative sparks that set me on the path of wanting to understand why entrepreneurial styles of education made such a difference to their lives. 

In 1979 I gave up my job, started to teach, and set up my own design studio. I soon learned that design was a discipline that was totally reliant on good communication, because new ideas always surprised people and had to be explained carefully to make sense. In recent years the term ‘design thinking’ has emerged, and whilst this is a thin veneer of what happens in design education, it does offer a model of the things I have learned.

For example, last weekend I bumped into Phil and Tony, two past students from an early 1990s cohort. One has their own electrical engineering firm and the other an international communication business. They had not met in 20 years, so their conversations were extremely interesting - how did they get to where they are now? 

To add to this lucky accident, I was able to find their first student business proposal in my extensive archive of past students work. Their reflections were very telling and matched their conversation almost perfectly.

  • Because their interim project deadlines were not fixed and things changed, they learned to work flexibly and to adapt.
  • Because their coursework had to be estimated, charged and invoiced as if it were a real hourly fee, they learned to value their time and never had to ask ‘how much should I charge for…?’
  • Because past students came in to explain their own entrepreneurial journeys and to set ‘live projects’, it was all very relevant and made sense.
  • Above all, because their course moved from being ‘told and taught’ to being able to ‘forge their own projects and ideas’, they had confidence in their own creativity and ability to spot opportunities. They saw every enterprise as a temporary output that could always be improved. Nothing was a failure; it was simply an opportunity to learn, and they still love learning.


In another timely surprise, yesterday I visited a new sustainable education site; one that has been built step by step by school pupils over a two-year period, supported by a grant that an enthusiastic team had explained in terms such as: 

“This is not carbon neutral, it is better than that; it gives back and is carbon positive”  

The grass topped building sits in an area of natural beauty in a part of the land that no one thought it possible to build on. With hay to insulate the walls, locally sourced timber to hold up the grass covered roof and recycled seashells from the shoreline seafood factory nearby to hold it off the ground, the design was nothing short of spectacular; what supposedly couldn’t be done had been done, and all fabricated by creative children with support from this team. This a learning space for kids built by kids, and they clearly love it. See website.

I suppose it should have come as no surprise that when I first drove in to visit the award winning enterprise that it was one of my past students who grinned and said hello. Seb explained the project using words like resilience and determination; he highlighted creative ways of looking at things, saying that nothing is impossible; it just needs to be well explained to the right people at the right time.

A key theme that always emerges from these discussions with past students is the roller coaster of emotions that they experienced during their studies. Relaxed cognition and understanding when you are your most creative (in the bath, having a drink, driving the car or walking the dog) was captured in their portfolio diaries and reports, and empowering this level of creativity seems to have had much more long term effect than anything else. I tried to capture this in a recent TEDx talk entitled “Education and creative thinking; time to think again?”


The works of Martin Lackéus and Norris Kruger bear testament to the way that these understandings have now met mainstream forms of entrepreneurial education, and the recent launch of ‘EntreComp’ finally nails the fact that business and financial success need not be the ‘be all and end all’ of what we need to accomplish. Visioning skills, opportunity spotting and perhaps most of all, rewarding creative thinking have huge part to play, and our past students can teach us so much about the real value of entrepreneurial education.

Category : entrepreneurship education Posted : 26 August 2016 12:47 UTC
About the Author
Andy Penaluna, Director of the International Institute for Creative Entrepreneurial Development at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Swansea

Andy is a Professor of Creative Entrepreneurship and Director of the International Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship at UWTSD. Andy introduced ‘designerly’ ways of thinking to the entrepreneurship education community in 2005. In 2009 he introduced the concept of understanding creative moments though neurological insights, based on 5 years of experimentation in the classroom.

Andy has advised Welsh Assembly and Westminster Governments, and is an expert at the United Nations in Geneva. He has also written for the European Commission and helped develop entrepreneurial teaching and learning modalities for SEECEL. He writes for the OECD on developing entrepreneurial schools and colleges as well as HE level creativity. Funded by the World Bank, he helped to lead the integrated (compulsory) school curriculum for innovation and entrepreneurship in Macedonia (FYROM).

Amongst his many awards, Andy received the Queens Award for Enterprise Promotion at Buckingham Palace and has been recognized as one of the UK’s top ‘Maserati 100’ entrepreneurs.

Andy always acknowledges that his approach to teaching enterprise is heavily reliant on the help he receives from an extensive 30-year network of alumni, and that it was they who motivated him to become a more entrepreneurial educator.


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