Threshold Concepts for Entrepreneurial Thinking

For the last year Dr Lucy Hatt and I have been working with my colleagues, students, and a group of distinguished entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship champions at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CfIE) at the University of Bristol to identify and synthesise a series of CfIE Threshold Concepts for understanding Entrepreneurial Thinking.

The work has been funded by Enterprise Educators UK (EEUK) through their Enterprising Education Research Project Fund and we are developing a toolkit for enterprise and entrepreneurship educators to use when developing and implementing locally agreed threshold concepts. We believe that the development of such threshold concepts will help draw colleagues into useful consensus, rationalise overstuffed curricula, and help draw useful distinctiveness to entrepreneurship as a discipline.

The threshold concept framework posits that in any academic discipline there are concepts that have a particularly transformative effect on student learning.  Termed threshold concepts, they represent a transformed way of understanding something, without which the learner cannot progress (Meyer & Land, 2005).  In transforming the learner, threshold concepts change the learner’s perceptions, subjectivity, and worldview.  This can often be uncomfortable and is therefore sometimes resisted.  Mastery of a threshold concept simultaneously changes an individual’s idea of what they know and who they are (Cousin, 2009).  Such conceptual understanding is likely to be irreversible and is unlikely to be forgotten or unlearned.  Threshold concepts are also characterised by their integrative nature in that they expose how other key concepts within the subject can be related to each other. 

Before the toolkit is delivered later this summer, we want to share a quick overview of the locally agreed Threshold Concepts identified by the CfIE. We would also like to crowd-source the thoughts of the network on how they might embed such concepts in the taught curriculum.

Here is the cluster of seven interrelated concepts we have identified as CfIE Threshold Concepts for Entrepreneurial Thinking:

  • Entrepreneurship is a Practice: Practitioners understand that entrepreneurship is a practice that anyone can adopt in any context to create new value. It is a way of doing things, a way of thinking and practising or a way of seeing the world, that manifests as creation of value in response to opportunities and challenges.
  • Your Context is Your Opportunity to Create Value: Practitioners habitually and constantly create and recognise opportunities within their own context to create value. Practitioners are habitually resourceful and make use of what they find to realise and exploit opportunities to create value.
  • Value is Defined by Others: Practitioners understand only other people can define the value of what they have created, and others demonstrate the value they place on what is being offered by being prepared to give something tangible or intangible in exchange for it (money, time, goodwill etc).
  • Iterative Experimentation: Embracing small failures as a means of maximising opportunities to learn from mistakes as well as success.  Just as the process of scientific experimentation generates data whatever the outcome of the experiment, iterative experimentation in this context is less emotive and outcomes are not deemed necessarily to be “successes” or “failures”.  
  • Recognises Their Agency: Practitioners recognise that they always have some agency to create value, or that it is at least beneficial to assume that they do and should take ownership of their actions.
  • Taking Action: Practitioners know that intention must be translated into action for value to be created. Intention PLUS will is all-important to create or exploit an opportunity for value.
  • Knowledge is Always Partial and Often Ambiguous: Practitioners understand that you can still act even if the situation is not perfect, ideal, or even favourable – but that the process of taking action is likely to lead to new situations, learnings, and ultimately opportunities.

For a fuller description of each of the seven identified concepts please see the PDF file attached below.

At this stage in our research we are interested in how these threshold concepts might be adopted and used in practice. We would appreciate the view of enterprise and entrepreneurship educators on how they might embed them in a taught curriculum through teaching, learning design, or assessment.

Email us at and or tweet to us at @DaveJarm and @HattLucy

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