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Skilled hands in turbulent winds: entrepreneurial skills and new venture performance in conflict-ridden Northern Nigeria


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This paper investigated the relationship between entrepreneurial training , entrepreneurial skills and new venture performance in Northern Nigeria where, in recent years, Boko Haram terrorist insurgency has precipitated a severe humanitarian crisis and a high level of disruption to economic activities. The study is based on a new survey data from a representative sample of 331 undergraduate entrepreneurs, analysed using Structural Equation Modelling and Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression. The results show that there is significant impact of entrepreneurship education on business performance partially mediated by entrepreneurial skills. The findings of this study also shows that entrepreneurial skills is a significant moderator of the relationship between perceived environmental turbulence and new venture performance. These suggest that enhanced skills make a difference on business survival and performance amid the uncertainty, market disruption and physical danger precipitated by the insurgency. Finally, the paper highlights the need for entrepreneurship education programmes should be designed around specific skills requirements and the peculiarities of the local contexts. Journal of International Business Education Journal Home Page :
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Skilled hands in turbulent winds: entrepreneurial skills and new venture performance in
conflict-ridden Northern Nigeria
This paper investigated the relationship between entrepreneurial training , entrepreneurial skills
and new venture performance in Northern Nigeria where, in recent years, Boko Haram terrorist
insurgency has precipitated a severe humanitarian crisis and a high level of disruption to economic
activities. The study is based on a new survey data from a representative sample of 331
undergraduate entrepreneurs, analysed using Structural Equation Modelling and Ordinary Least
Squares (OLS) regression. The results show that there is significant impact of entrepreneurship
education on business performance partially mediated by entrepreneurial skills. The findings of
this study also shows that entrepreneurial skills is a significant moderator of the relationship
between perceived environmental turbulence and new venture performance. These suggest that
enhanced skills make a difference on business survival and performance amid the uncertainty,
market disruption and physical danger precipitated by the insurgency. Finally, the paper highlights
the need for entrepreneurship education programmes should be designed around specific skills
requirements and the peculiarities of the local contexts.
Keywords: Entrepreneurship education; Entrepreneurial skills; Environmental turbulence; Boko
Haram; Business performance
1. Introduction
Our study examines the impact of entrepreneurship education in the turbulent context of Northern
Nigeria, where Boko Haram terrorist insurgency has precipitated significant losses of lives, the
displacement of millions of people, and the destruction of properties and infrastructures to the tune
of tens of billions of dollars. The emergence and evolution of the terrorist insurgency in the region
is associated with widespread poverty and youth unemployment, with thousands of impoverished
and disillusioned youths lured by attractive but ultimately misleading agenda of anti-establishment
egalitarianism. Given the subtext of widespread poverty and unemployment, entrepreneurship
represents a viable pathway for the region’s youth to escape the poverty trap and break free from
the net of terrorist recruitment. Our study therefore investigates the role of entrepreneurship
education in creating awareness and helping the youth to develop relevant skills necessary to
achieve entrepreneurial outcomes, which include value creation, income generation and job
creation. Provision of entrepreneurship education with specific skills development can empower
the youth to change the narrative of poverty, co-create shared prosperity, and thereby draw more
youth from the radius of terrorist influence.
Among policy makers and researchers across the globe, there is growing interest in the role of
entrepreneurship as a key driver of development and economic growth (Oosterbeek, van Praag and
Ijsselstein, 2010; Klinger & Schündeln, 2011; Peng, Lu & Kang, 2012; O’Connor, 2013). Using
Schumpeter’s ideas, the entrepreneur’s role is usually described in terms of their impact as
arrowheads of ‘creative destruction’. In the search for new opportunities and profits, entrepreneurs,
it is argued, bring new combinations and innovations into the economic system (Van Praag, 1999)
creating new opportunities with the introduction of entirely new products into the market and
expanding the range of options for consumers and end users (O’Connor, 2013). The
entrepreneurial spirit is often nurtured through entrepreneurship education (Fayolle and Gailley,
2015; Fayolle, 2005; Wang and Wong, 2004).
While there is general consensus about the positive impacts of entrepreneurship on economic
development (Naude, 2010), there is less agreement among scholars about the impact of
entrepreneurship education on entrepreneurial outcomes, for instance in terms of new venture
creation and business performance (Oosterbeek, van Praag and Ijsselstein, 2010; Klinger and
Schündeln, 2011; Menzies and Paradi, 2003). Scholars have pointed out that the need for
entrepreneurship education can be partly dependent on the nature and challenges of the
environment under which the entrepreneur operates (Ateljevic, O’rourke and Todorovic, 2004;
Flora, 2006; Shah, Gao and Mittal, 2015). Some environments bring peculiar challenges associated
with regulation and access to credit (Djankov et al., 2002; Ardagna and Lusardi, 2008).
Furthermore, entrepreneurs often operate in turbulent environments characterised by high levels
of inter-period change that creates uncertainty and unpredictability, sharp discontinuities in supply
and demand, and low barriers to entry and exit (Calantone, Garcia and Dröoge, 2003). It is
therefore argued that, even when individuals have inherent entrepreneurship tendencies and
attributes, they may not create new businesses, or expand existing ones, due to lack of knowledge
and skills on how to work through the challenges and harness the opportunities of the regulatory
and institutional environment. Some of these obstacles can be overcome through specific
entrepreneurship training (Klinger and Schündeln, 2011).
A considerable number of studies has been carried out on the impact of entrepreneurship activities
and entrepreneurship education in turbulent environments. However, majority of these studies
have focused on turbulence associated with market instability (Santos-Vijande and Álvarez-
González, 2007) and the challenge of technology obsolescence and rapid technological changes
within and across sectors (Song and Montoya-Weiss, 2001). Fewer studies, to our knowledge, have
focused on entrepreneurship education in conflict zones, partly due to difficulties in accessing data.
Furthermore, most of these entrepreneurship education studies tend to see entrepreneurship
education as a homogenous construct, thereby giving little attention to the specificities of contents
and approach, and specific needs associated with local contexts. Moreover, little attention has been
given to the question: “how does entrepreneurship education influence new venture performance”?
To address these gaps in knowledge, we focus attention on investigating the impact of
entrepreneurship education on new venture performance among young Nigerians. Furthermore, as
explained in the subsequent sections of this paper, we operationalise the entrepreneurship
education (EE) variable such that it focuses on contents and approach, and perceived learning of
trainees. With this we examine the “how” of entrepreneurship education in terms of how the
entrepreneurship skills created acquired or enhanced by EE mediates the link between EE and new
venture performance. We posit specifically that improved skills is the main transmission channel
for the effects of EE on firm performance. Existing studies typically overlook this mechanism.
Furthermore, we investigate the moderating effects of entrepreneurial skills on the relationship
between environmental turbulence and venture performance.
For our purposes, a sample of university undergraduates in Northern Nigeria provides an attractive
empirical basis. Following a 2006 policy directive from the Nigerian government,
entrepreneurship education is now compulsory across all universities. Against this background,
we can easily construct a sample that includes individuals who have received entrepreneurship
education and those that have not. The Northeast and Northwest regions of Nigeria offer an ideal
setting for assessing perceived environmental turbulence. Over the past 15 years, the Boko Haram
terrorist group has unleashed violence on these regions, leaving in their wake scores of thousands
dead, more than three million people displaced, and billions worth of property destroyed. This
destructive conflict is exacerbated by the prevalence of poverty and youth unemployment in the
region. It is therefore a highly important context for a study examining the impact of
entrepreneurship education in a turbulent context. Finally, undergraduate entrepreneurship is a
common phenomenon across Nigeria (Siyanbola et al, 2012). Undergraduates often start small
businesses, sometimes out of sheer interest and sometimes out of necessity. From a policy
perspective, therefore, it is useful to understand how to support undergraduate entrepreneurship as
a springbed for youth self-employment in the harsh business environment of Nigeria.
This study contributes to the literature on entrepreneurial human capital as as a form of specific
human capital (Skuras et al., 2005). First it discusses the impact of entrepreneurship education-
viewed as an investment in entrepreneurial human capital- on entrepreneurial human capital assets
in the form of entrepreneurial skills. It then illuminates the mediating and moderating effects of
entrepreneurial skills on entrepreneurship outcomes in a turbulent environment. Sitting between
human capital theory and institutional theory, the paper provides new insights on how
entrepreneurship-specific human capital acquired through entrepreneurship education enables
youth entrepreneurs to cope better and find alternative pathways to continuing entrepreneurship
activities in a turbulent, conflict environment.
The rest of the paper is organised as follows: the theoretical underpinnings of this study are set out
in the next section, along with the hypotheses. This is followed by a description of the empirical
context and then the method for the study, before analysis and discussion of the findings. The
paper concludes with summary of findings, highlights of policy implications and recommendations
for future studies.
2. Theory and hypothesis
2.1 Entrepreneurship education
Entrepreneurship education (EE) programmes vary in terms of their objectives, their target
audience, mode of assessment and evaluation, contents and theories, contexts and environments
and methods and pedagogies (Fayolle & Gailly, 2008; Walter & Dohse, 2012; Fayolle, Verzat &
Wapshott, 2016; Toutain et al., 2017). The identification of learning objectives and the peculiarity
of target groups should inform appropriate teaching method and course content. Entrepreneurship
education can be for, about, or in, entrepreneurship (Mwasalwiba, 2012). Fayolle & Gailly (2008)
highlighted three different learning processes in entrepreneurship education: learning to become
an enterprising individual, learning to become an entrepreneur, and learning to become an
academic. Liñán (2004) distinguished between four types of entrepreneurship education:
entrepreneurship awareness education, education for start-up, education for entrepreneurial
dynamism, and continuing education for entrepreneurs. Thus, the type of training required is
sometimes associated with the growth stage of the enterprise, from existence through survival,
success, take off and resource maturity (Churchill & Lewis, 1983), or the individual’s stage in the
entrepreneurship career path, from foundation to awakening, specialisation, creation, and
maturing (Carayannis, Evans & Hanson, 2003). Further, a reconceptualization of the individual-
opportunity nexus in the entrepreneurship education process recognises the different starting points
of individual students, and how this shapes not only the learning process but also the role of the
educator in providing a platform that supports learners’ individual journey (Thrane et al., 2016).
In effect, entrepreneurship education programmes are not homogenous. Course contents in
entrepreneurship education vary from institution to institution, and are tailored to the needs of each
learner group (Hynes, 1996) or individual learner (Thrane et al., 2016). They are often defined by
the policy or political contexts of the country or region (Busenitz, Gomez & Spencer, 2000;
Smallbone & Welter, 2001). Nevertheless, some themes are common across the wide spectrum of
entrepreneurship modules, including: financing and marshalling of resources, marketing, idea
generation and opportunity discovery, business plan, and managing growth (Mwasalwiba, 2012).
Teaching methods are largely categorised into traditional forms featuring lectures and case studies,
and action-based methods, which includes business/computer simulations, project work and
creating business plans (Hynes, 1996; Walter & Dohse, 2009; Mwasalwiba, 2012). In general,
while much of current entrepreneurship teaching is dominated by traditional, “lecture-style”
approaches (Williamson, Beadle & Charalambous, 2013), most scholars agree that
entrepreneurship education should incorporate action-based learning at its core (Leitch &
Harrison, 1999; Rasmussen & Sørheim, 2006).
Given the heterogeneity of requirements and approaches highlighted in the foregoing, it is difficult
to find universal criteria for measuring the impact of EE programmes. In essence, impact
evaluation of EE programmes should be context and content specific. There are challenges
associated with timeliness of evaluation, not least because of implications for expenses in time and
money. There are also complexities related to the nested or hierarchical nature of EE programmes,
especially with respect to isolating other factors that may have direct or moderating effects on
outcomes(Borchers & Park, 2011). Finally, there is the issue of timing. While funders and
investors in EE programmes tend to be more interested in short term measures such as intentions
(Fayolle & Gailly, 2015), the most effective measures, such as new venture creations and
innovation, typically require observation over a period of years (Borchers & Park, 2011).
2.2 Entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial skills
Taking into account the complexities described above, effectiveness of entrepreneurship education
programmes is best measured as a multidimensional outcome. Borchers & Park (2011) proposed
five dimensions of EE outcome: behavioural outcome, measured in terms of new venture creation
or other entrepreneurial activities; cognitive outcome, indicated by entrepreneurial knowledge,
business acumen and cognitive strategies; affective or motivational outcome, measured by self-
efficacy, goal commitment and satisfaction; attitudinal outcome, indicated by entrepreneurial
intention; and skill-based outcome, measured by proficiency in use of entrepreneurship knowledge
and business acumen. While other researchers (Garavan & O’Cinneide, 1994; Souitaris, Zerbinati
& Al-Laham, 2007; Cheng, Chan & Mahmood, 2009; Walter & Block, 2016) have affirmed the
importance of the outcomes highlighted above, robust evaluations of the effectiveness of EE
should also incorporate the specific needs and expectations of students. Oftentimes, EE
programmes do not match the expectations of students, both in terms of pedagogical approaches
and skills expectation (Cheng, Chan & Mahmood, 2009; Hahn et al., 2017)), thus underscoring
the need for continuous review and improvement of curricula provisions and methods.
Given that the impact of entrepreneurship education is often muddled by the problem of self-
selection and prior exposure to some form of entrepreneurship education, we argue that changes
in the level of entrepreneurship skills— notably business planning, marketing and leadership
skills— represents one of the most effective ways to measure the impact of entrepreneurship
education. Those with existing skills can further develop and enhance them, those with none can
acquire them, and both categories of participants can add new skills to their portfolios. Thus, our
first hypothesis focuses on the impact of entrepreneurship education on participants’ skills levels:
H1: Participation in entrepreneurship education is positively associated with improved
entrepreneurial skills of participants.
2.3 Entrepreneurship education and firm performance
Company performance encompasses three dimensions of firm outcomes: financial performance,
including profits and returns on assets and investments; product market performance, including
sales and market shares; and shareholder return, where applicable (Richard et al., 2009).In effect,
firm performance is a complex and multidimensional construct which has been measured using a
range of objective and subjective indicators (Chittithaworn, 2011). The most popular objective
measures are: sales, profit, and number of employees (Brush & Vanderwerf, 1992). Financial
soundness— indicated by sales and profits—protects a firm from cash flow problems that typically
cause businesses to fail, and firms with more employees generally have better chances of long term
survival (Brush & Chaganti, 1999). Other researchers have introduced additional performance
indicators such as longevity, which is measured by the number of the years a firm has been in
operation (Ha-Brookshire, 2009). Of all these, sales growth is arguably the most recognised
measure of firm performance, although the sales-performance orthodoxy has been questioned in
recent times. For example, Kiviluoto (2013) reported that sales growth alone does not say much
about overall firm performance as it showed no convergent validity to other performance measure,
even after variables like industry type and firm age are controlled for. Therefore our study
incorporates increase in sales and performance relative to competitors as two constructs measuring
overall firm performance. This is reflected in the following hypothesis:
H2: Participation in entrepreneurship education is positively associated with improved
overall firm performance.
2.4 Entrepreneurship education, entrepreneurial skills and firm performance
If, as outlined in the foregoing, we investigate the impact of EE on entrepreneurial skills, and then
the impact of EE on overall firm performance, it is also relevant to test if entrepreneurial skills
have an impact on overall firm performance. This question will provide a window of understanding
into the means by which EE influences overall performance indirectly, through EE’s influence on
entrepreneurial skills. This indirect impact, or mediating effect, is captured by the following
H3: The impact of entrepreneurship education on firm performance is mediated by
entrepreneurial skills.
2.5 Entrepreneurship in turbulent environments
Entrepreneurs have to grapple with varying degrees of uncertainties and instabilities at different
stages in the life of their enterprise. Turbulent environments are generally characterised by high
levels of inter-period change that creates uncertainty and unpredictability, sharp discontinuities in
supply and demand, and low barriers to entry and exit (Calantone, Garcia & Dröoge, 2003) In a
sense, entrepreneurs thrive in some forms of instability. For example, profit opportunities are
generally associated with market disequilibrium, and entrepreneurs identify and act on these
opportunities to “equilibrate” the market (Holcombe, 2003). While these disequilibria may be as a
result of autonomous preference changes in the market, much of these have been associated with
changes forced as a result of natural events like drought, floods or depletion of natural resources.
Furthermore, even in environments associated with severe man-made disasters such as wars,
conflicts and terrorism, resilient entrepreneurs are able to locate and appropriate opportunities to
grow their businesses and make profit (Bullough, Renko & Myatt, 2014). However, with particular
reference to these man-made disaster contexts, informal entrepreneurs, small and medium scale
enterprises and new ventures tend to suffer and struggle more, due to the liabilities of smallness
and newness (Venkataraman et al., 1990; Gimeno, Woo & Gimeno-gascon, 1994). This study
explores three dimensions of perceived environmental turbulence: political instability, economic
instability, and perceived danger, with a focus on how each of these affects entrepreneurial
activities. Political instability is defined as the “propensity of change in the executive”(Alesina et
al., 1996), either by constitutional means such as elections and cabinet reshuffles, or
unconstitutional means such as coup d’etats, insurgencies, and revolutions (Jong-A-Pin, 2009).
Economic instability is linked with such indicators such as exchange rate volatility (Danmola,
2013; Nakos & Brouthers, 2002) and drastic or frequent changes in commodity prices (Iwayemi
and Fowowe, 2011; Oberndorfer, 2009). Finally, perceived danger is defined in terms of
individual’s judgement about the extent to which a set of events or circumstances are potentially
threatening or harmful (Bullough, Renko, & Myatt, 2014b). This reflects the acknowledgement
that individuals can perceive similar events or circumstances differently. Concern for physical
safety and personal security can have significant impacts on entrepreneurial activities. It can drive
down consumers’ demands, and influence entrepreneurs’ rational decision making and investors’
assessment of risks (Hiatt & Sine, 2014). Economic instability is closely associated with political
instability, and they are both mutually aggravating, in terms of their sources and impacts on
entrepreneurial activities within a given country or region. However, as noted in the foregoing, the
parameters and constructs for measuring economic instability are distinct from measures and
indicators of political instability. Our study addresses the turbulence constructs from the
perspective of Boko Haram terrorism in Northern Nigeria. The insurgency has aggravated political
instability through targeted attacks on public infrastructures and state agencies and institutions
such as schools and security forces. The insurgents’ activities have also instigated severe
disruption to economic activities by forcing closure of markets and disrupting the movement of
goods between rural communities and urban centres. In terms of physical danger, Boko Haram
terrorism has led to heavy losses of lives, in additional to physical injuries and psychological
trauma to millions of forcibly displaced people.
Therefore, in this paper, we examine the perceived environmental turbulence constructs- political
instability, economic instability, and perceived danger- have impacts on business performance.
This research question is captured in the following hypotheses:
H4a Political instability has a negative impact on business performance.
H4b Economic instability has a negative impact on business performance.
H4c Perceived danger has a negative impact on business performance.
Further, we also examine if, and to what extent, entrepreneurial skills mediate the impact of
perceived environmental turbulence on business performance, as follows:
H5a Entrepreneurial skills moderates the impact of political instability on business
H5b Entrepreneurial skills moderates the impact of economic instability on business
H5c Entrepreneurial skills moderates the impact of perceived danger on business
3. Empirical context
Since the start of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the number of higher institutions in Nigeria and the
number of students enrolled in them, have increased significantly. This is partly due to
government’s liberalisation of the higher education sector, and the attendant licensing of private
universities. For example, between 2003 and 2013 alone, the number of universities in Nigeria
grew from 53 to 128 (Akinyemi, Ofem & Ikuenomore, 2012; Clark & Ausukuya, 2013).
Accordingly, student enrolment and graduation rates have grown considerably over the years, with
university enrolment increasing from 780,001 in 2005 to 1,013,337 in 2009 (Shu’ara, 2010).
In spite of the increasing number of graduates in Nigeria, unemployment and poverty have
remained very high, and graduate unemployment in particular has worsened in recent years.
According to official statistics, unemployment rate increased from 11% in 2006, to 24% in 2011,
and a great number of those employed are under-employed (World Bank, 2013). In 2017 alone,
about 49.2% of the Nigerian population lived below $1.90 per day (Joseph-Raji and Timmis,
2018). Moreover, it has been estimated that about 71% of the Nigerian population are living in
relative poverty (Rogers, 2012). Apart from women and children, the group mostly affected by the
unemployment crisis is the youth, with one report estimating that the unemployment rate among
the Nigerian youth is at least three times the national composite average, and three times the
average rate for other sub-Saharan African countries (Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity,
2011). Between 2016 and 2017, youth unemployment increased from around 19% to about 26%
(Joseph-Raji & Timmis, 2018).
Graduate unemployment constitutes a significant part of overall youth unemployment in Nigeria,
and this is especially disturbing considering one of the key objectives of universities is to produce
graduates with requisite knowledge and skills to create employment, thereby reducing the burden
of unemployment in the national economy (Federal Ministry of Education, 2008). However,
producing entrepreneurial graduates requires well structured entrepreneurship education. In
addition, there is a need to create a conducive environment within which potential entrepreneurs
can gain first-hand experience through entrepreneurial practice (Gibb, 2002).
Against this background, the analyses in this paper interrogate the link between the education that
Nigerian universities provide especially in relation to entrepreneurship, and the performance of
businesses formed by young persons. This kind of analysis is best carried out on a sample of
undergraduates. Indeed, undergraduate entrepreneurs are commonplace in Nigeria. For instance,
Siyanbola et al (2012) surveyed 7,560 undergraduates of 25 tertiary institutions and found that
85% of them were interested in self-employment and 27% had an ongoing business. Around 95%
of those with ongoing businesses actually started the business by themselves. Similar results were
reported by Olofinyehun et al (2018) from a much larger sample of about 27,000 undergraduates.
These businesses typically have a huge welfare impact, often marking the difference between
access to higher education and otherwise as well as between well-being and poverty, especially
for many students in the Nigerian context who sometimes do not have any consistent external
sources of support to rely on. Indeed, some of the student-owned businesses have become
persistently successful even after their graduation. A good case in point is the recruitment services
firm, Jobberman, which was started in 2009 by three undergraduates of Obafemi Awolowo
University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Within three years of its establishment, the business was listed as one
of Africa’s Top 20 Tech Startups in 2012 in Forbes Magazine. In the early part of 2018, Forbes
also listed all three founders as some of the Best Young Entrepreneurs in Africa.
Though it might
seem an outlier, the case of Jobberman is by no means an isolated one. Several other prominent
businesses in Nigeria were started by undergraduates.
We posit that it is not just important to
increase the potential supply of graduate entrepreneurs by encouraging undergraduate
entrepreneurship, it is particularly crucial to ensure that they have the right knowledge and skills
that will support their survival in the harsh business environment of Nigeria.
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The two locations for this study are University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) in Borno State and
Bayero University (BUK) in Kano city, Kano State, Nigeria. Borno State located in the North-east
is the second largest state by landmass in Nigeria, with an estimated population of 5.2 million and
a landmass of 61,435km2 . The state is bordered by Niger Republic to the North, Chad to the North
East, and Cameroon to the East. Maiduguri, Borno’s most populous and capital city, has an
estimated population of 1 million and a land area of 543km2 (Mayomi & Mohammed, 2014). With
an estimated population of 11 million people, Kano State is the most populous state in Northern
Nigeria. It lies between latitude 130 North in the North and 110 North in the South and longitude
80 W in the West and 100 in the East. Kano city, the capital city of Kano State, is the third largest
conurbation in Nigeria with a population of about three million (Kano State Government Nigeria,
In 2002, the terrorist group Boko Haram was formed in Maiduguri by radical cleric Mohammed
Yusuf. This terror group has unleashed untold destruction on lives and properties in the region,
including the widely publicised abduction of 300 school girls from the Northeast town of Chibok
in Borno state. Analysts have pointed out that the emergence and growth of Boko Haram is closely
associated with exceptionally high levels of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment in Northern
Nigeria. Given the severe impact of terrorist violence in the region, the Northeast city of Maiduguri
and the Northwest city of Kano were selected, being especially suited for this study. They are the
largest cities in the two geopolitical zones mostly affected by the terrorist insurgency, and are also
host to the two major universities in the two zones. Both UNIMAID and BUK are second
generation universities
and therefore are among the oldest and largest in the country, each having
tens of thousands of students.
4. Method
4.1 Sampling and data collection
This study is based on survey data collected from 331 students in UNIMAID and BUK. As
mentioned before, undergraduate entrepreneurship is a common phenomenon in Nigeria, and it
has significant welfare implications. Entrepreneurship education became compulsory for all
undergraduates since 2006, following a policy directive from the Nigerian federal government.
Students are required to partake in a compulsory entrepreneurship course in their third or fourth
The second generation universities are those established to meet rising demand for tertiary
education, especially in Science and Technology, within the framework of Nigeria’s Third
Development Plan between 1975 and 1980.
year. Thus, we disaggregated the students who have partaken in the entrepreneurship education
programme from non-participants using their years of study. We recognise that students may have
self-selected themselves into other entrepreneurship training programmes, say prior to their
university education, but this does not affect the outcomes of our investigation. Entrepreneurship
education programmes are heterogenous, and impact evaluation has to be within the specific
context and content of a particular EE provision (Hynes, 1996; Busenitz, Gomez & Spencer, 2000;
Smallbone & Welter, 2001; Borchers & Park, 2011).
Using a self-administered survey questionnaire, relevant information was elicited from
respondents about their participation in entrepreneurship education; the details of the EE
curriculum content and approach and perceived learning; their perception of perceived
environmental turbulence; the type and levels of skills acquired from the EE programme; and the
performance of new ventures. Table 1 describes the profile of our sample. Half of all respondents
have received entrepreneurship education at the time of the study. About a third of the sample is
female, and as expected among undergraduates, most are not married.
4.2 Variables and measures
We adopted multiple items to capture the different dimensions of the dependent and independent
variables. We then applied factor analysis to combine the different dimensions into our final
variables. Table 2 provides a summary of the reliability analysis of the observed factors associated
with each of the variables. Apart from technological turbulence which was eventually dropped
from the model, the Cronbach’s alpha for all of the variables was more than the threshold of 0.7.
Further details about the indicator factors and items for the variables are provided in the following
4.2.1 Dependent variable
The main dependent variable in this study is new venture performance. Subjective measures of
firm performance are often used to complement objective measures, or as stand-alone measures.
This is especially useful in cases where no viable alternatives exist, like SMEs without appropriate
financial records. While objective measures are usually drawn from audited accounts, subjective
measures typically used rating scales, and are often based on comparison of the firm in question
with competitors (Wall et al., 2004). Subjective measures also allow for evaluation of non-
financial components of firm performance (Richard et al., 2009). Thus, this study incorporates a
“relative performance” construct into the measures of overall firm performance. From a
stakeholder perspective, these nonfinancial subjective measures include customer and employee
satisfaction. These are important measures of firm performance, because satisfied customers will
be more willing to pay, and employee satisfaction is a good indicator of a company’s ability to
attract and retain its best employees. Other subjective measures are classed under company’s
environmental and social performance. These include activities like safe environmental practices,
ethical advertising, minority employment and social projects. These, while difficult to measure
directly, are important because they have direct implications and impact on government and
community stakeholders, and they are key indicators of overall value added by the company
(Santos & Brito, 2012).
Following from the foregoing discussion, we measure performance as a combination of two sub-
constructs: company performance and performance relative to competitors. This combination,
rather than either of them taken alone, provides a more robust indicator of the performance of new
ventures. For example, it is possible that, in an environment characterised by conflict, derelict
infrastructure and market volatility, the growth in sales for a business venture may be small or
insignificant. However, the same venture, when compared with competitors, may have shown
highly significant better performance compared with its competitors. Conversely, it is possible
that a venture showing higher relative performance may be struggling for survival and tethering
on the brink of fold-up. Thus, using this multi-dimensional construct, we compute company
performance as an aggregate of likert-scale items measuring respondents’ perception of the
company sales, growth in sales, net profit, growth in net profit, growth in market access and growth
in the net worth of the business venture. Similar items were used to measure performance relative
to competitors, and both observed variables were then used as indicators of the latent variable,
overall firm performance.
4.2.2 Independent variables
Entrepreneurship education
Entrepreneurship education (EE) is the main predictor examined in this study. As mentioned in
section 2.1, EE is examined as a multidimensional construct incorporating curriculum content and
approach, and perceived learning and skills. Apart from the question separating EE participants
from non-participants, respondents were asked to indicate, in a series of likert-scale items, how
much they have benefitted from specific contents and approach of the particular EE provision,
such as theory lectures, applied lectures, workshops and seminars, field projects, learning by doing,
written examination and practical examination. By using these specific measures related with the
EE provision under study, we were able to overcome the challenge of possible self-selection into
other EE programmes, either prior to, or subsequent to, their university studies. Similarly, the
likert-scale items on perceived learning and skills focused more on improvement, rather than new
acquisition, of skills related to business planning, practical management, networking and
opportunity identification due specifically to their participation in the EE programme.
Entrepreneurial skills
Entrepreneurial skill is computed as a multidimensional construct incorporating business planning,
marketing skills, and leadership skills. These were deemed key skills critical for the survival and
growth of new ventures in a turbulent environment. For business planning, respondents were asked
to assess themselves on skills such as data gathering, predicting and forecasting, setting out plans
in written forms, budget planning, and recording and analysing business flows and outflows.
Similarly for marketing skills, items include knowledge of customers and competitors, knowledge
of industry trends, accuracy of revenue and profit forecasting, and knowledge of advertising
platforms. Finally, the leadership items include questions about the ability to persuade, inspire and
motivate others, firm and speedy decision making, and conflict resolution.
Perceived environmental turbulence
In this study, perceived environmental turbulence was measured as a three-dimensional construct
incorporating the following observed variables: political instability (PI), economic instability (EI),
and perceived danger (PD). A fourth variable, technological turbulence was included in the
questionnaire, but it was subsequently removed from our model because reliability analyses
indicate that the alpha value for technological turbulence was 0.287 (see table 1), much less than
the threshold value of 0.7. This may have to do with the study context, characterised as it is by
under-development and generally very low level of technological adoption by small and medium
scale enterprises. In other words, it appears that drastic changes in technologies are unlikely to
make a significant difference on the performance of new ventures. The items used to measure
political instability include perception of the impact of terrorist violence, ethnic tensions, religious
tensions, street crime and corruption on respondents’ businesses. Similarly, the items for economic
instability include perception of the impact of exchange rate, fuel price, inflation and bank failure.
Finally, the “perceived danger” sub-construct focused mainly on concerns and fears about physical
danger, including danger of losing a limb, encounter with explosive devices, getting caught up in
a cross-fire, being kidnapped, and catching infectious diseases. These three dimensions provide a
robust measure of the turbulence of the environment in which these new ventures have to operate.
4.2.3 Controls
Three controls are included in our model: gender, formal capital, and informal capital. Scholars
have reported different findings about the impact of CEO gender on firm performance. (Khan &
Vieito 2013) reported that female-led firms perform better than male-led firms in terms of firms’
return to assets. On the other hand, (Robb & Watson 2012) suggested that, if risk adjusted
measures are used, there is no difference in the performance of male and female owned enterprises.
Similarly, there is an extensive body of work on the impact of access to capital and capital structure
on firm performance (see, for example, (Li et al. 2012; Le & Phan 2017; Fowowe 2017). In our
study, we disaggregate between formal sources of capital, such as loans and bank savings; and
informal sources like financial support and loans from family and friends.
4.3 Analysis
The analysis was carried out in two parts. First, we carried out a structural equation modelling to
investigate the mediating role of entrepreneurial skills. Next, we carried out a regression analysis
to examine the moderating effect of entrepreneurial skills on each of the perceived environmental
turbulence constructs. Consistent with the development of the hypotheses set out in Section 2, the
empirical model in Figure 1 depicts the relationships under investigation. The main relationship is
the impact of entrepreneurship education (EE) on overall firm performance (PERF). Ancillary to
this are the relationship between entrepreneurship education and skill levels of respondents (ESK),
and the relationship between entrepreneurial skills and firm performance. Finally, the model also
includes investigation of the relationship between perceived environmental turbulence and firm
performance. We control for gender and access to capital, both, formal capital, and informal
capital. By comparing a stand-alone EE-PERF regression path with EE-PERF path in the
composite model shown in Figure 1, we are able to establish the possible mediating role of ESK
(entrepreneurial skills) on PERF. The model was estimated as a Structural Equation Model using
version 20 of AMOS software.
5. Results and discussion
5.1 Results
The correlation matrix of the variables is presented in table 3. This is followed by the summary of
the fit indices for both measurement and structural models are outlined in Table 4 below. All
indicators are within acceptable limits, suggesting that our model fits the data well. Table 5
contains the results of the structural modelling. We find that after controlling for the effects of
gender, formal capital, and informal capital, entrepreneurship education has a significant positive
impact on overall firm performance. In Model 1, the standard regression weight (St. RW) for the
effect of entrepreneurship education on firm performance is 0.466, significant at the 5% level. This
supports our second hypothesis (H2) that suggested a positive relationship between
entrepreneurship education and overall firm performance. Entrepreneurial skills is introduced in
Model 2, and we find a positive and statistically significant path (St. RW of 0.527 significant at
the 5% level) leading to it from entrepreneurial education as proposed in our first hypothesis (H1).
This model also provides support for our third hypothesis (H3) on the mediating role of
entrepreneurial skills in the relationship between entrepreneurship education and firm
performance. After entrepreneurship skills was introduced, the St.RW of the path from
entrepreneurship education to firm performance reduced to 0.338 and remains statistically
significant. In the same model, entrepreneurial skills has a positive significant relationship with
overall firm performance (St. RW of 0.349 significant at the 5% level). Taken together with the
results on H2, these results reflect a partial mediation role of entrepreneurship skills on firm
performance. Contrary to what we hypothesised in H4, aggregate perceived environmental
turbulence has an insignificant effect on entrepreneurial outcome in terms of firm performance.
An important caveat here is that this result may be specific to our study context where young
entrepreneurs might already have evolved effective strategies for overcoming the turbulence.
Nevertheless, to further unpack this, in the OLS model, we disaggregated perceived environmental
turbulence to each of political instability, economic instability and perceived danger. These lead
to the development of hypotheses H4 and H5. The results of the OLS model are presented in table
Some interesting observations arise upon looking at the results on our control variables. In Model
1, informal capital was found to have a negative significant effect on firm performance in model
1. This effect changes to become positive in Model 2, after entrepreneurial skill was introduced.
Gender has an insignificant effect on performance in Model 1 but a positive and significant one in
Model 2 where entrepreneurial skills is present. These hint at the fact that entrepreneurial skills
play a role in how the entrepreneur’s gender and access to informal capital relates to
entrepreneurial outcomes in terms of firm performance.
Finally, the result of the OLS regression is presented in table 6. Model 1 includes the control
variables, along with entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial skills. For this we combined
access to informal capital and access to formal capital as total capital access (TCP). In model 2,
we added the perceived environmental turbulence constructs: political instability, economic
instability, and perceived danger. Finally, in the final model 3, we further included the interaction
terms, with entrepreneurial skills interacted with each of political instability, economic instability
and perceived danger. These enable us to investigate the moderating effects of entrepreneurial
skills on the relationship between environmental turbulence and venture performance. The results
surprisingly indicate that access to capital is negatively associated with business performance. This
may reflect the inadequacy of capital to influence business performance in a region characterised
by insurgency violence. In other words, funding does not seem to make positive difference for
businesses. In contrast, and as noted in the structural equation model, both entrepreneurship
education and entrepreneurial skills were found to have significant positive impact on business
performance. Among the perceived environmental turbulence constructs, only political instability
has significant negative impact on business performance. This negative impact is significantly
moderated by entrepreneurial skills, as model 3 reveals.
5.4 Discussion
Entrepreneurship is widely recognised as a driver of economic development, particularly in
developing countries which typically grapple with high levels of unemployment (Naude, 2010).
One of the means by which entrepreneurs are identified and developed is entrepreneurship
education, which is widely accepted to support entrepreneurial intentions among young persons
both in developed (Fayolle & Gailley, 2015; Fayolle, 2005) and developing countries
(Olofinyehun et al, 2018; Siyanbola et al, 2012). Development research further shows that
educated entrepreneurs tend to be more productive (La Porta &Shleifer, 2014). Consistent with
this literature, our analyses in this paper indicate that entrepreneurship education indeed enhances
entrepreneurial skills among young persons. We extend the literature by demonstrating that
entrepreneurship education also helps in boosting the performance of the small firms that these
young entrepreneurs start and manage. By creating awareness and raising consciousness,
entrepreneurship education enhances opportunity recognition in aspiring entrepreneurs. This is in
line with the observation in the entrepreneurship education literature highlighting opportunity
recognition as a core activity in the early stages of student entrepreneurship (Wei, Liu, & Sha
2019), and it is critical for new venture success. In addition, as other scholars have observed
(Kirkwood, Dwyer, & Gray 2014), entrepreneurship education can help nascent entrepreneurs to
overcome doubts and acquire confidence which is especially important for them to survive and
thrive in turbulent environments.
Further, we argue that entrepreneurs with better skills and competences developed through relevant
training will be better able to manage their businesses for success. By extension, entrepreneurial
skills constitute a transmission channel for the effects of entrepreneurship education on
entrepreneurial outcomes, particularly in terms of business performance. Furthermore, our study
found that aggregate entrepreneurial skills is an effective moderator of political instability. This
supports hypothesis H5b, and it is especially important to the main research question in this study.
In the turbulent Northeast Nigeria where terrorist insurgency has aggravated political instability,
throwing businesses into turmoil, the result indicates that better skilled entrepreneurs are able to
steady the ship and find a way to survive. They can do this by using their skills to develop more
effective strategies to reach customers and create new opportunities.In other words skilled
entrepreneurs in turbulent environments are de facto institutional entrepreneurs who are better
equipped to create alternative pathways for entrepreneurial activities in unstable political settings,
including, but not limited to, creating new market institutions to enable their entrepreneurial
endeavours. This also aligns with the literature highlighting the superior skill sets of institutional
entrepreneurs over traditional entrepreneurs (Li, Feng & Jiang 2006) and their agentic role in
identifying and harnessing institutional opportunities in uncertain environments (Dorado, 2005).
We aim to further explore this in a subsequent qualitative study.
Despite the widely reported importance of access to capital for entrepreneurial success, the benefits
of improved capital access are not automatic. Our analyses reveal that access to informal capital –
which is the more prevalent form of capital accessible to micro- and small-sized business in
developing countries (Kuntchev et al, 2012) – actually tends to hinder overall firm performance,
at least in the turbulent business environment that we studied. The negative performance effect of
informal capital, in particular, could be associated with the observation of other scholars that the
consequences of default on informal loan is non-pecuniary—usually loss of social value in family
and friendship ties (Karaivanov & Kessler, 2018). The informal credit arrangement is especially
attractive to small business owners, but non-pecuniary consequences can also lead to high rates of
default and misappropriation or inefficient use of fund. However, with new competencies and
skills acquired via entrepreneurship education, it appears that small business owners are better able
to effectively and efficiently use their informal loans to achieve better business performance.
While this relationship is not directly observed from our data, it is indirectly indicated and it is a
viable explanation. Future studies can explore this in greater detail.
Finally, we find evidence that the role of gender is accentuated in the presence of entrepreneurial
skills. In other words, in terms of business performance, women tend to benefit more, or make
better use of new skills and improved competencies acquired through their participation in the
entrepreneurship programme. Ancillary to this, there is an argument for more targeted
entrepreneurship training interventions for women entrepreneurs, to bridge the gaps in skills and
opportunities for women-owned SMEs in Nigeria.
5.5 Conclusion
Overall, the findings indicate that a key means by which entrepreneurship education programmes
influence firm performance is through the impact of EE on entrepreneurship skills. This study
recognises that there are other means by which entrepreneurs can acquire new skills aside from
participation in entrepreneurship education programmes. Thus, the focus of this paper is on the
levels, rather than the existence, of skills acquired through participation in entrepreneurship
education programmes. Furthermore, the study also shows that EE has a significant impact on
entrepreneurship skills. Entrepreneurship skills has been explored here as a multi-dimensional
construct that incorporates business planning skills, marketing skills and leadership skills. These
skills are all important for the performance of ventures, new or established. For example, business
planning involves, not only opportunity identification and forecasting of profits, but also
anticipation and planning for risks. This is especially important in a volatile environment where
fortunes and hazards are continually changing and can catch businesses by surprise. The
acquisition and development of new competencies and skills are especially critical for
entrepreneurs operating in turbulent environments, where institutions are typically weak,
infrastructures are limited, and market uncertainties are aggravated by inter-communal conflicts
and political instability. Our study examines the impact of EE on entrepreneurs in a country’s
geopolitical zone that has been severely affected by terrorist insurgency. This is in addition to
institutional voids, policy uncertainties and political instability that characterises the broader
national context. These findings also underscore the need for country and context specific EE
training programmes, because challenges and opportunities differ from context to context. They
also underline the importance of higher-level entrepreneurial skills to business survival and
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Table 1: Profile of respondents
EE Participation
Course of study
Natural Sciences
Medicine & Med. Sciences
Arts and Humanities
Social Sciences
Marital status
Property ownership
Table 2. Reliability analysis
Factors and dimensions
Cronbach's alpha
Entrepreneurship Education
EE Contents and approach
Perceived learning skills
Entrepreneurial skills
Business planning skills
Marketing skills
Leadership skills
Overall firm performance
Company performance
Relative performance
perceived environmental turbulence
Political instability
Economic instability
Technological turbulence
Perceived danger
Table 3. Fit Indices, measurement model and corresponding
structural model
Measurement Model
Table 4. Correlation matrix
Table 5. summaries of the results of structural models tested
Model 1: Direct effect without mediator
Model 2: Direct and indirect effects with mediator
Regression paths
Overall performance←Entrepreneurship Education
EE significant on performance
Reduced and significant St.RW relative to model 1
Overall performance←Formal capital
Formal capital not significant
Formal capital not significant on performance
Overall performance←Informal capital
Informal capital significant
Informal capital significant on performance
Overall performance←Gender
Gender not significant
Gender significant on performance
Entrepreneurial_Skills←Entrepreneurship Education
EE significant on skills
Overall performance← Entrepreneurship Skills
Partial mediation role of entrepreneurial skills
Gender is negatively significant on skills
Entrepreneurial_Skills←Formal capital
Formal capital not significant on skills
Entrepreneurial_Skills←Informal capital
Informal capital not significant on skills
Overall performance←perceived environmental
perceived environmental turbulence not significant
on performance
Table 6. entrepreneurial skills, perceived environmental turbulence and business performance
Model 1
Model 2
Model 3 (moderation effect)
Model summary
No of observations
Root MSE
*= P<0.10, **=P<0.05, ***=P<0.01
Figure I: The structural model
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