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The $100 Million Question: Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

Thursday, 2 May 2013 | 12:19 PM ET
The statue Alma Mater in front of Low Memorial library on the campus of Columbia University.
Nowhereman86 | Wikipedia
The statue Alma Mater in front of Low Memorial library on the campus of Columbia University.

Entrepreneurs have always been a different breed. They see things differently—from risk and markets to work (which is constant) and conventional wisdom (which is best ignored).

But the question is: can the ability to be an entrepreneur or an economic disrupter be taught?

Ronald Perelman is betting that it can. The billionaire CEO and chairman of MacAndrews & Forbes announced on CNBC Thursday that he's giving $100 million to the Columbia Business School to create a new facility aimed at creating the next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders.

In an interview, Perelman said he believes that economic disrupters and entrepreneurs can be taught—up to a point.

(Read More: Corporate Climate Good for Earnings, Not Jobs: Ronald Perelman)

"I think you can teach disruption," he said. "I think you can give a student the tools for which to be disruptive, to think disruptive innovation. Some things are gut instinct. Entrepreneurship is one of those things. Fashion sense is. Music is one of those. You either have it or you don't—not that it's so great to have it."

Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School, is more confident about the ability to teach entrepreneurs and leaders.

Glenn Hubbard, Dean of the Columbia University
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Glenn Hubbard, Dean of the Columbia University

"This is a subject that can be taught," he said. "And we're working with students on it." He added that the $100 million gift will "make it a reality for us."

As to how the success of teaching entrepreneurs will be measured over time, Hubbard said they will track graduates and entrepreneurs to monitor the success.

He joked: "We will measure it. And Ronald will hold our feet to the fire."


(Watch the interview: Perelman Pledges $100M to Columbia Business School)


-By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter: @robtfrank

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