Competence, innovation and entrepreneurship


Thomas Lans was born on April 15, 1977, in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, but grew up in the eastern part of the Netherlands. After secondary school he started to study plant breeding and crop protection (plant sciences) at Wageningen University with a special interest in education and training in horticulture. After two technical oriented theses, one conducted in South Africa, he developed his competence in the field of educational sciences further in a six months thesis project on the role of corporate training in strategic innovations in the greenhouse sector. He graduated in March 2001 at Wageningen University and worked from June 2001 until the end of 2004 as a junior researcher at the group of Education and Competence studies (ECS) of Wageningen University. The two main projects he was involved in were Brainport, commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), and the project ILE (inspiring learning environments for entrepreneurs, commissioned by the Innovation Network). The Brainport project was initiated to put lifelong learning for the agri-food sector into practice in terms of the development of long-term learning trajectories. The ILE project was conducted with the primary aim to strengthen learning and innovation competence of entrepreneurs in horticulture.

His PhD research focussed on entrepreneurial competence in the agri-food sector. Concurrently with his PhD studies at the ECS-group, from 2005 to 2007, he worked in a large scale policy support programme on knowledge circulation and knowledge transfer between agricultural education and research. From 2007 on his work became more and more focussed towards entrepreneurial learning and learning for and through entrepreneurship. Furthermore, he became a member of WAEGHALS, the Wageningen Entrepreneurial Group on Health, Agri-food & Life Sciences, and from 2008 one of the project leaders in DAFNE, the Dutch Agro-Food Network of Entrepreneurship, one of the entrepreneurship centres in the Netherlands. Under this umbrella, a new course with the primary aim to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of MSc students of Wageningen University was developed.

At present Thomas is an assistant professor at ECS. His research interests include assessment and impact measurement in entrepreneurship education and (situated) entrepreneurial learning. From 2012-2015, he is one of the lead researchers in the European LLLight in Europe research program.

Research 'Competence, innovation and entrepreneurship'

Long-term Impact of Entrepreneurship Education Programs

Entrepreneurial intention research has gained importance over the last years in entrepreneurship education research (Kolvereid, 1996; Krueger, Reilly, & Carsrud, 2000; Lee, Chang, & Lim, 2005; Souitaris, Zerbinati, & Al-Laham, 2007; Turker & Selcuk, 2009). Most studies depart from Ajzen’s theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991), a theory which is well-supported by empirical evidence in other research domains. Pretest-post test interventions show a positive effect of entrepreneurship education programs on the development of entrepreneurial intentions (Fayolle, Gailly, & Lassas-Clerc, 2006; Souitaris, et al., 2007) and statistical advanced studies have confirmed, in line with the theory of planned behaviour, the influence of entrepreneurial self-efficacy on entrepreneurial intentions (Zhao, Seibert, & Hills, 2005). Nonetheless, it is unclear how entrepreneurial intentions, entrepreneurial self-efficacy and competence develop over longer periods of time in school-based environments, especially in environments which do not directly foster business-type of knowledge and skill (e.g. engineering, life-sciences, humanities). In addition, different school-based environments can aim at different entrepreneurial outcomes (i.e., not only looking at starting up a new business), thereby differently influence students’ intentions, self-efficacy or competence development or even attract different types of students with a different personality or with different entrepreneurial intentions. Although it is suggested from large scale regression analyses that higher educational levels increase the likelihood of becoming an entrepreneur, students in higher education also have more other, non-entrepreneurial opportunities and might be less eager to act on entrepreneurial opportunities as they arise (Davidsson, 2006). Therefore, a longitudinal approach to entrepreneurial intentions, entrepreneurial self-efficacy and competence is especially interesting in studies that involve the higher (post-compulsory) spectrum of education, because in this context various types of (entrepreneurial) outcomes can be purchased or favoured by various students. Such an approach requires further sophistication measures of entrepreneurial intentions, entrepreneurial self-efficacy and competence (Lans, Gulikers, & Batterink, 2010).

Lifelong Learning and Innovation in Companies

Entrepreneurial learning does not stop, say, five years after starting a firm. It will continue to develop depending on the initiatives employed by managers and their employees, as well as on the specific situational challenges the firms faces. However, this type of learning does not lead to diplomas or certificates and is hence difficult to include in general statistical data. Therefore, research interests have focussed on formalizing the informal.  However, mapping such (informal) learning activities appears to be complex, but not undoable (Dyer et al., 2008; Eraut, 2004; Mulder et al., 2007). Additional research needs to be done to arrive at more strict, discernable (classifiable) categories of learning activities, in particular in (different) entrepreneurial contexts. Furthermore, in entrepreneurial learning literature several times the importance of work-environment factors is emphasized. Research investigating the effects of different learning situations (and their interactions) on learning and development in workplaces is still scarce and provides many challenges.

Key publications (in chronological order)

  • Lans, T., Wesselink, R. Biemans, H.J.A., & Mulder, M. (2004). Work-related lifelong learning for entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector. International Journal of Training and Development, 8, 72-88.
  • Lans, T., Bergevoet, R., Mulder, M., & Van Woerkum, C. (2005). Identification and measurement of competences of entrepreneurs in agribusiness. In M. Batterink, R. Cijsouw, M. Ehrenhard, H. Moonen & P. Terlouw (Eds.), Selected papers from the 8th Ph.D. conference on business economics, management and organization science (pp. 81-95). Enschede: PREBEM/NOBEM.
  • Kupper, H., Lans, T., & Wals, A. (2007). Dynamisering van Kennis: uitgangspunten voor kennisarrangementen tussen onderwijs, onderzoek en bedrijfsleven. Tijdschrift voor Hoger Onderwijs, 25(1), 16-31.
  • Mulder, M., Lans, T., Verstegen, J., Biemans, H.,& Meijer, Y. (2007). Competence development of entrepreneurs in innovative horticulture. Journal of Workplace Learning, 19(1), 32-44.
  • Lans, T., Biemans, H., Verstegen, J., & Mulder, M. (2008). The influence of the work environment on entrepreneurial learning of small-business owners. Management Learning 39(5), 597-613.
  • Lans, T., Hulsink, W., Baert, H., & Mulder, M. (2008). Entrepreneurship education and training in a small business context: Insights from the competence-based approach. Journal of Enterprising Culture, 16(4), 363-83.
  • Lans, T., J. Gulikers, and M. Batterink (2010), Moving beyond traditional measures of entrepreneurial intentions in a study among life-sciences’ students in the Netherlands. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 2010. 15(3): p. 259-274.
  • Lans, T., et al. (2010), Self-awareness of mastery and improvability of entrepreneurial competence in small businesses in the agrifood sector. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 2010. 21(2): p. 147-168.
  • Lans, T., J. Verstegen, and M. Mulder (2011), Analysing, Pursuing and Networking: A Validated Three-Factor Framework for Entrepreneurial Competence from a small business perspective. . International Small Business Journal, 2011. 29(6): p. 695-713.

Scientific awards:

  • 2008, Outstanding Paper Award of the Journal of Workplace Learning
  • 2008, Vinus Zachariasse Research Encouragement Prize for Social Sciences