I have one last semester here at Illinois State University before beginning a new chapter as the John J. Kahl, Sr., Chair in Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University. As usual, I am working on another iteration of my Entrepreneuship I course.
Entrepreneurship Requires a Goal
As always, I want students to develop a way of thinking and a few tools to enable them to act entrepreneurially in whatever career path they pursue. In other words, my goal is to empower them to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and to provide them tools to act entrepreneurially. The vehicle I use for their learning is a startup; each student is challenged to start with a problem to solve and progress during the semester to achieve authentic sales from a stranger by the end of the semester. Most won’t make it. Most won’t even come close to that. But the journey is what is important.
Entrepreneurs Need to FOCUS
I have experimented with a ton of tools in this course over the last 6 years – books, simulations, web-based tools. I want something that students will intuitively understand and immediately be able to turn into action. My latest favorite tool for this is the FOCUS Framework. The wizard behind the curtain, Justin Wilcox, has been fantastic working with me to customize a solution for my students. Because the goal of his framework is to find product-market fit, and because it is a digital combination of videos, examples, and intuitive tools, it is a powerful way to engage my students.
Entrepreneurs Need to Sprint
The other process I will introduce to my students is the Sprint process outlined by the amazing folks at Google Ventures. The ideas behind this process are “that the biggest challenges require less time, not more; that individuals produce better solutions than teams; and that you can test anything in one week by building a realistic façade.” Makes sense to me!
Where We Are
As with anyone working on a startup, I create an environment of chaos. Students have control over their entire experience – I suggest tools, assignments, challenges they should use, I provide feedback and offer myself and my network as resources. The journey has to be theirs, and I need to be there to support it with everything I have.
So far, they have identified problems that matter to them. Some are big (building a community and scalable process to improve battered women’s self-esteem). Some are not (offer students small repair service cheaper than the landlords). I hammer them with the thought of focusing on problems instead of ideas.
They have written a personal press release to establish their goal, envision sharing that goal, and setting a path to achieve that goal. They are practicing reframing their problems into more powerful questions that will lead them to more effective solutions.
Here is our roadmap – of course, as with any good entrepreneur, it is a very fluid plan that I adjust based on my customers’ (students) experience. I have encouraged the students to work at their own pace, and that, as with entrepreneurship, there are no boundaries, there is only their ambition, drive, grit. Some students wait for me to tell them the next step. Some students are already well down the road. Some are lost. Some are on point. It’s amazing chaos!
I look forward to sharing this journey, and to your feedback. Please let me know your thoughts on what I could be doing to better create a real experience for my students.