Entrepreneurship Educators Should Have (And Share) Entrepreneurship Journeys

I am a firm believer that educators should have practical experience in the subject matter they are teaching.

Someone teaching nursing should be a practicing nurse.

Someone teaching mathematics could have been a logistician or an actuary.

Someone teaching history could have been an archivist or a lawyer.

Someone teaching acting/theater should work as an actor or behind the scenes of a theater.

For those teaching entrepreneurship, we should be currently engaged in entrepreneurship. This way, we understand the nuances and tools of today’s entrepreneur. I share this belief with students, and then share my current experiences in entrepreneurship with them. To show them that I try, that I fail, that I learn, that I succeed, that I persist.

Most importantly, I show them that I am willing to do what I am asking them to do. A role model is a powerful thing!

Below are the high-level points of some of my entrepreneurship stories I share with my students:

internrocket.com

This is a story of entrepreneurship gone wrong. I collided with two guys around the idea that internships suck, for students and for employers. The process is long and painful and not transparent, among other problems. So we hatched the idea of micro-internships between students and local small businesses. The business pays maybe $10 to post a job-to-be-done. The student doesn’t get paid but gets real experience and a real connection to a real business person, all with little time commitment.

Our original goal was to be a data giant and get acquired by LinkedIn or Monster.com or some similar entity for many millions.

Mistake #1: We were not lean. We empowered one of our founders to be the CEO and gave him plenty of leeway. He chose to delay release of the product for years, until it was “perfect”, instead of launching a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and iterating quickly based on customer feedback.

Mistake #2: To support this long product development cycle, we took on a few hundred thousand dollars in investment from local friends. This was a bad idea because these “investors” were investing in the CEO more than in the business. Of the two real investors approached, one asked for his money back after a couple years of zero traction, and the other basically laughed at the proposition of investing in this as a “business”.

Mistake #3: Because we took on investment, we got distracted by pursuing potential revenue streams instead of sticking to our original goal of building a data goldmine of young people pursuing employment. We twice approached a large corporation to build a platform for/with for them. We twice got turned down. We worked to integrate with Khan Academy and a variety of other ways for young people to gain valuable skills. We forgot our original practical goal and bloated into a fantastical dream.

Because I no longer agreed with the culture or the direction of the company, after 6 years, I sold back my 10% for a mere $2,500. This was a significant discount from the $5 million valuation our CEO was shopping to investors, but I just wanted out because the business and culture was something I could no longer support. Along the way, I didn’t fight for the business I wanted to build.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Establish a strong outcome goal and don’t waver
  2. Vet cofounders
  3. Don’t take investment to build product (only take it to scale traction)
  4. Fight for your ideas
  5. Launch it yesterday

Legacy Out Loud

This is a story of unrealized potential. I realized that the women in my classes were significantly better students in all the ways that mattered (i.e., not grades), and that there were very few women in my classes. Over a year or so, I spoke with 500+ female entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders (mostly through LinkedIn hustling) about how I might attract and support more women in entrepreneurship classes & programs on college campuses. One entrepreneur had a similar vision, so Elisabeth and I started down the road of building a community and eventually a business. We would recruit female college students and deliver some sort of curriculum (what they didn’t get in college but what we knew they really needed).

Mistake #1: We didn’t have a strategy or structure. We didn’t know how we were going to generate revenue. So it was more of a hobby for us than a business (because the things in our respective lives that generated revenue would always take priority – I was an educator and Elisabeth was already an entrepreneur).

Mistake #2: I lied to my wife about the time and financial commitments I was making to this endeavor. I eventually contributed roughly $20,000 to finance an awesome experience for some of our students to attend and be highlighted at Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations. Without a revenue model, we have no way of recuperating that investment, which is a sore spot in my personal life.

Elisabeth and I continue to pursue our mission. We have run two pilot cohorts of college students through our curriculum, where they experientially learn sales and other elements of personal growth they don’t find in their college curriculum. We learn, we ideate, we iterate, and we still struggle with structure and strategy.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t start without a revenue model
  2. Develop a rhythm of productivity
  3. Be honest and transparent (this is just generally good life advice, but particularly good advice when it comes to balancing a relationship and a business)
  4. Pull the trigger

Entrepreneurship Education Project

This was a research project I began as a doctoral student, to better understand how people were teaching entrepreneurship. With very few resources and the collaboration of a few colleagues, this turned into a massive global dataset and an annual conference. My original goal here was to develop a longitudinal data project that would

  1. produce research toward my tenure requirement,
  2. build a large network of entrepreneurship educators, and
  3. improve how people taught entrepreneurship

Mistake #1: I did not understand the resources it would take to sustain a longitudinal global research study, so the data gathering petered out after two years (although, a core group of more experienced researchers are now rebooting the project with a strong plan for sustainability).

Mistake #2: I did not have a strategy or structure to scale or sustain this project. As the number of participating faculty grew into the hundreds, and it became necessary to translate our survey into dozens of languages, and coordinate the timing of administering, aggregating and sharing data around the world, I got buried and lost interest.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Ask for help (not only is it OK, it improves the chances of success)
  2. Have some semblance of a resource plan (what it might take, and where those resources might come from)

General Thoughts

It is good to share personal experience with students, particularly as it relates to the sort of things they are learning about and doing in the class. It creates connections that, I believe, allow students to feel more comfortable asking for help and taking risks. In addition to the business I try to start every semester, I try to model what I ask of my students in “real” businesses, and try to be very transparent in sharing those journeys with my students.

If you are teaching entrepreneurship, don’t forget to practice it, and to be transparent in sharing that experience with students.

4 thoughts on “Entrepreneurship Educators Should Have (And Share) Entrepreneurship Journeys

  1. Brian Winkel

    Obviously, every mistake is a lesson learned – some at personal expense, some at monetary expense, and some at professional expense. But there is always some gain, something learned, and something banked for the future – if one but remembers :+). The fact that you (and anyone else who starts something) can step back and reflect – no matter when in the process – is a good sign for things to come. Sharing these honest issues is a great offering to the students and others who are considering an end game entrepreneurship event, namely starting something. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    1. dwinkel2@gmail.com Post author

      The reflecting doesn’t come easy, but it helps keep the classroom experience authentic and valuable.

      Reply
  2. Christen Dunn

    Leading by example is the best way! I would much rather learn from a teacher who has been there and done that. I applaud your efforts! I enjoy your insights, please keep going.

    Reply
    1. dwinkel2@gmail.com Post author

      Thanks Christen, I appreciate the encouragement. I wish I had more teachers growing up who could help me understand how the class material applied to real life. So I decided I would make that a core of my approach.

      Reply

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