Expose Students to “Real” People
Last week we had wonderful visitors. It is critical for any student in any discipline to hear from people who actually DO what they are learning about. The professor may be that person, but from my experience the students just won’t see the professor as anything other than a professor. So, I like to bring in entrepreneurs to share their story and insight. Their insight and recommendations are usually the same as mine, but when students hear it from “real” people, it sticks.
Both our visitors talked with and highlighted for the students various aspects of starting a company:
- On Monday we welcomed a good friend who also happens to be an ISU professor who is starting her own greeting-card-with-a-twist business. She shared what led her to her idea, which is a very common mix of “it just hit me” with “I couldn’t . . . ” She had a problem she needed solved, and realized she was the perfect person to solve it in a way that could create a business. Then we turned the tables on the students and she asked them for feedback – she did the same sort of customer development on them they are learning how to do on others. What a learning opportunity to actually feel what it’s like! The students provided amazing feedback to my friend about her products, but they really provided something much more valuable (Note: I can be really sneaky and manipulative if I need to be!) In talking with my friend I kept telling her she needed to put the idea out there, to talk to strangers about it. She was hesitant. So I invited her into my class under the guise of getting feedback. What she got out of it was confidence – to share her idea, to accept feedback (negative and positive), and that she had an audience eager for her product. My students won (they felt their customers’ experience and they heard a great story of the development of an idea). My friend won (she gained confidence in sharing her idea and also got tremendous feedback). I won (my students are now more engaged, they believe more of what I’m telling them . . . and I didn’t have to prep!!)
- Jessica Tenuta stopped by on Wednesday. Jessica is an amazing young woman! She is a recent ISU alum who is part of the team leading Packback Books to new heights of disrupting the educational experience for students. Shameless plug – if you are teaching anything at all, you should use Packback’s platform to create a much more engaging learning/discussion experience for your students than whatever LMS you currently are using! Jessica shared her story of emerging from her shell of a very nervous young girl to become a leader in a student startup that landed a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank and is killing it in the Chicago startup scene. She shared the story of Packback Books and some advice to my students about just getting out there and doing it. She again flipped things on the students – she asked what businesses they wanted to start. One student mentioned she already has a photography business and Jessica gave her advice. Another mentioned he’s working on a hunting product, and another student piped up that her uncle owns a hunting business. Sparks were flying! In an entrepreneurship classroom. Go figure!
What’s Next For the Class?
The students are struggling through their Online Venture Challenge project. Some are figuring out their initial idea doesn’t work (because they jumped instead of talking to potential customers). Some are figuring out it’s a lot of work. Some aren’t figuring out very much. I am getting them to also turn their attention to their individual businesses they will start toward the end of October. They need to turn in a concept in the next couple days, and then I will meet with each of them for about 30 minutes, so I get them excited and so I know how I can best help them.
What’s Next For Me?
So what is my business? I have been talking to lots of students, and have hones in on a problem and an opportunity. At least here at ISU, many students have a sense of what they want to do post-graduation. But they have very little clue about what that choice means, what it entails, what it requires. What I am hearing in my conversations with them is that
- They do not know how to get a realistic preview of their chosen career path
- They do not know how to find out the specific opportunities in that space
- They do not know what experience they should be working on getting right now
I have also been talking to a ton of entrepreneurs, business leaders, business owners, and employees. Many of them acknowledge they would have loved the opportunity to chat with someone actually doing what they wanted to do.
What I’m hearing is students want connections, and professionals want to connect with students. Nothing deep here – they’re all talking about a short phone call to ask and answer some basic questions, to provide some very basic insight/guidance. Sure, more will evolve in many cases, but the idea is to provide a way for that initial connection.
I’m doing more customer development before turning my energy to the product itself – more to come in the weeks ahead!