Tag Archives: experiential

Nuts and Bolts: Entrepreneurship Education in Action

The Possibilities of Entrepreneurship Education

Entrepreneurship Education

I have recently had many inquiries from entrepreneurship educators about how I structure my class. Apparently, many think how I approach my classroom experience is “novel”, “pushes the boundaries”, is “scary” or “crazy” and a host of other awesome descriptors. To me, it’s just common sense.

As an entrepreneur and an educator, I view my classroom as one continuous experiment.

As an entrepreneur, my students are my customers. 

As an educator, my students are my customers.

Therefore, I need to continually understand their perspective and experience, and work with them to create the value they are seeking. I talk to them, as human beings. I observe them in action interviewing customers, designing and building business. I get to know them personally. I trust them. And they trust me. Students exploring entrepreneurship should emerge with an understanding of what it feels like to be an entrepreneur. They should emerge with the mindset of an entrepreneur. They should emerge with skills around customer development, design, collaboration, and experimentation.

The Promise of Entrepreneurship Education

Confidence

The promise of entrepreneurship education, to me, is that students can gain the confidence and mindset necessary to engineer their own future, whether that be a path up the corporate ladder, following in a parent’s footsteps in the family business, being a change agent in their local community, or landing their mug on the cover of Forbes or Inc. or Time.

The Essence of an Entrepreneurship Educator

Mentoring

I see my job as creating the most realistic entrepreneurial experience possible for my students, inviting them to dive in, and mentoring them through it. Sounds simple right? Not even close – it’s essentially having 30+ independent studies each semester. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is draining in every sense of the word. It is frustrating, it is confusing, it is dangerous. But above all else, it is invigorating and gloriously rewarding. I wouldn’t do it any other way. So, more specifically, how do I do it?

An Authentic Entrepreneurship Classroom Experience

It seems to students and most others that there is very little structure in my class experience. But that is just an illusion – there is some initial structure so my students and I can develop a common vocabulary and roadmap. Here are the main resources I have found helpful to kickstart my classroom experience:

All In Startup

I begin by having students read Diana Kander’s book All In Startup. It’s pure awesomeness, and if you’re teaching entrepreneurship without it, you’re missing the most engaging resource available today.

Once students have digested Diana’s book, we spend one class session diving into the VentureBlocks simulation. It’s quick and painless and an unbelievable powerful customer development experience for the students. In Diana’s book, we talk conceptually about identifying, observing, and interviewing customers and more. In VentureBlocks, students turn that learning into action, but in a safe environment of an online simulation.

I then turn their attention to the great work of Justin Wilcox, and more particularly the series of posts on Interviewing Customers. His material and message is elegantly simple, and his format is quick and dirty multimedia so students enjoy digesting it.

Running Lean

Next up is the preparation for doing. Ash Maurya’s resources around the Lean Canvas and Alex Bruton’s resources around Idea Modeling.

Idea Modeling

I plow through all of this in 5 weeks max (our class meets twice a week for 75 minutes each session). In parallel to the work mentioned above, I also am pushing students to develop ideas to work on during the semester. I hammer at them the notion of focusing on problems. I get them brainstorming their own problems. I encourage them to observe people in a variety of settings (stores, restaurants, parks, schools, churches, in traffic, etc.) to identify problems others have in their daily routines. My point here is to get them used to observing and being attentive to their surroundings. To identify a problem beyond their college campus experience that is reasonable to attack and get a basic solution to within a semester. I work with them to massage their ideas to be big enough to challenge them but not so big that it overwhelms them.

This first five weeks in particular is intense and overwhelming and a little confusing, but as I tell my students, “welcome to entrepreneurship!”

The Entrepreneurship Educator’s Goal: Student Confidence and Competence

At the end of the five weeks, my goal is for students to emerge with:

  1. A basic idea in place (rooted in an actual problem they know people experience),
  2. An understanding and level of basic comfort about identifying, approaching, and interviewing customers, and
  3. A basic roadmap to product-market fit

I then invite real angel investors (not VC – angles are much better for this environment as they tend to be more interested in the people and the ideas than a typical VC) into class and students pitch their ideas and roadmap. The investors shred them, but with some good constructive feedback. That is week 6. After week 6, in addition to the idea, understanding, and roadmap mentioned above, students emerge with confidence and excitement about their path going forward. Because real investors have “validated” their experience thus far and given them encouragement and guidance going forward.

From that point, it’s game on. They go and do. This is where all hell breaks loose, because 30+ students are independently struggling to navigate the uncertainties of entrepreneurship and using me as their main resource. I have accumulated a massive list of a variety of resources that I can pull from for each individual student depending on their needs – feel free to check it out and let me know what you think, what’s missing, etc.

My Offer to You

I love to talk about how others “teach” entrepreneurship (I always have to put that in quotes because I truly do not believe it’s possible), to give honest feedback on classroom approaches, exercises, syllabi, etc. I invite you to reach out here and let me know how I can help you enrich your classroom experience.

A New Beginning All Over Again

My Big Questions

  1. What would you do? Read below and share your thoughts on what customer development I should do
  2. How can entrepreneurship classrooms be more authentic and scary?

Here We Go Again: A New Version of the Same Entrepreneurship Experiment

infinity

The great thing about teaching is I can rebirth my courses every semester. This semester is no different – here is the syllabus for this iteration of my grand experiment: Entrepreneurship I Syllabus.

I will still try to build a startup from the ground up, just like I ask my students to. I will likely fail again, as most of them do. Diana Kander’s All In Startup book is still there. It’s such a phenomenal resource for students to learn how to understand and interview customers. Customer development is where it all starts for us. Our ideas suck, but my students don’t believe me, so I want them interviewing customers about their problems from day one. This semester, I added Venture Blocks (aka the Nanu Challenge), which is an online 3D simulation for customer development. We start our semester juggling a few things (just like a real entrepreneur!):

  1. Read Diana’s book
  2. Conduct customer problem interviews
  3. Constantly share ideas and progress with each other (i.e. do work!)
  4. Constantly give each other feedback (i.e. empower their colleagues to do work!)

Entrepreneurship Comes Alive

Design Thinking

The backbone of the class is a design thinking approach, which is basically a human-centered approach to resolving problems and creating solutions. In my class, customers are the center of our universe – we solve their problems, and we co-create solutions that solve their problems.

We empathize with customers by observing, engaging, and immersing. We define and redefine our questions and points of view. We ideate and ideate and ideate with business models and experiments. We prototype our solutions by failing quickly and cheaply. We test our prototypes, our business models, our customer use cases. We sell and we plan for growth.

Within this backbone, chaos ensues. Some students already have concepts off the ground. Some struggle endlessly to pick an idea to run with. Some rip through 12 or 20 ideas during the semester. Each student takes their own journey – including me!

Here We Go Again

At various times in my life, I have lived in or engaged with pockets of poverty. Growing up in a privileged existence, these times have always been eye-opening to me. This semester, the idea I’ll work on is more meaningful to me, because it has more potential to really make an impact. Child hunger is a problem. A big problem. It’s insane that in this country, with such wealth and opportunity, we have to deal with such a disgusting problem. But we do.

Child hunger

This is not a new problem. There are people who don’t/can’t get access to adequate nutrition for their children. There are businesses that have and dispose of excess food. There are a whole bunch of organizations and efforts working to close that gap and solve this problem. Food pantries. Soup kitchens. Churches. Organizations like No Kid Hungry and Feeding America. The list goes on. It’s not working. Or, if it is working, it’s not working fast enough. So, I’m going to take a design thinking and lean approach to solving this problem.

Working Up to an Entrepreneurial Idea

I lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn years ago. I loved talking to my neighbors, trying to understand their past and present. But it was sad also, learning about their struggles – the kind I have never known. One theme in many of those conversations that stuck out to me was pride.

pride

Many folks I talked to struggled to have enough resources to live – food, money, whatever – but wouldn’t take handouts. I heard the same theme when I was talking to some folks living in poverty during a recent trip to San Diego. People were willing to go to extraordinary lengths and take huge risks to get the very basics. But they wouldn’t take handouts; although they often didn’t have enough food to feed their children, they would not go to a food pantry or a soup kitchen or take food stamps. I am not here to say whether that’s right or wrong, it is what it is. But it is. Other folks I talked to found it too difficult to get to the places where the food might be available. They had to spend money to get there, money they didn’t have. They had to spend time to get there – maybe time away from family members they couldn’t spend away. For whatever reason, here is a segment of society not engaging with the “middleman” of this food cycle.

My idea is to take out the middleman. There has to be a way to get discarded food from establishments discarding it directly to people who struggle to put enough food in their children’s bellies. Transportation as a service. Not quite sure but that’s the beauty of this class experience – I don’t need a plan, because my customers will point the way.

Concerns

Just as my students do, I confront a few “duh” concerns – many highlighted by some great entrepreneurs with whom I shared the idea for feedback. Liability and bad PR of dealing with potentially bad food. Logistics of food delivery. Establishments writing off instead of donating goods/food. On a more local level, as in our community here, the lack of proper storage for perishable items. So I need to talk to lots of establishment owners and managers and such (grocery stores, restaurants, etc.) to understand their process of disposing of excess food and goods, and why they make that choice. I need to talk to parents of children who struggle to feed them, to understand what they do to combat that problem, and to eventually get feedback on the solution I invite them to co-create with me. I would love to be able to pick up food from stores around town, drive to a common location where many of these parents live, and in full Lloyd Dobbler style, blast out an announcement of “food is here, come and get it!”

Lloyd Dobbler

 

My Mess Got In The Way

Service Bell with Check in  Sign at Hotel Desk

Checking In

This experiment this semester is a mess. Sometimes it’s a glorious mess. Sometimes it’s a nasty mess. For each student it is different, depending for the most part on how they engage with me and the experience.

I offered 30 minute calls over the past few weeks to each student, to touch base about where they are, what problem they’re solving, who they’re solving it for, and what solution they are thinking of developing. Many students took me up on that offer. Many did not. Those who did let me know they got a ton of direction and motivation out of it, because they had a much clearer direction and purpose and more belief and confidence that they could do this. Learning lesson: next semester I’ll force a 30 minute meeting with each student very early in the semester. I waited too long this semester to do this. I didn’t push them enough.

Many students are cranking away on their “businesses”. Some have something to sell already. Nothing that’s going to change the world. Some have jewelry. Some have a minor product. But it’s something! Some have a website where they are gathering emails or other information about potential customers’ intent to engage (purchase, share, etc). Again, nothing too significant, but it’s something they have put into the world having done a little bit of research. Many students have seemingly checked out. They still show up to class (a victory in and of itself since it is totally voluntary). But they don’t engage, in class or outside class. I think some of them are working on their business idea. I’m sure some are  not. This is one of my eternal battles with my approach and this class – how intrusive do I get into their experience?

“No Dad, What About You?”

I’ve been validating. I previously validated my assumption that professionals would give 15 minutes of their time once a week to talk to students interested in their line of work, and that students would want to spend 15 minutes talking to a professional about a job they’re interested in. I have been working on validating my assumption that students will be willing to pay for this connection. I have talked to 50 random students across ISU’s campus – some at the student center, some on the quad, some in random buildings. Some looked young, some looked older. Some looked like athletes, some looked like nerds. Some were white, some were black. Etcetera – I got a somewhat random cross-section of our student population. I asked them three questions:

  1. If they knew what job they wanted to do after college, would they have questions they want to ask someone who currently does that job?
  2. If they could spend 15 minutes on the phone or Skype asking someone who currently does that job those questions, would they pay $5?
  3. If they wouldn’t pay $5, would they pay $2?

Out of the 50 students I asked, 46 said they knew what they wanted to do after college. Of those 46, 100% said if the opportunity presented itself, they would develop questions to ask someone. Of those 46, 12 (26%) said they would pay $5 – most had some qualifier on their answer like “if they were really qualified” or “if they had a lot of experience”. For the 34 who said they wouldn’t pay $5, 20 (58%) said they would pay $2, but most again had some sort of qualifier.

What this leads me to believe is that students will be a little leery of this – not necessarily trusting that if they’re paying, the person on the other end of the phone/camera is qualified and should be trusted. This makes sense. So part of what I need to do is be able to somehow legitimize the professional. Maybe include a short bio, or a link to a LinkedIn page.

I wanted to have set up a preorder landing page to run this experiment by now. With a vacation to Disneyworld, TEDxNormal and a Legacy Out Loud launch event in New York City in the works, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. That’s the next step – getting a landing page to test it out.

SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!

No Sweat

Act I: “No Sweat!”

The students have been making more progress with their Online Venture Challenge projects. As a reminder, they have one month to make as much money as possible that they will then donate to a charity. A few groups have made sales (three figures!) – which means they have identified a charity, identified a product that aligns with the charity’s mission, set up a Shopify store, marketed their cause and product, and closed customers! They for the most part don’t really see the progress they’ve made, even though I work hard to point it out. One student remarked “this entrepreneurship thing isn’t as hard as I thought.” That’s funny – can’t wait for him to hit the wall. Here is a quick breakdown of where they are:

Can Crafts

 

 

Can Crafts is supporting the Wounded Warrior Project with airplanes made from recycling cans. It’s a fantastic charity, a great product, and since these guys have a steady stream of cans, they should do well.

 

 

 

Drinksbee

 

 

Drinksbee is supporting Mothers Against Drunk Driving by selling a game popular with college students at tailgates and outdoor events and spaces. (I know – I had the same look on my face)

 

 

 

Wishbone

Wishbone Tees is selling t-shirts to support the Wish Bone Canine Rescue. Not just any shirts, though. They have a picture of a dog at the rescue and the saying “Rescued Is My Favorite Breed”.

 

Other groups are slowly getting there (I’m struggling as usual with wanting them to pull the trigger, but also needing them to learn that lesson on their own). I’ve explained to them the basics of customer development and experiments – how to set up the basic experiments they need to run, how to analyze data they get, how to set non-vanity metrics. I’m not sure they’ll put any of that to use in this one month challenge – they’re just going balls out without much experimentation and discovery and such. More just hardcore selling and hustling. Which is OK – that’s a great experience for them, to see just how much good they can accomplish with an idea and some hustle. But when they get to their individual venture after this, I will again revisit and stress the experiment and customer development process.

Act II: The Learning

We are continuing to read Diana Kander’s All in Startup. Every semester, every time I open this book I’m amazed at how engrossing it is. The students are devouring it (at least those that have cracked it open are). They’re really picking up and internalizing the ideas of making small bets and of looking for real problems that real customers have. I fear that many of them will still be focused on problems they have and get blinded by that. So, I keep hammering them with getting off campus and asking questions, measuring, analyzing, pivoting. And most of all, hustling!

Looking toward their individual efforts, I’m very excited to have developed a tri-class collaboration around my students’ new venture ideas (the next phase of my class):

*   I will to provide an IT prof 30ish startup ideas early October with name and concept, target audience, short-term goals, and tangible deliverable (app, website, etc)
*   The IT prof’s class will work on ideas, and develop them into flat high-fidelity mockups during the month of October
*   The IT prof will hand off 10 flat mockups (most likely with multiple screens) to an Arts Technology prof for online heat-map testing first week of November.
*   The Arts Tech prof will return data the second week of November.
*   The IT prof will return data back to his students for changes and edits to design

And then it all comes back to my students. It’s not a perfect scenario because it won’t be truly collaborative, but it’s very exciting that three classes in three different Colleges in ISU will be working together and all students are getting a “realistic” project to work on.

Last, I think to encourage and support them in their individual efforts, I will require them to individually meet with me for 30 minutes sometime over the next few weeks to chat about where they want to go with that opportunity. I want them to feel comfortable approaching me, to feel supported, and to feel excited. Best way to do that is to meet with them and lay it all out there.

In the meantime, I’m still struggling to find a problem to solve for my project. Oh well, it will come to me as I keep engaging with my environment and tons of folks in tons of settings.

Time to Launch

This week got a lot more serious. We did Justin Wilcox’ 60 Minutes to Launch as a class on Monday, and got goin on the Online Venture Challenge on Wednesday.

379

Just Launch

I have been a big fan of Justin Wilcox’ work for some time. He and I keep circling some of the same goals, connecting here and there, brainstorming here and there. I have been impatiently waiting to try his 60 Minutes to Launch exercise in my class. Since my class is 75 minutes long, it is perfect! He recommends splitting into three teams:

  1. Landing Page
  2. Video
  3. Payments

I struggled all week with how to implement this in class. I could have the entire class work on one project, or split students into many small groups to work on their own projects. I went with the class working on one project. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure why – as is my nature, I made the decision as I was walking into class. I think I was hoping that way we could all talk about a common context. As I do frequently, I chose wrong! 5 or 6 students wanted to be on the landing page team. Too many. 7 or 8 students wanted to be on the video team. Too many. The remaining 20 or so students wanted to be on the payments team. WAAAAY too many.

In debriefing with Justin after the class, he explained to me his strategy when he uses this exercise in workshops and events. He has people form teams of 3 (maybe 4 at most). And he encourages/forces people to do the thing they don’t want to. So the creative mind who is good with video needs to work on landing page or payments. The more technical folk who want to work on landing page or payments need to work on the creative video piece. Why? This way, people understand just how painless it can be to put on another hat. From now on, anytime I use this (which I plan on doing at the upcoming NACCE conference and also at the upcoming USASBE conference) I will use this approach.

The Big (Bad) Idea

I also gave my students the idea. For many semesters I’ve heard complaints from male and female students about male gift-giving behavior (or lack thereof!) in relationships. Very generally speaking, the feedback I hear when I push further is that

  1. The men don’t enjoy gift giving and aren’t sure what to get
  2. The women don’t appreciate men putting it off to the last minute, which often results in lame gifts
  3. The women even more so don’t appreciate the men forgetting important dates (birthday, anniversary, etc)

I explained the idea and rationale to the class. They mostly agreed it was a problem, although a few questioned how big a problem it was. We proceeded with this idea – a service where young men could go to reserve and/or purchase a customized gift basket for their significant other.

147 (1)

Students got to work on http://www.gifttotherescue.com/ (it didn’t last long – don’t bother trying to find it). They created a landing page, a video (Mission Impossible style – very clever!) and payment capability. As Justin implores and reminds, it was done but certainly not perfect.

  1. We had a functioning landing page with payment system for pre-orders before class ended. But many students missed a big part of the learning opportunity. Very small teams next time will encourage the engagement I was seeking.
  2. Students understood that done is better than perfect
  3. Students saw how “easy” it can be to put something into the world

Mission (mostly) accomplished! Thanks for the great exercise Justin.

The Next Challenge

Next class I introduced the students to the Online Venture Challenge. This is a fantastic program that costs students very little, can be a short module in a class, and engages them in powerful learning as they start, run and liquidate a “business”. I am using the next month for this activity in my class. Geoff Archer shared some great resources with me that he has developed and uses with this – master grading sheet, slide deck, etc. I gave students the context, gave them the basic structure, gave them the basic grading buckets (design of site, power of the site, performance overall – with lots of ways to triangulate within those buckets per the master grading sheet). I told them they needed to

  1. Identify a local charity to support (after this exercise is done, the teams have to donate all proceeds to the charity). I let students choose to pay themselves back their initial investment if they’d like ($25) – let’s see who is greedy and who is not!
  2. Identify something they can sell through their Shopify store that aligns with that charity’s mission.

All groups emerged from this class with a team in place, with a charity to work with, and a basic idea to begin with. I was a little baffled by a couple ideas, and very impressed with two ideas in particular.

One tweak I put on Geoff’s process was to inject myself into the competition (at the end of the day, students see this as a competition where they have to beat the other teams). On Monday, the students have the chance to pitch me on why I should join their team. If one pitch strikes me more than any other, I will join that team. I told them it is not guaranteed I will join a team, so they really needed to move me with a pitch.

Wrap-up and Looking Forward

It was a great week, for me and for the students. They experience the pain, confusion, and excitement of creating something and putting it into the world with the 60 Minutes to Launch exercise. They got moving on their first big challenge with the Online Venture Challenge (OVC).

Next week, we will officially start the OVC, and will also begin reading Diana Kander’s All In Startup, which will provide some guidance and background to what they need to do to succeed in the OVC and in their eventual individual leap into starting a business.

I’m interested to see the pitches on Monday to see what students think will move me.

Straight Outta Normal

Leap of faith

Week 1 is in the books, and my students took the leap of faith!

Let’s Get It On: Day 1

I had told the students before class started that on Monday to meet me in the little shopping district just off campus called Uptown Normal. Here are some picturcombine_imageses of their environment:

 

 

 

 

As students showed up, I gave the first one 10 $1 bills, and the next three I told were in a group with that first person. As each 5th student showed up, I began the process again. You can imagine their curiosity and anxiety when on the first day of class they have to meet away from campus, and their teacher is handing them cash with no explanation. Once all students arrived, I announced (some version of this):

“You have 35 minutes to make as much money as possible. Each group has 10 $1 bills [some actually had 15 bills and 5 members because a few stragglers showed up and I had to wing it]. Look around you – there is a CVS, there are plenty of stores, there are a wide variety of people walking around and sitting. There is a hotel and conference center. There is a hotel being constructed. There are cars everywhere. Whichever group LEGALLY makes the most money gets all the cash. I’ll see you back in the room at 2:45″

I saw mostly shock and confusion. Not a whole lot of excitement. But also not a whole lot of fear (likely because those with fear could lean on the group dynamic to cover it up and/or hide it). I walked back to my car super excited to see what they would come up with.

The Delivery

I was impressed that all the groups seemed to accept the challenge and at least engage with some enthusiasm (after all, there was at least $80 in the pot, plus whatever profit they made). The group that won made $27 profit. Nothing earth shattering. But profit. In 35 minutes. All other groups except one made something; one group lost 76 cents [I’m still not quite sure how that happened]. The most common strategy seemed to be buying bottled water and reselling it. Nothing shocking there. The groups that made some profit headed back to campus and sold it to college students. The group that won headed over to the Hyatt Place hotel being built and sold it to the construction workers.

Bottled Water

Quick Lessons Learned

  1. The money is a distraction. Most students will immediately think of what they can buy to resell. I purposely planted or reinforced this seed by pointing out the CVS only a block away.
  2. Selling anything to college students is difficult if you want to make a profit. They are usually on a budget. They are usually in a hurry.

The Debrief

We talked about the variety of approaches to this experience. I tried to hammer home the idea that money is a distraction and that it is a bad idea to spend first and then figure out how to dig out of that hole. Instead, I introduced the idea of focusing on the potential customers. Identifying a problem they might have and figuring out how to solve it. There were plenty of individuals and plenty of businesses these students could have approached to interview and identify problems they could solve. Opportunity overlooked.

A few days after this class session I spoke with a friend of mine who related this story. Turns out she was standing on an adjacent corner from where the students started when the exercise went off. She had a $20 bill in her hand. A couple groups passed her by, but when one group caught her eye, she asked them if they were in my class. They said yes, so she showed them the $20 bill, explained she had money and wanted to know what they could do for her. Apparently, they had a very difficult time answering that question. Eventually one young woman mentioned social media, and my friend asked how many likes they could get her on Facebook and Instagram. The students floundered and didn’t get the money. How much easier could it have been?

In the end it was a fantastic exercise to introduce them to my course and to what I would be asking them to do the rest of the semester. They resoundingly said it was a good exercise and I should do it again, so I will. I was proud of the students for engaging [uncertainty is scary] and for being able to see the opportunities they missed.

Let’s Get It On: Day 2

How do I follow up that first day? With Idea Sex and Idea Math. As with most things, I don’t come up with these things, I just borrow them from others much smarter than I. In this case, these come from James Altucher, who is a genius in so very many ways.

Idea Sex

Idea Sex

I had each student make a list of things they loved, were passionate about. I then had them pair up and combine one from each person’s list. [Three guys got together and used three lists – referring to it as a threesome – gotta love college humor!] Most of the ideas were silly and really bad. The one I remember most was something about people paying to ice skate with a walrus. I mentioned how that was a terrible idea in so many ways, but that people might pay to ice skate with penguins (they are safe and cute) so they could work with the original nugget of an idea to arrive at a much more viable alternative. I encouraged them to write lists all the time – of things they observed, of thoughts they had about any random topic, of ideas they had. Anything, just as long as they were making lists, then they could come back to those lists and have Idea Sex anytime to keep their brain firing and to keep coming up with better and better ideas.

Idea Math

Next I asked one student for a food, an article of clothing, and a country [my memory is horrible – I should have taken notes – I think it was homemade macaroni and cheese, knee-high socks and Australia]

I had the students, in groups, come up with an idea (product, process, concept) that involved those three things. I should have written the ideas down [my memory is horrendous] – they were all pretty bad. One was using the sock to hold candies with Australia shapes that tasted like homemade macaroni and cheese I think. None of them stood out as anything with much potential.

I explained the concept behind addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in this context, and that each member of the group should take one operation and come up with a new version of the original idea. The ideas didn’t get much better, but brains were working.

Wrapping Up

This first week was an adventure, for the students and for me. I exposed them to uncertainty, to anxiety, to selling, to customer development, to ideation, to creativity, to frustration, to profitability, to winning. I feel good that they are excited, that they seem eager to engage and are anxious to dive in. I hope I can sustain that and continue to keep that flame burning bright.

60 Minutes

Next week is Justin Wilcox’ 60 Minutes to Launch exercise and introducing the Online Venture Challenge.

The Entrepreneurial Experience 2.0: The Next Iteration of My Class

In my class last semester, I put myself in the role of a student. It didn’t work in terms of traditional metrics – I didn’t really build anything, and I certainly didn’t sell anything. It was definitely a failure. But I learned a ton, about myself, about what my students go through in my crazy experiment, and about what I should or shouldn’t do in my class. Some changes I’m thinking of implementing for the fall semester:

The 1st week we will work together as an entire class to do the 60 Minute Launch – a great opportunity developed by Justin Wilcox.

The 1st two weeks we will also spend getting them in teams, defining an idea and a charity to donate proceeds of their first venture foray to.

Two things will be happening simultaneously during the next four weeks:

1. Those teams will work to implement their idea via the Online Venture Challenge. This way they will all go through the experience of pulling the trigger on an idea, with a good bit of structure surrounding it and a short-term end goal in sight (make money to donate to charity).

2. Each student will read All in Startup by Diana Kander. This will be a great complement to understanding customer development and a variety of other crucial components necessary to launch.

For the remainder of the course, each student will individually work to start their own business.

I think if they have two very short and semi-structured experiences up front of starting something (through both Justin’s 60 Minute Launch and the OVC), they will be more ready and excited about the opportunity to do it on their own on a larger scale for the remainder of the semester.

I will meet with them twice per week this semester – the Monday session will be more of a review of progress/problems, going through any content, answering questions, etc. The Wednesday session will be to play – exercises, fun stuff, visiting local businesses, etc.

Thoughts?

New Structure in Education = New Results in Education

Education Isn’t All It Could Be

Aim High

Photo Credit: ShirtRater via Compfight cc

Let’s say you walk into any big box electronics store. You’re not quite sure what you’re looking for but know you want some kind of media device. Remember: you’re the customer. One of the “experts” approaches you and starts telling you about this huge TV.  It’s waaaaaaaaaaay too big for your apartment.  He’s giving you all the details, all the background about how it was built. Lots of big words you don’t understand. You have no choice but to buy that TV, take it home and put it on your wall.

Crazy? Of course it is. But this is what we expect our students to deal with. Students who are the customers. Students are expected to come into a classroom, to listen to an “expert” give them information (that often times makes no sense to them because the “expert” doesn’t help them understand how to apply it,) and to take that information without doing much questioning. Oh yeah, and they have to pay for it.

A New Approach

What to do? We (teachers and administrators) need to let the students investigate what they want to learn. They come in with a general idea of their interest, their passion, and a potential path forward. We need to give them a lot of tools to do investigate, to question, to challenge, to apply and try. We need to take a back seat in their learning process and be their champions in finding experiences to apply that learning.

Can You Take a Back Seat?

To Structure or Not to Structure

In teaching entrepreneurship, there are many critical questions:

1. Can entrepreneurship be taught?

2. Should we be teaching skill set, mindset, or both?

3. What is an effective pedagogical approach? Case study, simulation, experiential, textbook, business model, business plan . . . and the list goes on.

4. How realistic should an entrepreneurship course be?

This last one is what I struggle most with. My students raise their hand and say they want to be entrepreneurs. I owe it to them to help them develop the mindset that requires. I also owe it to them to let them understand what being an entrepreneur feels like. This last one gets down to structure. I stuck at structure, but I’m learning (slowly!)

I have very little, if any, structure in my class. The students drive the bus – each one actually drives his/her own bus. I am there as a guide, as a resource. This semester it is starting to sink in that maybe I could find a little more balance between my unstructured approach and a more structured approach. This is a direct result of putting myself in their shoes; I’ve learned a ton about what their experience feels like, and where the gaps are that I was previously unaware of. Students always want more structure, but I often tend to dismiss that because part of that desire is ingrained in them from an ineffective K-12 educational experience where they have been spoon fed. I won’t do that. But I can offer more structure. Here are my thoughts for future semesters:

My class meets twice per week. I’m thinking what I’ll do is go back to a flipped classroom sort of approach. I will create videos introducing students to concepts and strategies and tools and such. They watch those prior to the first class of the week. During the first class of the week, they report out on what they’ve accomplished, what they’re struggling with, and I walk them through some application of what was in the video. The second class of the week is playtime. We do exercises and role playing and other sorts of things to get them practicing the skills in an experiential way.

I’m sure I’ll change this 100 times before next semester actually rolls around. I’d be interested in your thoughts about how to make the course experience as realistic as possible but still include a little bit of structure. But not too much!!

Experience Can Save Education

Experiences have been in the forefront of my mind lately.  The only thing I remember from my early schooling is field trips. I don’t remember the classrooms, the playgrounds, the teachers, the material. I don’t remember anything about the school. But I can remember some of the sights, sounds, smells, and knowledge from field trips. I remember the experiences.

We celebrate the experiences. Milestones such as weddings, births, deaths. We share experiences. Concerts, sporting events, roadtrips, hobbies. We remember experiences; I’d wager that anytime you start the sentence “Do you remember . . .?” it has to do with an experience.

Where Are the Experiences?

My son is in 3rd grade, and he has taken only one field trip. At the beginning of each year (Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, and now 3rd grade), I offered his teacher to coordinate and pay for a field trip anywhere, anytime for his entire class. Only this year did they take me up on the offer (the PTO finally saw the light of day and offered up a field trip to each grade).  I thought perhaps I wasn’t getting anywhere due to perceptions of favoritism if one class got a field trip and others didn’t. In earlier years, I offered the principal of his school to coordinate and pay for a field trip for the entire 2nd grade. I was told they couldn’t do that because it would cut into too much of the reading and writing time in the Common Core curriculum. Seriously? Seriously?!? 

After cooling off in previous years, I returned to offer to bring an experience to the students. I offered to bring an experience to my son’s class, then to the entire 2nd grade, then to the entire school. No, no, no. I don’t understand how these “educators” don’t understand the power of experience and want to bring that power to the children they’re charged with educating. I don’t understand how they don’t remember the sheer joy and wonder of a field trip. Shame on them if they do understand the power and remember the joy and actively decide to not offer their students the same power and joy.

The Experience That Is Left

So I am left to create experiences for my son. I’m happy to do it (although I’m not nearly as diligent or imaginative as I should be – I readily acknowledge my hypocrisy here!) But I growl internally because I shouldn’t have to make up for lost time – he should be having experiences during his school day. The saddest part of this is that he cannot share any experiences with his friends. He cannot digest any experiences with the classmates he’s learning with. He cannot see school as a source of the wonder and joy experiences hold. I am saddened, for my son, for all children who can’t experience learning beyond the walls of schools, and for a system that has turned its back on the power and wonder of experience.