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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.

I Like The Mess

My Big Questions

  1. How do you conduct customer problem interviews?
  2. Do simulations play a role in (true) experiential education?

Customer Development is Messy

Photo Credit: jope. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jope. via Compfight cc

After kicking off another iteration of my classroom adventure experiment, students have organized into a couple camps. Some have been in nearly constant contact with me outside of class – asking great probing questions, seeking feedback on steps taken and planned next steps. Some have engaged but only in class. Some have skipped town. Two of the skippers came into class with a “business” already and are pushing back that they don’t need this “customer interviewing stuff”. We are wrapping up what I would very loosely call the customer discovery module of the course. I invited students to create the following documents, to peer review each others’ work, and to get my feedback:

  1. Concept Brief. And I do mean brief – like 2 sentences at most (and hopefully more like 4 or 5 words). I need them to learn about being able to communicate their idea very concisely. I got a bunch of these, but none that were very concise, which I told them indicates they need to think about it much more and narrow their ideas down.
  2. Customer Problem Interview Script. I challenged them to identify their riskiest assumption about their customer-problem relationship, and to develop three questions that would provide them accurate information to evaluate that assumption. I got a bunch of these but with some pretty awful questions/approaches across the board. Students want to ask yes/no questions, or gather simple demographic information. I worked with many of them to understand why and how to use open-ended questions. More about this below.
  3. Customer Observation. I wanted them to get out and covertly videotape customers engaging in the problem, then write up a short reaction paper explaining the what/why and lessons learned from this activity. I haven’t received any of these yet.

Students should have finished Diana Kander’s All In Startup book. This lays a powerful foundation for the process going forward, and particularly for the why and how to engage with customers. I then moved them into playing the VentureBlocks simulation during one 75 minute class period. This is a really great bridge between the classroom and the real world. Many of my students are very unsure of approaching and engaging with customers. I find this simulation is a fantastic way for them to gain more confidence in doing so. It is very quick – I spend about 60 minutes max (most students seemed to finish it in about 45) running it. Tomorrow we will debrief all the customer discovery work we’ve been doing (or not!) Diana’s book. VentureBlocks. Pounding the pavement learning. Most of us have not made it too far, because we are uncertain and lack confidence to reach out and search for certainty. Finding and interviewing customers is very messy, especially for young students who have never been pushed to take their learning out of the classroom and to take control of their learning. I see them scared, and I like that. It provides me the work I most enjoy – supporting them and mentoring them through that fear.

Photo Credit: Philip Dehm via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Philip Dehm via Compfight cc

Next we move into the define stage of the class, where we redefine and focus our questions based on insights from the customer discovery phase, and develop our point of view (i.e. an actionable problem statement). I will push them to write a guiding statement that focuses on specific users, and insights and needs that we uncovered during the customer discovery phase, and to develop a solution-generation springboard that frames the problem, inspires people we meet to engage with us, guides our innovation efforts, and provides a focusing reference point. In this phase, I’ll ask them to develop user personas and composite character profiles, to concentrate on point-of-view, and build a new concept brief focusing on their unique value proposition.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I reminded all the students that entrepreneurship is a mindset and that what we’re working toward here isn’t a successful startup, but an ingrained way of thinking and engaging with our environment. I find my students get hung up on the goal and aren’t good at paying attention to the learning during the process. They have been trained to wait by a dormant education system. I’m working hard to awaken that innate love of curiosity and learning we all started with. I succeed with some, and don’t with others.

My Journey

I find myself in an interesting place this semester. I have come up with an idea I truly care about, that I think represents a significant problem that I wouldn’t mind working to solve. Previous semesters, I just went through the motions as a means of developing trust with my students and to model the process. But this semester is different. Helping hungry children get food is a noble goal, and something I want to work at. I am finding there are many processes in place to address this massive problem, but most are pretty ineffective and contain way too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen.

I have found it very hard to interview parents of these children. Ideally, I could identify them through the school district, but of course that’s not possible. I could make some very ignorant and stereotypical guesses based on where folks live in town. That’s not helpful. I have asked some friends in town who work closely with some non-profits to put me in touch with some parents. No word back yet. In the meantime I’ve been talking to a number of grocery store managers, as they are a second customer in my business model.

The large corporate grocery stores, I am consistently told, have policies in place for how to “dispose of expired and nearly-expired items”. I of course am quick to point out that expired or nearly expired food has considerable life beyond their shelves. Basically, the produce and similar perishable food they throw out in their dumpsters. The other non-perishable food they distribute to a variety of organizations in the community (food banks, churches, shelters, etc.) In my interviews with these managers, they are following corporate policy and basically don’t think about the food once it is gone. Changing their mind and their actions is going to be next to impossible. 

The smaller, more local grocery stores are a different story. They follow a similar procedure to the corporate folks, but are more open to other possibilities, and have much more flexibility. One common theme I did hear during my 6 or so interviews revolved around liability. Something I’ll have to keep in mind. But these managers/owners did express in my interviews (by non-verbals mostly) some uncertainty and frustration about what happened to the food and goods once they left their store. They did also acknowledge verbally problems with the system to what one called “redistributing the food we should all have access to”. I like that quote!

My next steps are working on connecting with parents of children who face daily struggle with hunger. Also to work on user personas/profiles and the beginnings of a solution springboard. It’s messy going, but I keep slogging through it, because the problem is one I want to help solve. That makes a huge difference. I try to get my students to understand that, but it’s tough to get them out of their “it’s just a class” mentality and truly engage and learn.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Missing In Action

Missing In Action

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks while I’ve been missing in action. TEDxNormal is quickly coming up, which I have been organizing for many months. My new venture, Legacy Out Loud, is partnering to produce the after-party for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day on November 19th in New York City, so I’ve been hustling to make that happen with zero budget. Yup, a super high-end party in Manhattan with no budget. Talk about taking a risk!!!!!!! I was honored to give a keynote speech at the annual conference of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship and also a workshop about my approach to this class. And, most importantly, I received the prestigious ATHENA Leadership Award for my contributions to inspiring and encouraging the empowerment of female leaders. Oh yeah, and teaching, and family, and eating and sleeping, and . . . .

Back to School

Class is plugging along. The students wrapped up the Online Venture Challenge (OVC). It was a pretty disappointing exercise, to be honest. I consider it a small success and a large failure on my part. I realize I did not present enough setup structure for the students and enough encouragement. Of course, my point with this class is to introduce them to an opportunity and let them decide what to do with it. In this case, though, I fear they may not have understood the opportunity. A few teams made a profit, but only around the $100 range. A few had a few customers (8 or 10). Nothing mind-blowing, nothing impressive. They underwhelmed me, both with their effort and their performance. My lesson learned is to create more excitement at the beginning of the month, and to create more pain if they don’t engage.

Here’s where my philosophy gets tested – do I let the failure be theirs, do I share in the failure, do I take ownership of the failure?

Tomorrow we will debrief the OVC and I’ll see what they have to say about the experience and hopefully that gives me some fodder to adjust the experience for next semester.

On Deck

On Deck

Now we turn 100% to the individual project – starting a business. I have scheduled 30 minute phone calls with each student to check in with where they are, what they need, etc. I have encouraged them to provide me the following details so I can get them encouragement and feedback:

  1. The problem they are attempting to solve.
  2. The customer who experiences the most pain with that problem.
  3. The solution they are proposing to build.
  4. Their routine. I want to know how they will stay productive, and have encouraged them to have a routine. I presented them with the concept of a Lean Sprint as one model, but condensed into 5 days – one stage per day. I really don’t care what their routine is, but I tell them they better have one so they stay on task and don’t let themselves slack.

I have received nothing from any of them. I know a few of them are working on ideas, a few are actually at the point of messing around with prototypes in preparation of our big student startup competition here at ISU in a few weeks. But I don’t hear from them.

Next conversation is about experiments. I will again explain them in the context of Diana Kander’s tools – determining and documenting the goal, the hypothesis, the subject, the logistics, the currency, and the success and failure criteria. I hope they jump in the pool instead of sitting on the sidelines or just dipping their big toe in!

My Work

I am already getting excited about next semester. I have ideas of how to better incorporate the Online Venture Challenge – I will make it a competition with students from other schools using the tool, I will model for them the behavior I’m looking for, and I will do a much better job of setting up better structure to get them some forward inertia. I also learned about rejection therapy, and am giddy to include that next semester so my students (and I) get better at accepting rejection. Rejection Therapy

I think I will also incorporate some sort of rhythm to the individual project portion of the class. Like the Lean Sprint idea. I’ll have to figure out how to balance doing that with letting the students have their own experience.

With my business, I am off and running. I have 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. I called 40 professionals in my network (a broad variety of industries and tenures), and 37 of them said they would donate 15 minutes per week. I then set up a basic landing page with this very simple request: “Many college students are interested in learning more about your job, your employer, your industry. Provide your email address if you would be willing to spend 15 minutes per week answering these students’ questions.” Of those 40 professionals I talked to, 34 provided email addresses. Hypothesis validated (30 of 40 professionals would donate 15 minutes per week to talk to college students interested in learning more about their job)!

I also validated my assumption that students would want to spend 15 minutes talking to a professional about a job they’re interested in. I talked to 40 ISU students – 10 junior business students, 10 senior business students, 10 freshman, and 10 sophomores, 20 male 20 female. Of these, 35 said they would (the 5 who didn’t were freshman, which didn’t surprise me). I think the seniors and some juniors were actually drooling when I was talking to them 🙂 I then set up a basic landing page with this very simple request: “Provide your email address if you would be willing to spend 15 minutes asking work-related questions to a professional who has a job you’re interested in pursuing.” Of those 40 students I talked to, 38 provided their email address. Perhaps the freshman thought about it a little bit after we talked and changed their mind!

So, next steps are to validate the revenue model. My assumption is that students will be willing to pay for this connection. I can’t imagine professionals would pay for it. So, I will talk to more students and set up a preorder landing page to run this experiment. I will talk to and drive 50 students to the landing page and success is if 25% preorder. If 12 students preorder, I will set up a very basic Carbon site to begin gathering student and professional info and make matches. I will also have to likely hunt down professionals to match up with students as they sign up. If this has any legs, it can be an on-ramp for one of my student’s businesses (NuGrad), and another of my businesses (internrocket).

I Have an Idea

Expose Students to “Real” People

Visitor

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:

  1. 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!!)
Yippee

Photo Credit: cmr727 via Compfight cc

  1. 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!

Packback

 

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

  1. They do not know how to get a realistic preview of their chosen career path
  2. They do not know how to find out the specific opportunities in that space
  3. 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!

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.

For a Good Cause

A Rough Start

Last week started with a disappointment. We kicked off the Online Venture Challenge (OVC) portion of our course. I told the students that on Monday they could pitch me to be a member of their team, and I would bring my expertise, network, and resources to bear for their team’s benefit. I figured they would jump at this opportunity (it is, after all, a competition!) None of the teams prepared a pitch for me, and 3 teams gave it the old college try.

Photo Credit: mido1842 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mido1842 via Compfight cc

I chose not to join any team. The 3 who “pitched” did a good job winging it, but they didn’t pitch me on why I should join their team. They explained their product/service, but forgot to convince me why I would gain value from joining their team. So, a little disappointed that here was the first opportunity, and nobody jumped on it.

No More Jumping

Back to the OVC. I’ve never used this platform and experience in my course, but I think it’s the perfect introduction to what I’m trying to get my students to learn. I usually have them proverbially jump in the deep end and get to starting their own business right away. As much as I hate to admit it, I think the learning curve (or is it the comfort curve?) is too steep. They take too long to get going, they get too discouraged. So this semester, I’m using the OVC to help them wade in before they jump.

Photo Credit: Christopher Setty via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Christopher Setty via Compfight cc

My OVC is one month long. Students work in groups to design and sell products/services for a designated local charity, with all profits going to the charity at the end of the month. I encouraged students to first identify a charity they wanted to work for, then figure out what sort of product/service idea would align with the mission of that charity. For the most part, the students identified some level of fit between their product/service and their charity’s mission. For those who did not, they’ll soon believe me when they talk to their charity to receive their endorsement!

The crew behind the OVC is fantastic in terms of how they set everything up, so the students got going rather quickly with their Shopify store. They all had ideas right out of the gate. Some were fairly typical ideas (selling shirts and selling some artwork to benefit animal shelters), some were more unique (selling vehicles made from soda cans to benefit Wounded Warriors).

The Goal

For one month, the students need to design, build, and sell. Something. Anything. I’ll assess them on the design of their site, their performance (revenues, profits, users, visitors, etc.), and a series of tasks & metrics built into the OVC platform (getting customers from Facebook, getting an endorsement from their charity, etc.). Again, the OVC team has done a great job developing metrics that capture the sort of tasks I want my students to be performing.

Last (But Certainly Not Least)

We are also reading Diana Kander’s All In Startup. I can’t recommend this book enough to anyone teaching any variety of entrepreneurship or small business or innovation. Students devour the story, which is a very engaging story one it’s own, and thereby learn a TON about customer development and some of the very basic steps necessary to starting a new business, growing an existing business, etc. Diana delivers great discussion questions to help the professor along, and even goes so far as to suggest a variety of activities (some easy, some hard) to go along with her book. With a relatively inexpensive book and accompanying discussion/instructor’s guide and activities, what could go wrong?

Lightning

 Why?

Hopefully, at the end of this month, students have 1) devoured Diana’s book and have a decent sense of what customer development is about (and why it’s so important), and 2) iterated through the process from idea to sales. This should position them much better than I have in past classes for success for the journey they’ll begin for the rest of the class: starting their own real business.

I am pretty sad I won’t be working with any one team specifically during the OVC segment of this course. I really looked forward to kicking some ass! Guess that will have to wait until the portion when we all start our own business (myself included). I don’t have any ideas yet about what to start – any thoughts?

Next week is stepping on the gas and hopefully making a ton of progress (and money) with their OVC businesses. Nice and simple!

The Good and the Best About Being an Educator … There is No Ugly Here

Note: This was originally posted a year or so ago, and was composed using voice-to-text, so apologies for goofs 

The beauty of being an educator

Photo Credit: young_einstein via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: young_einstein via Compfight cc

I spend a lot of time bashing my profession but recently have had cause to smile about my profession. Actually I always have cause to smile when I am engaged with my students. I do what I do because I love giving back and helping my students find and engage their passion.   The other day one of my students, told me that she is graduating in a couple weeks and is completely unsure of what she wants to do after college. She is getting an HR degree but when talking to her I pulled out of her that the things that she’s really passionate about and loves to learn about in practice have to do with beauty and makeup. No this is not one of my areas of expertise I know this is shocking, so I started reaching out to colleagues of mine in Chicago who may be able today introduced this young woman to people in the beauty industry. Lo and behold instantly the number of my colleagues in Chicago we’re willing and able to introduce this young woman to people in the beauty industry.I believe that this process will help to change this young woman’s career path from something that she would settle for to something that she could live for. That’s an impact. That’s why I’m here. That’s the beauty of what I do. It doesn’t usually happen in the classroom during class time. Sometimes it does, when those light bulbs pop on. But more often it happens outside the classroom, during deeper discussions about purpose, passion, and uncertainty.

Educator’s impact is outside the classroom

I have had these discussions with many students in the few years I have been teaching. I have students who have found their way, on my urgent, to Boston. They ventured out on their own because they wanted something new, something exciting, something challenging. They were willing to face uncertainty and to take full advantage of what it offers. I have other students who are working their dream jobs in the Chicago area. They did not find these jobs with a resume, a cover letter, or any other vehicle that would make them seemed like every other robot coming out of college. They found these jobs because they were willing to stand up, speak up, and take a chance that somebody would be willing to help them figure out where they wanted to go and how to get there. I was willing to help.

Educators should do more than educate

I get excited when I see students excited. I rarely see students as excited in the classroom we’re talking about class related material as when I am talking to them trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.it does not take anything very special to make a dead in these young men and womens futures. it takes listening to them, asking difficult questions, supporting their fear, in their passion, and being their champion. Is that so hard? Even if it is I would argue it is the most meaningful experiences an educator can have.

The best part of being an educator, in my humble opinion, has nothing to do with education per se. it has to do with supporting our students in their search for meaning, for challenge, for security, for fun, and for the future that is fulfilling. That cannot be accomplished through traditional means of education and in a traditional formatted classroom.

My challenge to educators

I challenge all educators to change their view of what our role can be and should be in the students lives. And to think through how we can have an impact and be responsible champions for our students in their pursuit of a meaningful future.

What are you doing? What could you do better? How are you impacting your students in lasting waves? If you are not, shame on you. If you are, please share how you do that so the rest of us can learn and can be better at what we should do.

New Structure in Education = New Results in Education

Education Isn’t All It Could Be

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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?

The purpose of education is . . .

Last year I did a TEDx talk at Heartland Community College about my visions for the future of education. It was a high point of my life; watching TED talks have provided me so much inspiration and to have that opportunity was incredible!  I spoke to the audience about how to change the education system so that a college experience can realize it’s intended promise to prepare students for the real world. I spoke about the generic purpose of education being to prepare young people to be responsible and productive citizens and lifelong learners. Specifically, I think the purpose of education is to help students find answers to their meaningful questions.

Thoughts on Education

I asked the attendees to answer the question “What is the purpose of education?” on a paper airplane, and at one point in the talk to send me their airplanes. Here are their answers:

Turn dreams into reality.

Foster the art of asking questions.

To inspire students to learn from on their own, and to prepare them for the world (Sam Ferrante)

To teach you how to think.

To inspire and evolve how we think.

To expand minds.

To get a better idea (Carol Hahn)

I have no idea about the education thing. . . I just want to be cool enough to live in a red house. . . and I will have a red plan also (my sidenote – my wife and I live in a red house, which is very rare in our town where all the houses are beige)

To question. To be aware. To be courageous (Carol Hahn)

To open minds, inspire creativity, and to teach us how to live in the world (Jean)

To help them discover their true potential (Alejandro Montesdeoca)

To expose people to skills and knowledge that will allow them to lead happy and productive lives (Jon Shackley)

To discover and pursue interesting questions

Improving people’s lives (George Mueller)

To teach people of all ages relevant skills and provide them with relevant knowledge. Education can be delivered via many modes! FOR FUN . . . education should not be confused with training. You wouldn’t want your kids to take a sex training class, would you? (Doug Minter)

For individuals to better themselves and build a future/career. Expand on their knowledge and better themselves as a whole (Arianna Shipley)

To educate (Antonio Montes de Oca)

Knowledge is power (Antonio Montes de Oca)

Education is a forum for new ideas seen through the lens of the ideas of others

To teach people to think

To challenge yourself and become a better asset in the world (Kali Lewis)

Give the ability to explore (Ravi K.)

People say education prepares you for the real world, when in fact education is the real world. While being educated, kids are and should be allowed to truly think and create (Kayley K.)

“So that employees can follow written instructions” So sorry for being jaded (Marcus)

To get smarter (Julie Shackley)

An opportunity to gain knowledge, build self-confidence, know who we are and increase awareness of our surroundings and our world (Linda Walter)

To advance one’s self to the benefit of one’s self and community

To provide students with the tools and creativity to go beyond their own expectations (Cecilia)

Foster all ideas in a non-judgmental setting

To bankrupt parents!

Education is to help us discover the purpose of life

To prepare a student to be successful in their future (Brent R.)

To learn to love learning (V. Sittig)

To teach how to think, question, and create (Robyn Walter)

What do you think is the purpose of education?

How Our Education System Isn’t As Bad As You Think

Our education system has been under attack recently. And for good reason. We have lost track of why an education system exists. Many voices (mine included) have spewed much venom. As is normal with soapbox issues, few of those have provided workable solutions to the education epidemic going on in our country. I am a process innovation thinker – I see things as a process, I break the process down into it’s pieces, I develop innovative improvements on those pieces, and put the process back together. I’ve spent considerable time thinking this way about our education system. I cam to an important realization the other day while thinking this through in preparation for a TEDx talk I’m giving on Saturday.

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Our Education System Isn’t As Bad As We Think

Let me be clear – the No Child Left Behind, Common Core and all that nonsense is just that – nonsense. It needs to go. Those of us in the education system need to focus on students as individuals and work to prepare them to be productive citizens in the uncertain world that awaits them. We have ALOT of work to do on that level to change from the robotic, Orwellian approach that has infected our system. But the more research I do, the more I find pockets of promise – individual schools or larger units of schools doing amazing things. With this renewed promise, I think that perhaps things aren’t so bad.

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I am about to sit down and read Sir Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools – can’t wait to see what gems lurk in there, and how I can further disrupt the system based on that. It came about from his ridiculous TED talk, which you need to watch if you haven’t already – here you go!