Tag Archives: mentor

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.

Mentors Can’t Get The Job Done

Champions Can Save the Day!

Champion

I was talking with Shawna Butler about how to bring more young women into our entrepreneurship program here at Illinois State University. As a little background, I have talked to roughly 500 female entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders and small business owners in the past year to develop Legacy Out Loud.  On almost every phone call with every one of those women, they have pointed out the importance of including a strong mentor program into our program.

Shawna shocked me, which is not easily done. She said “we don’t need mentoring, we need championing.” As she explained, a mentor, for the most part, will usually tell or help a mentee figure out how to do something. A task. A learning goal. There’s a whole lot of supportive and exploratory talking. It is a valuable relationship, no doubt about it. But Shawna had a great perspective I never thought about to be honest. Blew my mind!

Instead of introducing a mentor program, she suggested introducing a Champion Program. A champion will help someone he/she is working with in the task/goal arena just as a mentor. But wait, there’s more! A champion will also put his/her name and reputation on the line for another person. They will advocate for that person. They will champion that person’s future (in the case of college students).

Mentors Talk the Talk, Champions Walk the Walk

As a young college student, I had some idea where I was going. I had mentors helping me figure out my goals. They helped me learn certain tasks that are very valuable to this day. Only one of them stuck their neck out for me, and put their reputation on the line for me. She was my champion, and it made all the difference in the world. Shawna, you’re a genius! Thank you for opening my eyes.

PS – If you are a mentor, should you be a champion instead?

PPS – Do you need a champion?