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Teaching Entrepreneurship Summit – Summer 2022

Teaching Entrepreneurship Summit – Summer 2022

Register Here


Day 1: May 10th, 1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern

How to Teach Revenue Models

Learn a new game to introduce students to different types of revenue models and explore how they can leverage them in their own business models.

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Day 2: May 17th, 1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern

Design Thinking Re-Imagined: Wallet Design v2

An iteration on the Stanford d.school’s famous Wallet Design exercise with optimizations for undergraduate entrepreneurship classrooms.

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Day 3: May 24th, 1:00 – 2:30 pm Eastern

See it Taught Live: Teaching Students How to Network

Join a live classroom we’ll teach undergrads at John Carroll University how to use the updated Skills Scavenger Hunt exercise to develop their networking skills!

Using a series of live video feeds you’ll see how this lesson is taught to students, be able to ask questions, and get a copy of the exercise to use in your class.

Register Here

How to Grow a Top 50 Entrepreneurship Program

How to Grow a Top 50 Entrepreneurship Program

When Dennis Barber III joined East Carolina University’s entrepreneurship program 5 years ago, there wasn’t much of a program to speak of:

  • No entrepreneurship major
  • Low class enrollment
  • Little entrepreneurial brand recognition

Fast forward to today and ECU not only has an entrepreneurship major, they’ve:

  • Tripled their entrepreneurship enrollment
  • Won USASBE’s Model Emerging Program
  • Won GCEC’s Emerging Centers award
  • And made Princeton Review’s list of Top 50 Entrepreneurship Schools

Princeton Review Top 50 Entrepreneurship Programs

So how did Dennis and his colleagues – Michael Harris, Director of the Miller School of Entrepreneurship, David Mayo, and Corey Pulido – grow their entrepreneurship program so quickly? And more generally…

How do Top 50 entrepreneurship schools get on, and stay on, that list?

To find out, we interviewed the leaders of several Top 50 programs so we could share their techniques with you.

Who We Interviewed

Top entrepreneurship programsBelow you’ll find a summary of what we learned during our interviews, as well as…

5 concrete steps you can take to grow your entrepreneurship program.

Step #1: Define Your Niche

Most of the successful entrepreneurship programs we interviewed did two things early on to spark their growth:

  1. They intentionally started small and
  2. They specialized in an area of entrepreneurship that leveraged their local community and institutional culture

For instance, Iowa State University leaned into agricultural entrepreneurship, and East Carolina University specialized in the needs of eastern North Carolina. Studying your local ecosystem by identifying the largest industries, companies, and communities will help you define your niche. Additionally, you can look at your local Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, or similar entity, to see how they are marketing your community.

Defining your entrepreneurial niche is important because it will help your program stand out in a sea of other academic programs, not to mention accelerators, incubators and community-based organizations. Narrowing in on a small group of students you can serve extremely well as your program is still growing will increase the success rate of your program, which you can highlight as case studies to create a positive feedback loop that grows your program.

As David Townsend from Virginia Tech University said,

“Let it grow where the soil is fertile.”

So if your local community has a large Latinx population, consider specializing in Latinx entrepreneurship. Or if your entrepreneurship program has a number of instructors who are veterans, consider developing programs that specialize in veterans entrepreneurship.

Over time, you’ll be able to grow and broaden the scope of your program, but when you’re starting out, do like the most successful programs have done and ensure that you can provide a fantastic opportunity for a small set of entrepreneurs in your community. Then, highlight their successes to help fuel your program’s growth.

Note: This is our first article in a series dedicated to growing entrepreneurship programs. We’d love your input on which article we should write next.

If you want more details on this specific step (i.e. how to define your entrepreneurial program’s niche and create programs specific to it) please vote here and we’ll expand the overview above into a full article and checklist.

Step #2: Name Your Champions

The Top 50 programs we talked to overwhelming stressed the importance of identifying people on your growth team to fulfill these three roles:

  1. Administrative Champion: A Dean, Vice-President, Provost, President, etc. who has been at your school for some time and has excellent relationships with faculty, staff, and the ability to get buy-in for creating new programs.
  2. Faculty Champion: Preferably a tenured faculty member who can drive the implementation of your new academic and extracurricular programming.
  3. Data Collector: Someone to aggregate program metrics, testimonials, and success stories.

Note: the same person can fulfill multiple roles, you just need to make sure you’ve got someone owning all three levels of responsibility.

Champions are people who can help you launch your efforts by providing critical feedback, opening doors, and giving their resources. Many of the programs we interviewed mentioned specifically having two campus champions – one a tenured faculty member, and the other an administrator (Dean, Vice-President / Provost, President). With respected champions who can reach across campus, program growth has a clear path for growth. They also recommend giving the faculty champions a meaningful title and a commitment of time and support to help them help your entrepreneurship program.

Another potential benefit to identifying champions is that they sometimes rise into leadership positions at the university (Dean, Vice-President / Provost, President) and can provide ongoing support and visibility for your program from the top down.

Jamey Darnell from Penn State University mentioned that working towards getting ranked as a top entrepreneurship school is a great way to get administration excited, and achieving rankings is a great way to keep them excited.

In addition to stressing how important campus champions were to building their program, the leaders we interviewed all spoke about the importance of a data collector: someone to capture their efforts and successes and report them as part of the Princeton Review rankings process. As with your champions, consider providing this person (ideally a faculty member) with a title and a small monetary stipend to emphasize the importance of the role and ensure they have time to complete it. In addition, make sure other people on campus know who this person is – put out a press release, introduce the data collector at campus meetings and events, etc. This person will interface with faculty, students, and administrators, so letting your campus know who they are and what they’re doing enables them to collect more stories and data.

Finally, as Dr. Susan Fiorito, Dean of the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship at Florida State University stressed, all of your faculty, staff, and champions need to feel enabled as leaders of your entrepreneurship program. When everyone feels ownership, everyone delivers.

If you’d like us to write a more detailed article about how to identify and empower your entrepreneurial champions, please click here.

Step #3: Start a Fellows Program

Every program we talked to emphasized the importance of early cross-campus collaboration. Creating these connections will help you accomplish two things:

  1. Get buy-in from a wide range of tenured faculty which helps establish academic legitimacy.
  2. Grow your program by embedding entrepreneurship across the curriculum which introduces it to more students.

To do this, you want to build a cohort of entrepreneurial ambassadors across campus. As Tom Swartwood at Iowa State University recommended, you want to:

“Deputize people around campus.”

Jamey at Penn State University found that having a cross-disciplinary program leads directly to growth because they get to meet students wherever they are: at a law school, at an incubator, etc. For the same reason, Susan Fiorito at Florida State University recommends developing a diversity of courses and programs to reach as far across campus as possible.

The most effective mechanism we heard for building cross-campus collaboration was through an “entrepreneurship Fellows” program. In a Fellows program, you pay non-entrepreneurship faculty a small stipend to bring entrepreneurship into their curriculum. For example, you might pay 4 or 5 faculty in different disciplines a few thousand dollars to each develop a course that focuses on entrepreneurship in their respective discipline.  Judi Eyles at Iowa State attributed much of the entrepreneurship program’s success to spending a little money early on to “turn faculty into ambassadors.”

You guide the Fellows through learning about entrepreneurship in the context of your university (and your niche), and collaboratively develop ideas for how to introduce it into their curriculum. You will also want to include faculty involved with your curriculum approval process in your Fellows program, which will help smooth the course approval process when you get to that stage.

Each year, add more Fellows to your program (both senior faculty and new faculty), in new disciplines, while former Fellows serve as mentors. You can thereby build a rich and diverse community of entrepreneurship champions across campus.

The big payoff from an investment in a Fellows program comes in two forms:

  1. Cultivating entrepreneurship educators across many disciplines creates a rich fabric of entrepreneurial courses, which increases interest in entrepreneurial minors, and majors.
  2. Student entrepreneurs get a diverse range of experiences and perspectives, which increase the quality of their experiences and their outcomes as future entrepreneurs.

If you’d like us to write a detailed guide on how to create a fellows program, please click here.

Step #4: Map Your Ecosystem

Ecosystem maps will help you understand the relationships between the people and assets that contribute to creating amazing student experiences. Building an ecosystem map specifically provides two benefits:

  1. You identify the people who support entrepreneurship (so you can empower them) and those who do not support it yet (so you can interview them to understand their perspective and work to bring them onboard)
  2. During your research, you plant the seeds from which your entrepreneurship program will grow. As you map your ecosystem, you talk to faculty, staff, students, and alumni about your vision and goals for your program. When it is time to make an ask, these stakeholders understand what you’re doing and why.

The leaders we interviewed mentioned the following as critical components to include in your ecosystem map:

  • ​​The faculty and staff who collectively create your student experience.
  • The practices they perform – the services or value they deliver to students.
  • The information they require, use, or share to contribute to their parts of the university.
  • The people, systems, faculty, and staff they interact with to be successful in their roles.
  • The channels through which they communicate – e.g., email, campus newsletter, campus forums.

For a demo on how to start outlining the key players in your ecosystem, check out this great video by Meg Weber from Western Washington University:

Want more details on how to build and leverage an ecosystem map? Click here and we’ll expand this into a full guide.

Step #5: Connect Your FACS

After you’ve identified your niche, champions, Fellows, and ecosystem members, you’re ready to take the final step that separates the Top 50 entrepreneurship programs from the rest…

Connect your constituencies to accelerate growth.

Successful entrepreneurship programs are intentional about connecting their “FACS”:

  • Faculty
  • Alumni
  • Community
  • Students

Each of these groups complements the others, and together, creates the fuel for program growth. For example, you want to make sure you’re actively promoting programs connecting:

  • Faculty to Alumni – Great for finding guest speakers, internships for students, publicizing your programs’ success stories, and soliciting donations.
  • Faculty to Community – Great for getting pitch competition judges, finding inspiration for class projects, highlighting student success stories, and soliciting donations.
  • Students to Alumni – Great for mentorships, jobs, and potential investments.
  • Students to Community – Great for mentorships, jobs, and inspiring class projects.

As Judi Eyles at Iowa State University mentioned, “you need to make it easy for the outside world to connect with your students and faculty by giving them a portal to connect.” Intentionally building relationships with students will help you keep in touch with them as they transition to alums, and enable you to extend relationships with them and their growing network.

Creating relationships with alumni and community members will provide the “reality” your students yearn for as they wonder how to apply what they’re learning in the classroom. Alumni will also create opportunities for students – through job shadowing, internships, seed funding, adjunct instructors, and the list goes on.

In short…

Does your entrepreneurship program offer your alumni and community members multiple opportunities to contribute their time, expertise, and/or money to help your program grow?

If not, you may be able to accelerate your program’s growth by connecting your “FACS.”

If you’d like us to write a detailed guide with specific ideas on how to connect your FACS, please click here.

Bonus Step #6: Focus on Skills

The top 50 entrepreneurship programs we interviewed had one more resounding practice in common:

They prioritized entrepreneurial skill development over “success stories.”

The programs we spoke with acknowledged that entrepreneurial success stories are fantastic to share to grow your community, but they can be few and far between. So instead of focusing exclusively on those, the programs emphasized the value for students of learning entrepreneurial skills, regardless of their perceived career path.

Universally applicable skills like design thinking, financial modeling, and business model validation turn today’s students into returning alumni who are looking to hire similarly skilled and innovative graduates.

If you’d to review the skill-based curriculum that 1 out of every 3 programs on Princeton Review’s Top 50 list use, check out our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Want More Growth Tips

We’re excited to explore these subjects in more depth so please let us know what topics we should dive into next!

We hope you’re able to try these strategies and that we get to feature your program in the future!


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share lesson plans, quick slides, and a variety of other resources to keep your students engaged!

Subscribe here to get our next classroom resource in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!

Quick Slide: Why Customer Interviews Work

Quick Slide: Why Customer Interviews Work

If your students are hesitant to interview customers, use the next in our series of free slides to help them understand…

We demonstrate to students that interviews are great for validating their Channel assumptions by asking them…

“If you can’t find people willing to talk about the problem you want to solve, where will you find people willing to buy your solution?”

For that reason, students learn:

“Trying to interview customers is always helpful…even if you don’t get any!”

  • If you get interviews, great!  You’ll learn about your customers, their problems, your competition, and your marketing channels.
  • If you can’t get interviews, great! You’ll save time and money knowing the channel you just tested won’t work. Best to iterate your assumptions and try again.

If you want to motivate your students to leverage the power of customer interviews…


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

  • Quick Slide: Michael Jordan was a Failure. How Michael Jordan leverages failure to make him better.
  • The NEW Marshmallow Challenge. Use this exercise to teach students why invalidated assumptions hinder all new initiatives, and are ultimately the downfall of most new companies.
  • Marketing MVPs. In this experiential exercise, students launch real ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to test demand for their MVPs
  • 2021 Top Lesson Plans. Here is the list of our 2021 top entrepreneurship exercises and lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.
Quick Slide: Why Business Plans Fail

Quick Slide: Why Business Plans Fail

This is a fun slide to..

Introduce the difference between business plans and business experiments.

This is a great slide when you’re introducing:

  • The Business Model Canvas. You can tell students, “Like boxing, entrepreneurship isn’t about how well you plan; it’s about how well you respond when your plan doesn’t work. That’s why in this class you’ll learn how to use the Business Model Canvas to identify the weaknesses of your business model early so you can learn how to test and strengthen it from day one.”
  • Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). You can tell students, “Instead of planning an expensive and elaborate first product launch (that will most likely fail), Minimum Viable Products let you launch small, inexpensive experiments to quickly test elements of your business model. Their low cost and fast development time mean in the very likely scenario that your original assumptions are wrong, you’ll have plenty of time and money to build multiple MVPs and incorporate what you learn from the market in real-time.”


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

Quick Slide: “Everyone” Isn’t a Customer Segment

Quick Slide: “Everyone” Isn’t a Customer Segment

This is a fun slide that…

Alex Osterwalder uses to demonstrate the importance of defining customer segments and value propositions.

This slide is inspired by our workshop with Alex Osterwalder, one of the creators of the Business Model Canvas, and we think it’s a great slide to show when you’re:

  • Introducing the Business Model Canvas. You can tell students, “This is why we define our customer segments and value propositions.”
  • Contrasting building products with solving problems. You can tell students, “He may have the most revolutionary invention in the world, but if he can’t explain it in a way that resolves a need for customers, no one cares.”
  • Demonstrating how (not) to pitch. It’s a lighthearted way to start a lesson on pitching.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

Quick Slide: Entrepreneurship Isn’t About Starting a Company

Quick Slide: Entrepreneurship Isn’t About Starting a Company

The next in our series of free slides you can add to your entrepreneurship lessons will help…

Make entrepreneurship skills relevant, even to students who don’t think they’ll start companies.

At their core…

Entrepreneurship skills are about learning to solve problems in mutually beneficial ways.

In this way, these skills benefit students no matter whether they:

  • start a company
  • join a company
  • volunteer at a non-profit
  • start a school club

…or anything in between. To remind students of that, we use slides like this one in our curriculum. In particular, we recommend you try it in your lessons on:

  • Idea generation
  • Customer interviewing
  • Design Thinking

…and of course, on the very first day of class!


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

  • Quick Slide: Michael Jordan was a Failure. How Michael Jordan leverages failure to make him better.
  • The NEW Marshmallow Challenge. Use this exercise to teach students why invalidated assumptions hinder all new initiatives, and are ultimately the downfall of most new companies.
  • Marketing MVPs. In this experiential exercise, students launch real ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to test demand for their MVPs
  • 2021 Top Lesson Plans. Here is the list of our 2021 top entrepreneurship exercises and lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.
Quick Slide: Jordan Was a Failure

Quick Slide: Jordan Was a Failure

We’re starting a series of emails where we’ll send you slides you can quickly add to your entrepreneurship lessons.

Here’s the first one. A quote from Michael Jordan on failure:

Michael Jordan Failure

This can be a great slide for:

  • Introducing growth mindset
  • Normalizing failure / failure resume
  • Designing experiments

…or to emphasize that the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that learn from their failures.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

  • The NEW Marshmallow Challenge.Use this exercise to teach students why invalidated assumptions hinder all new initiatives, and are ultimately the downfall of most new companies.
  • Marketing MVPs. In this experiential exercise, students launch real ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to test demand for their MVPs
  • Pilot Your Purpose. This exercise helps students discover what they’re passionate about and see how learning entrepreneurial skills can turn that passion into their purpose.
  • 2021 Top Lesson Plans. Here is the list of our 2021 top entrepreneurship exercises and lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
Improve Student Evaluations With Lean Teaching

Improve Student Evaluations With Lean Teaching

What happens when we apply Lean Startup principles like “Build, Measure, Learn” to our own teaching?
Our team’s experience: Vastly increased engagement.
Lean Startup helps entrepreneurs shift from “build it and they will come” to “Build, Measure, Learn.” So we wanted to know what happens if we apply the same principles to our teaching? Are there benefits to a “Teach, Measure, Learn” loop?
Lean Teaching - Teach, Measure, Learn
We’ve seen huge benefits (higher student evals, increased enrollment, awards won, etc.), so we wanted to share our process with you.
If you’re looking to increase student engagement give “Teach, Measure, Learn” a shot.

Step 1: Pick a Lesson to Improve

Start small; don’t worry about changing your entire class. The easiest way to get started is by just picking the lesson you’re most excited to improve. How do you decide which one?

  • Which lesson is the least fun for you?
  • Which lesson is the least fun for your students?

Whichever lesson you pick, the most important thing is that you feel excited about improving it.

We recently used this process to test some improvements to our Financial projection Simulator.

Whether it’s the lessons we make freely available like the 60 Minute MVP) or the lessons in our comprehensive Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum, we test every exercise to explore ways to improve them.

Step 2: Ask a Friend to Sit In

The next step is to find an instructor whose teaching style you and/or your students really enjoy. How do you find them?

  • Ask your students who their favorite instructors are.
  • Are there are instructors at your institution who have won a teaching award (it could be at the College level, at the university level, or on a national level)? Ask around to identify them.
  • Do you have a colleague at another school whose teaching style you respect? As you’ll see, the person you ask to observe doesn’t need to be from your school!

Once you identify that instructor, ask them to sit in on the class session you want to improve. On the class day, tell your students this instructor is auditing the class session to see how it works. (you don’t want to bias your students by telling them you want to improve the lesson until after it is over).

Doan testing a new lesson plan as Justin observes remotely via Zoom.

Our TeachingEntrepreneurship.org team is fully distributed – I’m in San Francisco, Doan is in Ohio, and Federico is in Italy but with Zoom it’s easy for us to sit in on each other’s classes.

We usually have one camera in the back of the room so we can see the instructor and one camera in the front of the room (sometimes just a phone logged into Zoom) so we can see how students are responding to the lesson.

 

A camera at the front of the room makes it easy to see when students are engaged and when they are tuning out.

Don’t let location be a barrier to improving your teaching!

With Zoom and a little help from your IT team, you can literally get feedback from any instructor in the world on how to improve a lesson.

Step 3: What Feedback Do You Want?

Before you teach the lesson with your observer, think through what feedback you want. We all teach so differently, it will be important for the person providing you feedback to know the type of feedback you would like on the lesson. Some things we focus on:

  • Are students engaged during the entire lesson? When does energy drop; when do students start to look zoned out or pick up their phones?
  • Does the lesson have a successful “ah ha” moment? If not, how might you create one?
  • Are there any logistical questions that can be eliminated by better instructions (i.e., questions about how to do the exercise aren’t productive, but lessons about how to apply the principles are welcome)
  • Did students actively and eagerly participate in any discussions? If not, how might you improve the discussions?

Step 4: Ask for student feedback

There’s no better way to model to students how and why they should listen to their customers than when you ask for their feedback.

After teaching the lesson you want to improve, give your students an opportunity to provide anonymous feedback about it. For us, we use a slide like this

Slide to get student feedback

which links to a survey like this

Student feedback survey

All of the information is anonymous (unless students volunteer to give us their email address). We simply ask students to fill out the survey before they leave class.

Step 5: Integrate the Feedback

After the class session, talk with the person who sat in the class as they go through their notes. If the person is an experienced and awarded instructor, ask for tips and tricks for anything they notice. Even if they see something as engaging, positive or productive, ask for their ideas on how you can improve.

If there are points where they offer constructive criticism, or where they saw student engagement wane, ask for specific advice on tips and tricks to improve and combine that with the feedback you got from your students.

Results

By practicing what you preach to students in terms of continuous improvement, you’ll not only increase the quality of your lessons, you’ll also demonstrate to students that you care about them – both of which can lead to improved evaluations.

We use this technique for each of the exercises we release, including all of the lessons in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), and the insights we gain have a tremendous impact on quality.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

  • The NEW Marshmallow Challenge.Use this exercise to teach students why invalidated assumptions hinder all new initiatives, and are ultimately the downfall of most new companies.
  • Marketing MVPs. In this experiential exercise, students launch real ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to test demand for their MVPs
  • Pilot Your Purpose. This exercise helps students discover what they’re passionate about and see how learning entrepreneurial skills can turn that passion into their purpose.
  • 2021 Top Lesson Plans. Here is the list of our 2021 top entrepreneurship exercises and lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
The NEW Marshmallow Tower Challenge

The NEW Marshmallow Tower Challenge

This revised version of the Marshmallow Challenge is a really fun way to teach the importance of iteration, experimentation, and the value of failure.

Students completing the marshmallow challenge by building a tower with string spaghetti and tape free standing structure

This updated exercise will help your students learn:

  • Why hidden assumptions hinder entrepreneurs

  • How iteration and experimentation weed out hidden assumptions

  • Why business experiments replace business plans

Note: if you’re already familiar with the Marshmallow Challenge, here are the key updates in this version:

  • This exercise isn’t just about team building or ice-breaking; it’s an analogy for business model assumptions, experimentation, and iteration.
  • Teams build towers twice: once to discover that they make hidden assumptions and once to resolve them.
  • There is a minimum height requirement to ensure students push their limits (and reinforce the learning objectives).
  • As homework, students write a short reflection on the dangers of hidden assumptions and the benefits of fast experiments and iterations.

Step 1: The Set Up

Students work in teams of four to build the tallest tower they can using only the provided materials.

Marshmallow Challenge Setup

Step 2: Build, Launch (and Fail!)

With only 18 minutes to build their towers, teams often follow a similar construction timeline:

  • ~3 minutes: Figuring out who is in charge
  • ~10 minutes: Planning
  • ~4 minutes: Taping spaghetti together
  • ~1 minute: Putting their marshmallow on top
  • ~1 second: Watching the tower crumble under the (surprising) weight of the marshmallow

Marshmallow challenge failure

Be sure to strictly enforce the rules and not give students tips.

The point of this first iteration is for students to experience the failure that comes from not testing their assumptions

For example, students often assume:

  • Marshmallows are light
  • Uncooked spaghetti is rigid enough to hold up a marshmallow

Most of the time, students find out these assumptions are incorrect far too late into the exercise to do anything to correct them.

Finish this step of the lesson by asking students what assumptions they made that may have led to their failure. Then ask them, “Do you know who doesn’t make these kinds of assumptions?”

Step 3: Kindergartners

Tell students that this exercise has been completed by a wide range of people and the average tower height is 20 inches tall.

What’s most interesting is that some people consistently perform better. While business school students often struggle, there’s one group of students who do particularly well:

Kindergartners!

Then show a slide like this to your students:

Marshmallow challenge results

Why Do Kindergarteners Build Better?

First thing: let your students know it’s not their fault – there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. They just made the mistake that virtually every first-time entrepreneur makes:

“You made assumptions about the world that turned out to be wrong.”

In the entrepreneurial context, that typically means making assumptions about who your customers might be, how much they’d be willing to pay for your product, and how many of them there are.

In this case, assumptions about their building materials led to sub-optimal performance, but why would kindergartners be able to build better towers than they could?

Because kindergartners don’t make assumptions!

Kindergartners don’t know that marshmallows are supposed to be light and uncooked spaghetti is supposed to be rigid, so the first thing they do is stick the marshmallow on the spaghetti and see what happens.

In other words, kindergartners don’t know enough about the world to make assumptions so instead of “planning” they naturally spend their time experimenting and iterating.

Tell your students that whenever they’re doing something they’ve never done before (e.g., launching a new product), the best way forward is often to run quick experiments so they can discover the hidden assumptions they’re making.

Once they’ve discovered their hidden assumptions, they’re ready to test out different solutions, which leads us to . . .

Step 4: Iteration

Now that they’ve had a chance to discover their hidden assumptions it’s time to let students act like kindergarteners and iterate and try again!

Give your students another set of supplies and let them build again. When they’re finished, compare the results of their first and second iterations. Use this as an analogy for:

  1. Why serial entrepreneurs are often more successful than first-time entrepreneurs
  2. Why business plans are often replaced by business experiments (e.g., quick experiments lead to more, faster, and validated learning than business plans).

FSU students building a marshmallow tower with string spaghetti and tape free standing structure
Florida State University students in Ron Frazier’s class

Step 5: Reflection

After class, ask students to write up a reflection on the difference between writing business plans and running business experiments:

  • When would they want to use a business plan?
  • When would they want to use a business experiment?
  • Why?

What if Your Students Have Already Done It?

It’s not uncommon for students to have done a version of the Marshmallow Challenge in another class. That said, they likely did it as an ice breaker or team-building exercise – not with a focus on iteration and experimentation.

Ask any students who have done this previously to form their own team of “experienced builders.” This will enable you to reinforce the learning objectives no matter how tall their towers are:

  • If the experienced teams build successful towers, you can point to them as examples of the power of iteration (their previous iteration being the first time they did the exercise)
  • If the experienced teams do poorly, you can cite how important it is to keep practicing the power of iteration throughout our careers – it’s an easy lesson to forget!

Get the Updated Marshmallow Challenge Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Updated Marshmallow Challenge” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.


 

Attribution

The original version of the Marshmallow Challenge comes from Tom Wujec. Here are his original instructions and associated TED Talk.

A version similar to the original exercise was also published by Bradley George:

George, B. (2014). Marshmallow Tower. In H. Neck, P. Greene & C. Brush (Eds.), Teaching Entrepreneurship: Challenging the Mindset of Entrepreneurship Educators (p.125-130).  Northampton, MA: Edward F. Elgar Publishing.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share more exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

  • Marketing MVPs. In this experiential exercise, students launch real ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to test demand for their MVPs
  • Pilot Your Purpose. This exercise helps students discover what they’re passionate about and see how learning entrepreneurial skills can turn that passion into their purpose.
  • 2021 Top Lesson Plans. Here is the list of our 2021 top entrepreneurship exercises and lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
  • Teaching Customer Interviewing. This card and the online game is a powerful way to teach students the importance of customer interviewing, and the right questions to ask.
Marketing MVPs: Testing Demand on Social Media

Marketing MVPs: Testing Demand on Social Media

Our students live on social media. But do they know how to make the best use of it (or how they’re being used by it)?

With this exercise, your students can . . .

  • Launch real ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram
  • Use social media to test demand for their MVPs
  • Learn how their personal information is used to target them with ads

Marketing MVP

Step 1: Ad Targeting

The incredible depth and breadth of the information Facebook and Instagram (also owned by Facebook) have on users is astounding.

If your students use Facebook or Instagram, Facebook likely knows things like:

  1. How much money they make
  2. Whether or not they’re in a relationship (and if that relationship is local, long-distance, or even “open”)
  3. Their political leanings
  4. And much, much more . . .

How much more? The first step of this exercise is to introduce your students to how much information Facebook knows about them.

Facebook at targeting options

You’ll send your students a link to the “Facebook Ad Targeting Options Infographic” above and ask them to review the dozens of pieces of data Facebook collects and identify the 3 most interesting, obscure, or surprising things Facebook might know about them (they’ll use this information later in the exercise).

Step 2: Design an Ad

With a sense of ways to potentially target social media ads, your students will have an opportunity to design their own ad for a product you provide for them:

A solar-powered phone charger.

Using our free Social Media Ad Generator each student mocks up different ad images, different ad copy, target audiences, etc. to get a feel for how to create ads.

Social media ad generator

directions to build your facebook ad

Step 3: Design Their Own Ad

Once students have a feel for how to design an ad using a product you assign them, you can ask them to create one for their own product.

Students repeat the same process they did with the solar power charger, except this time they work with their teammates to design a targeted ad for their companies.

Step 4: Launch Their Ad

(Optionally) You can actually help your students launch their ad.

Using the video below, your students will see how they can design a real ad for Facebook or Instagram and share the ad with you so you can launch it for them and measure how well it performs.

Customizing the Marketing MVP Lesson

This lesson is designed to be easy to customize based on the skills of your students:

  • An Intro course may only complete Steps 1 – 3, mocking up their ads but not necessarily launching them.
  • A New Venture Creation may complete Step 4 so students actually see how well their ads perform.
  • In a capstone or graduate course, each team could produce two different ads and you can run them as A/B tests to see which ad variation performs the best.

There are so many ways to leverage this lesson that demonstrates to students the power of social media marketing!. We hope you give it a try!

 


Get the Marketing MVPs Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Marketing MVPs” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share more exercises to engage your students.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

  • Pilot Your Purpose. This exercise helps students discover what they’re passionate about and see how learning entrepreneurial skills can turn that passion into their purpose.
  • 2021 Top Lesson Plans. Here is the list of our 2021 top entrepreneurship exercises and lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
  • Teaching Customer Interviewing. This card and the online game is a powerful way to teach students the importance of customer interviewing, and the right questions to ask.