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The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

We’re building the entrepreneurship curriculum you dream of teaching.

At least that’s what we’re trying to do. The feedback from our pilot professors tells us we are doing pretty well. There have been hiccups, and learning moments, but our agile team and processes have allowed us to respond promptly and create an engaging user experience for both professors and students.

Now in Over 40 Universities

ExEC entrepreneurship curriculum at over 40 Universities including Penn State and the University of Nebraska

At this point last year, our the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) was in roughly 20 schools. Strong demand for a structured, experiential, 15-week entrepreneurship curriculum has doubled the number of universities we’re in.

Of course, being a new venture determined to help students learn how to create new ventures, we’re adamant that we…

Practice what we preach!

We gather feedback from professors and students after each lesson. Through this, we focus on how they felt teaching the lesson (professors) or completing the lesson (students):

We interview professors multiple times during the semester. Our team invites students to talk with us so we can learn more about how they feel living the curriculum, what we are missing, and what we are doing well.

We work tremendously hard to gather, analyze, and constantly make updates for next semester, not “next revisions” like traditional textbooks. The ExEC you see today is a result of our vision and assumptions, continuously tested with students and professors around the world.

While we gather a ton of feedback from our professors, but perhaps the best way to sum up their perspective is what Dr. Chris Welter had to say:

“It’s the software I’ve been looking for for 3 or 4 years . . . I really appreciate the ability for students to get their hands dirty”

New Professor Platform

After practicing what we preach and talking extensively with our professors, it was clear we needed to make some changes to our Professor Portal. We practice what we preach in building our product.

Our original professor-facing version was Google Docs, Slides, and PDFs:

It worked as an MVP and allowed us to test a variety of our assumptions, but ultimately our professors told us Google Docs was too cumbersome to use, and to print from.

So we built a brand new professor platform for our entrepreneurship curriculum! We are currently beta-testing this platform and will roll it out in Fall 2019:

We deliver each of our 31 lessons in a standard format, that includes six core elements for easy navigation and execution for our professors:

1. The Goals and objectives of that lesson. We frame each lesson in practical terms for our professors so they quickly understand why the lesson is important, and what their students will learn.

2. An overview showing where that lesson fits into the scheme and flow of the overall curriculum. We understand it is useful to always understand the big picture – where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. We also map our entrepreneurship curriculum flow onto the Business Model Canvas to highlight what lessons are applicable for particular boxes on the Canvas.

3. An overview video explaining the lesson, and Google Slides for classroom use. Our goal is for our professors to succeed, and that means providing information and tools. Some use slides and some do not, but we offer them just in case. We know some prefer videos to long text, so we offer both, just in case.

4. Instructions for how to prepare before class, including all the necessary resources. Experiential education is really difficult to execute. We provide our professors with a ton of direction to prepare for each lesson. We want them to succeed, and we want their students to remember each and every learning experience throughout the entrepreneurship curriculum.

5. A minute-by-minute exhaustive outline for delivering the lesson during class. What can we say, we are a but obsessive at times. But we figured more detail was better than less detail.

6. Instructions for what students could and should be doing after class. Let’s be honest – what happens after the class is just as important to a student’s learning experience as what happens within the confines of the particular class period.

Assessment Guide

While testing our first version, one need we heard consistently from professors was guidance on how to assess their students. They loved the experiential nature of the exercises, but they were not always clear on how they could help students understand their progression through the understanding and application of that content. So we built an Assessment Guide into our updated entrepreneurship curriculum to help our professors provide quality feedback to students throughout the process.

During the semester, students progress through 5 Validation Check-Ins. These are basically progressive pitches that act as the main opportunity for assessment. We give our professors rubrics and detailed guidance on how to assess the students’ documents and pitches.

Our goal with assessment is not just to help professors provide a grade, but to help professors provide meaningful and timely feedback to students.

For more on our approach to assessment, read our post 4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class.

More Background Reading Material

One of the other pieces of feedback we got early on was that professors wanted to use us as the sole resource for their class. To do that though, we needed to add some breadth, in addition to our depth.

We feel confident we cover idea generation, customer interviewing, business modeling, and prototyping comprehensively, but what about finance, legal issues, branding, etc.?

So we conducted an extensive analysis of entrepreneurship curriculum, textbooks and syllabi, and interviewed dozens of the most respected entrepreneurship professors and entrepreneurs. Our goal was to understand what information would be most useful for students beyond our core offering. From that research, we developed an extensive Resource Guide that currently includes 17 modules.

These modules are by no means an complete exploration of the particular topic. Instead we offer an overview of the topic, a deep dive into some of the basics and the critical components of the topic, and then recommend an extensive list of curated resources and readings of that particular topic.

We want our professors to feel comfortable knowing if they recommend their students go through one of our Resource Guides, they will emerge with a solid understanding of the topic and how to apply that content to their context.

We are not the experts all of these topics, but have done considerable research to better inform our professors around these topics of interest. What we offer within each resource guide is an evolving list of additional resources (articles, books, videos, etc.) for students to continue their learning of a particular topic, or for professors to use as additional resources.

This Resource Guide is an evolving offering. As we hear from professors using our ExEC curriculum, or the community of 3,200+ professors reading our blog, that a certain topic is critical in entrepreneurship education, we will build a Resource Guide ourselves, or invite subject-matter experts to help us build one.

LMS integration

Our last major update is integrating with Canvas, D2L, Moodle and Blackboard. In our first version, students and professors had to download and upload documents, assignments, slides, and other materials. We heard loud and clear that this was not a great user experience.

We now offer the capability of uploading all our content neatly into the four learning management systems mentioned above. This will greatly reduce the setup time for our professors, and will provide a more comfortable learning process for the students.

As you can see, we have been hard at work learning what works and what doesn’t with ExEC. We constantly gather feedback from students and from professors. With this feedback, we strive to provide the ultimate experiential learning opportunity to entrepreneurship educators.

Now’s Your Chance!

We’ve been updating our curriculum and platform based on feedback from hundreds of professors and thousands of students. If you are looking for a fully structured, experiential entrepreneurship curriculum, with 15 weeks of lesson plans that students love, an in-depth complementary Resource Guide, and a comprehensive Assessment Guide, you should check out ExEC.

Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

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Subscribe here to get our next lesson plan in your inbox!

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Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Over the last year we learned what you and the rest of our community of over 3,000 entrepreneurship teachers want to make your classroom environment more engaging and rigorous for your students.

Here, we share our entrepreneurship professor’s 5 favorite lesson plans. These transform students’ experience through experiential lessons around ideation, customer interaction, and prototyping.

5. Syllabus Co-Creation

In our Syllabus Co-creation lesson plan, we provide an interactive experience to engage your students by turning their problems into your syllabus. This is a powerful way to launch a semester by creating for students an authentic feeling of what it’s like to be the customer.

Creating problem Post-It clouds

Our goal with this lesson plan is to give you a way to make entrepreneurship relevant to all your students. We provide a roadmap to show how what you’ll teach will be relevant to them right now. Specifically, through this exercise, you’ll show students:

  • You care about their problems and fears
  • They will learn the skills to solve their problems

Students will see exactly how and when they will acquire the skills to address their biggest problems and fears during your course.

Your students will be engaged, because you will be engaging them.

View Syllabus Co-Creation Lesson Plan

4. Why Business Plans Fail

A great way to follow up the Syllabus Co-Creation is our Why Business Plans Fail lesson. During this day, students experience the marshmallow challenge to understand why business model experimentation can be more effective than business planning.

While variations of the Marshmallow Challenge have been around for a while, we found the vast majority of students have still never done it.

Students will experience the pitfalls of hidden assumptions first-hand so they can more easily validate their business model assumptions later in your course.

Marshmallow challenge failure
The perfect failure 🙂
Xavier University an ExEC Pilot

This class will be fun and high energy for you, and your students. Our lesson plan guides you through two iterations of an 18 minute, fast-paced construction challenge where students learn that invalidated assumptions lead to failure. Your classroom will be loud, it will be full of anxiety and excitement, and ultimately full of failing and the glorious learning that comes from it.

Our goal with this lesson is to introduce a high-intensity activity that teaches students:

  • The pitfalls of business plans
  • Why assumption identification, and assumption validation, are critical to creating success companies
  • Why iterations and experiments are the key to validating their business assumptions

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

Most people think the heart of entrepreneurship is the idea. In this lesson we shatter that assumption, and replace it with an appropriate focus on customer problems.

We want your students to develop ideas that are more feasible, impactful, and creative. This is one of the toughest challenges entrepreneurship professors face. Student ideas tend to be a repetition of low-impact or infeasible mediocrity. You want more from them. We can help!

We focus your students on problems in this lesson, because the best business ideas come from problems.

entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea

After this lesson, your students’ ideas will be:

  • More feasible because they’re focusing on serving people they care about.
  • More impactful because they’re paying more attention to problems than they are products.
  • More creative because they’ll use those problems as inspiration.

View Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation Lesson Plan

2. Teaching Customer Observations

During our years of research on what topics entrepreneurship professors struggle to teach, we heard “customer interviewing” over and over again. Our ExEC curriculum includes a robust method of customer interviewing, but customer observation is another great way to gather customer information. So we developed our Teaching Customer Observations lesson plan to help students learn learn the value of seeing how their customers experience problems, as opposed to imagining their customers’ problems.

This exercise positions your students to observe customers in their natural settings. This allows them to discover new business opportunities and increase their empathy and behavioral analysis skills.

Our goal with this exercise is to teach students to have an empathy picture/analysis that frames the problem they are trying to solve before they jump to a solution. Having this clear picture will allow them to come up with better creative solutions.

During this two-class exercise, your students will experience customer empathy and how to plan and translate an observation experience into ideas for products and services. This will provide the following benefits:

  • Introduce students to a powerful tool to gather information on customer experience in real life situations. This allows students to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it.
  • Students practice how to listen with their eyes in order to understand what people value and care about, & what they don’t.
  • Provide a common reference experience for expanding on topics later in the course.

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

1. 60 Minute MVP

By far, our most popular lesson plan is the 60 Minute MVP. During this class, students launch an MVP website, with an animated video and a way to take pre-orders, in an hour with no prior coding experience. One of our professors told us after running this exercise:

“One student described it as like a Navy Seal mental training exercise. Not sure it was that intense, but they were amazed and proud that they got it done.”

Your students will love this class period; they progress from the anxiety of the challenge confronting them (build a website in 60 minutes) to the elation of their journey (launching a website they built in 60 minutes). This exercise creates tremendous energy in your classroom. Students create something real.

On the lesson plan page you can view an example video students created in about 20 minutes, built around actual customer problem interviews:

You can also view a great example of a website built in just 60 minutes:

Your students will create landing pages like thisUpscale dining at its finest!

Some critical learnings for your students are the true meaning of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), that it’s easier to launch a product than they thought, and that the easiest thing about building a business is launching that product.

View 60 Minute MVP Lesson Plan

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

If you are looking for a fully structured, experiential entrepreneurship curriculum, with a semesters worth of lesson plans that students love, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

We’ve done the work for you. Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

Subscribe here to get our next lesson plan in your inbox!

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.

 

Fall Starts in July

Fall Starts in July

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”

― John Dewey

The time is coming to think about prepping fall classes. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Let us enable you to focus on building experiences that help your students develop and apply their entrepreneurial mindset.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) is your guide to a structured, experiential classroom.

Don’t Take our Word for It

Dr. Chris Welter, who has used ExEC with undergrads and MBAs at from Xavier University, says:

“It’s the software I’ve been looking for for 3 or 4 years . . . I really appreciate the ability for students to get their hands dirty”

25+ Universities and Counting

Dr. Welter isn’t alone. We launched ExEC two years ago at a single university. Now, ExEC is on a path for adoption at 50 colleges by the end of this year:

Structured, Experiential Learning

ExEC is a rigorous, assessable, set of experiential exercises that emphasizes entrepreneurial skills like:

  • Idea generation
  • Problem validation
  • Customer interviews
  • MVP development
  • and more…

Request a preview of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum today and make this Fall your most engaging semester of entrepreneurship yet!

Engage your Students this Fall

If you want your entrepreneurship classroom buzzing with the nervousness and excitement of active learning . . .

You are not alone.

There’s a community of entrepreneurial professors like you, and they’re using ExEC to blow their students’ minds!

 

Student Entrepreneur Spotlight: Uber for Women

Student Entrepreneur Spotlight: Uber for Women

“We had our minds set on getting a job after graduation, and now we have something on our plate that is really exciting to think about growing.”

Julia, Hannah and Jennifer
ExEC Entrepreneurs

What if Your Course Changed the Career Trajectory of Your Students?

That’s what happened to Dr. Emma Fleck at Susquehanna University, and her students Julia Bodner, Hannah Gruber, and Jennifer Thorsheim.

Using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) in their Fall 2017 course taught by Dr. Emma Fleck, Julia, Hannah, and Jennifer discovered skills and confidence they didn’t know they had, created a business, and won an all-expenses-paid trip to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota to present their business in e-Fest and the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge.

We are hearing similar stories from entrepreneurship classrooms around the world using ExEC as their curriculum. The learning is lasting. The experience is dynamic. The students are transformed.

If you want engaged students and a classroom alive with ideas and passion and growth, check out our curriculum. If you’re not convinced, let us tell you a story . . .

Students Become Entrepreneurs

Prior to Dr. Fleck’s course, Julia, Jen and Hannah “were a little nervous when [they] got the assignment of creating a company”. They didn’t think they were creative enough, and had reservations going into the course.

Dr. Fleck urged her students to solve problems that were personal to them; one of the early lessons in ExEC is using ideation exercises to discover a problem to solve. Jennifer flashed back to a recent experience:

She was in London, traveling on the tube, and was followed home by a strange man. She told her parents, who urged her to take an Uber next time she was traveling, so she did. That experience was no better; her driver was being “really weird”, telling her she looked like his ex-girlfriend, and in general creating a very uncomfortable atmosphere for Jennifer.

The ideation exercises in the ExEC curriculum, combined with the existence of a threat for women traveling alone, sparked an “Uber for women” idea for the three young women. They became very passionate about developing a business providing safe transportation for women on college campuses. And Fairy Godmother was born!

In their words, 

“we wanted to bring this issue to light and attack it where we can. College campuses are a really big party scene, obviously, with people taking Ubers and taxis home after nights out, and we hear way too many stories about women in uncomfortable situations. We just wanted to try and alleviate that and fix [the problem].”

During the course they navigated collecting interview and survey data, building and iterating a business model, and struggled through financial projections. They found ExEC and the course beneficial because

“it took us step-by-step through the process; at every stage, we felt comfortable moving forward. The way the course was set up really helped us.”

Students Love ExEC!

In this short video, Julia, Jen and Hannah explain what using ExEC meant to them. This is the student feedback every teacher dreams of! You can get it with ExEC.

In the video above, the Fairy Godmothers explain the value of their ExEC course!

ExEC will teach your students to create a startup just like Fairy Godmother. Click on the image below to check out their Unbounce landing page, which they created using the 60 Minute MVP exercise from ExEC to create this landing page.

Your Students Can Compete!

Julia, Jennifer and Hannah entered Fairy Godmother in the annual e-fest/Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge event, and were selected as finalists! 

Although they were nominated for the Social Impact and the Global Impact Awards, Fairy Godmother left empty-handed in terms of awards and funding. But they left with something much more important – confidence!

The experience gave them validation that they were capable of building something from their ideas; judges and other students sought them out individually to encourage them to push forward.

The Final Results

Dr. Fleck used ExEC to lead Jen, Julia and Hannah to identify a problem they are passionate about solving, conduct research and customer interviews, build out a landing page and develop a business and financial model. This experience gave them confidence and a toolkit with which they can excel in the world. Your students can have too – sign up to use ExEC today!

Your Impact Will Grow Beyond Your Course

Julia, Jennifer, and Hannah experienced a different senior year spring semester than their friends. They certainly were thinking about a job and life post-college. But because of their experience in Dr. Fleck’s class, they also were thinking about next steps with their business.

They continued working on their business model and landed on a licensing model for college campuses, charging a flat fee and also taking a percentage of each fare.

They knew another group of students would be going through Dr. Fleck’s course, using the same ExEC curriculum, learning from the same (amazing!) professor. Julia, Jen and Hannah began thinking about passing along part of their business to this new batch of students. They would stay involved, but they also would get new energy and ideas. The Fairy Godmother team is working on the legalities of licensing, delving into the murky waters of financials, and putting together a plan to enable more students to help them take their business to the next level.

As they told us,

“the next steps of the business aren’t as scary; the class and the experience makes entrepreneurship less scary.”

After their experience, they knew they could overcome the uncertainty they would encounter, and could navigate the boulders in their path. These women were not as afraid to take risks and stood a little taller as they faced the challenges of entrepreneurship and of life after college.

Looking Back

Julia, Jennifer, and Hannah entered an undergraduate entrepreneurship course like most of our students do – nervously excited about the unknown. The ExEC curriculum and Dr. Fleck’s caring guidance delivered these women a experience that changed them in unimaginable ways. Specifically, the main skills they honed in the course were:

  • Problem Solving: “We learned how to find a problem and to think of a viable solution to bring to market.”
  • Creativity: “We thought we weren’t creative, but we discovered that we definitely are.”
  • Teamwork: “We were good friends, but never worked in a team. This class forced us to work together and perform under a lot of pressure.”
  • Risk-tolerance: “We feel more comfortable taking risks now.”

Julia, Jennifer and Hannah experienced what we all hope our students experience in our courses. They learned real skills and how to apply them to real life. They learned they can accomplish big goals, that they never thought possible. They experimented, they failed, they launched, and they grew, as individuals and as a team:

“None of us were thinking we could be entrepreneurs, and now we all feel like we can [be entrepreneurs]!”

You Can Use ExEC this Fall

When planning for your fall entrepreneurship courses, consider our comprehensive, structured curriculum; ExEC’s 25+ detailed lesson plans, exercises, and assessments provide the foundation for your entrepreneurship course, so you can teach real-world entrepreneurial skills like:

  • Idea generation
  • Problem validation
  • Customer interviews
  • MVP development
  • and more…

…in a rigorous way, that can be consistently assessed.

Request a preview of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum today and make this Fall the most engaging semester of entrepreneurship yet!


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Image Insights: Teaching Opportunity Identification

Image Insights: Teaching Opportunity Identification

Show your students there are plenty of entrepreneurship opportunities in their everyday lives!

In the video above, Jennifer explains her exercise for helping students identify opportunities!

This exercise will help your students:

  • Find entrepreneurial opportunities through the eyes of current startups
  • Learn to pay close attention to the world around them
  • See their daily experiences through an entrepreneurial lens

This article is a collaboration with Jennifer Capps, the Director of Student Learning and Faculty Development for NC State Entrepreneurship at North Carolina State University.

Jennifer developed this exercise for interdisciplinary entrepreneurial thinkers at any level. It can be easily adjusted in terms of difficulty and lessons learned to meet the needs of undergraduate or graduate students, business or humanities students, scientists or artists, etc. Jennifer has used this exercise successfully with groups ranging from 20-100 participants.

Jennifer’s complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s an overview.


Round 1: Identify

Randomly assign your students into groups of 3-4, provide them a photo of an everyday scene, like these:

You want to give the same photos to multiple groups – ideally each picture has at least 3 groups working with it. With photos in hand, give the groups the following assignment:

Based on the image that has been provided to your team, conduct a brief 3-4 minute search to identify at least 3 interesting entrepreneurial ventures that have a product or service that is impacting your given scene.

You want students looking for things that exist that relate to the scene in the photograph. For instance, in a wedding scene, you want them talking about Zola, Vow to Be Chic, etc.

Students will feel a bit lost. Encourage them to just get started – express a sense of urgency!

Round 1: Present and Discuss

Have each group show their picture and quickly present the companies they found and the pain/problem those companies are solving. Write the companies on a board or a slide, categorized by the image.

Groups looking at the same image will inevitably overlap the companies they found. They’ve done a quick Google search (“startups in the wedding industry”) and selected the top results that seemed to match.

The aha moment happens when the 2nd or 3rd team waiting to present on an image keeps hearing the same companies that they found. They realize they didn’t dig deep enough – encourage them to share this.

Possible discussion points:

  • What differentiates a non-entrepreneurial company from an entrepreneurial company
  • Are students presenting a solution or a pain/problem?
  • How deep did you actually go in terms of seeking out entrepreneurial opportunities in your scene?
  • How much time did you spend critically thinking about this concept versus just trying to get the assignment done?
  • How could you push yourself to go further?
  • How to put a fresh twist on ideas that already exist in the marketplace

Check out Jennifer’s lesson plan below for full details!

Round 2: Identify

Give students a second chance. Tell them they will do the exact same thing, but that every company and pain/problem that was brought up in Round 1 is off limits. Encourage your students to not restrict themselves to just the image they are seeing. Encourage them to think about what went into creating that image – what had to happen to make whatever is happening in that image happen, etc. Encourage them to focus on what’s going on in the background, to think about what will happen next after that photo.

The goal is for students to learn to expand the way they think about opportunities in the world around them. And also to learn that opportunities grow when they move beyond the easy answers that are right in front of their nose.

Round 2 Present and Debrief

Have each group show their picture and quickly present the companies they found and the pain/problem those companies are solving. Write the companies on a board or a slide, categorized by the image.

Contrast how much more creative and impactful these ideas are than those from Round 1. 

Also point out how much stronger the students were in their critical thinking when they’re encouraged to go beyond their comfort zone and not take the easy path.

Specific questions to consider asking:

  • During round 1, how easy/difficult did you find the opportunity identification process? Why?
  • When you heard all of the round 1 pain points/entrepreneurial ventures, how do you feel that your ideas compared to others? Why?
  • Did you originally navigate to the more obvious options in your image or did you naturally apply a deeper level of critical thinking?
  • When you were told to perform the activity again with the stated restrictions, how did you feel? Why? (some common reactions tend to be scared, intimidated, excited, challenged, and overwhelmed)
  • How easy/difficult did you find round 2? Why?
  • Once you were told to look beyond the exact image that you were given, what did you learn? How can this lesson translate to your everyday life as an entrepreneurial thinker?

Key Takeaways

Through this exercise, students will learn to see opportunities all around them! They will also see that thinking deeper and more critically is not as difficult as they thought. Some student reflections from Jennifer’s class:

“Even if a company currently exists similar to your idea, rather than abandoning it you should dig deeper and find what they’re missing.”

 

“The Image Insights Activity that was conducted during one of our class periods, completely changed my perspective. During this activity, each group was asked to look at an image of something ordinary in everyday life and think of three startup businesses that have thrived due to this scene. My group was told to look at an image of people walking through an airport. Within this one image we were able to research companies that dealt with issues along the lines of traveling, packing, a place to stay, better service on planes and within the airport itself, etc. Because of this activity, I was made aware that if you look deeper, you can find a startup in almost anything that shapes our everyday lives.”

Get the “Image Insights” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Image Insights” 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, so you’re welcome to share it.


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Observe Customers Where They Are

Observe Customers Where They Are

Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

Do your students struggle collecting information about problems from customer interviews?

Observing customers is another great way to gather customer information. In some important ways, it can provide even more and different information than an interview.

This Fly On The Wall exercise:

  • Introduces your students to a powerful tool to gather information on customers’ experience in real-life situations. This allows them to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it. Because actions speak louder than words.
  • Allows students to practice listening with their eyes, to understand what people value and what they don’t. Because behavior doesn’t always match what people think they will do.

Observing customers in natural settings is a powerful experience for students. They discover new business opportunities. They increase their customer empathy. They hone their behavioral analysis skills. All critical entrepreneurial competencies!

Students going through this exercise learn a technique to gain insight into the small details of a customer’s interaction with their environment that a customer may not think to express in interviews.

This exercise will span two class periods. For more details, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

Most students will enter your class with no clue how to effectively observe customers in their natural environment.  Before teaching them how to do so, we want them to understand why it is such a valuable skill. So we kick off the customer observation class with the Toothbrush Exercise, which teaches students that:

Entrepreneurs can’t trust numbers alone. In order to improve the world, we must see, feel and experience it for ourselves!

Quick steps for this exercise:

  • Organize students into groups of 4-5
  • Show this picture on the screen
  • Tell students (& write on board/slide) the average adult male hand, is 7.44″ long (measured from tip of the middle finger to the wrist) and 3.30” wide (measured across the palm). The average adult female hand size is 6.77″ long and 2.91 inches wide. The average child hand size is 5.5” long and 2.75” wide. (You can also give each group cutouts if you are feeling adventurous!)
  • Give each team an adult toothbrush and tell them they have 5 minutes to design the best-selling child’s toothbrush (they must include the dimensions in their design)

After their 5 minutes elapse, ask how many groups made a smaller toothbrush? Now play this video:

After trying to design a toothbrush for kids the wrong way, this video will drive home the point that the goal isn’t to make toothbrushes smaller for kids, but to actually make them bigger!

For more details on this exercise, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

The homework consists of two steps. Step 1 is to watch the video below (click the image to launch the video) about the product development process, and read through Examples 1-3 here about how to make things people want.

Step 2 is for students, in groups, to observe customers for 20 minutes in a campus location where people are active. For instance, dining hall/food court, gym/rec center, makerspace, athletic facilities, etc. The point of this homework assignment is for students to observe students actively interacting with some products (gym, makerspace) or business (food court). In other words, you don’t want them observing students in the library, where they are likely to be sedentary.

Direct your students to take note, individually, of anything they observe about their subjects, without interacting with them. Each student needs to individually write down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

Start the next class with groups reporting what they observed. You will find students’ observations will likely focus on:

  1. Surface-level activity, such as “students were talking to each other” or “students were exercising
  2. The perspective of the product or business, such as “there were not enough seats in the food court” or “many treadmills were not in use

We want these observations, because it’s the perfect way to illustrate how to conduct useful observations. For a debrief of their homework, ask students how they can use the information they gathered during observations to develop products/ideas they could bring to market.

Students will not write down questions they will try to answer prior to the observation, or define major themes to look for. They will observe without planning a framework.

The aha moment we want them to realize is that they need a plan to effectively observe customers.

During the debrief, stress:

  1. Focus observations on the subjects’ problems (empathize)
  2. Identifying patterns where subjects struggle to do something
  3. Capturing images and/or video during observations

For more details on this debrief, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

The final step is for students to plan an observation they will conduct as homework in the same campus location they observed as homework after Class 1. Remind students to create a framework that includes:

  1. Questions they want to answer, and
  2. Themes they can look for

For homework, students should conduct that observation, again writing down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

They should notice a significant difference between their observations after Class 1 and Class 2.

This extended series of exercises gives students valuable skills to add to their entrepreneurial toolkit: customer observations and behavioral analysis.

Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Fly On The Wall” 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, so you’re welcome to share it.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about approaching and mitigating risk, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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Free Digital Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

Free Digital Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

Are you participating in our Digital Conference on May 10? If not, this is your chance to participate for free!

If you teach entrepreneurship and want to learn engaging exercises to do with your students that demonstrate:

  • Why interviews are more powerful than surveys
  • The best business ideas come from customers
  • That failure is the fastest teacher

…then you want register for the Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference.

We’re hosting a digital conference experiment, and we’re offering free tickets to attend the event live!

Use the coupon code DigitalConferenceMVP for free access to the live session, or for $100 off a full ticket price (which also includes post-conference recordings)!

Conference Agenda (all times PDT)

9am                       Kickoff with Doan Winkel

9:15-10:30am     Julienne Shields and the Ping Pong Challenge

Join Julie live in her classroom as she gives her students piles of ping pong balls and a complex mission to accomplish with them.

Watch (and help!) her students iterate their way to a solution as they discover the benefits of small, fast experiments and embracing the failures they encounter along the way.

Use this exercise in your class to help your students learn to take calculated risks and an iterative/experimental approach to solving problems.

10:45-12:00pm     Jim Hart Creating with Customers in Mind

Jim will walk you through an interactive, partnered, exercise you can use with your students to help them understand:

  • Creativity comes from asking the right questions
  • The best ideas are inspired by customers
  • Interviewing customers isn’t as hard/scary as it seems

If you want to help your students with idea generation and motivating them to interview customers, definitely join Jim’s session.

12:15-1:30pm     Justin Wilcox Surveys vs. Interviews

Justin will show you one of the most popular exercises from the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

This exercise will show your students once and for all, why it’s better for them to use customer interviews for problem discovery, than it is to use surveys!

Our ExEC professors cite this lesson as producing “Light Bulb Moments” in helping students understand the power of customer interviews. Join us to see it in action!

Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

A Digital Conference

May 10th 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern


It Works In Our Curriculum, So Why Not A Conference?

After the positive impact of our ExEC entrepreneurship curriculum’s “Show, Don’t Tell” approach to experiential learning across 20 universities, we decided to apply that approach to the conference experience.

We know you enjoy learning by doing. We enjoy showing, not telling. It’s a perfect match!

See you there – be sure to grab your ticket here! Remember, register even if you can’t join us live because we’ll have recordings available.

Last Chance for Free Tickets

Remember to use the coupon code DigitalConferenceMVP for free access to the live session, or for $100 off a full ticket price (which also includes post-conference recordings)!

Teaching Entrepreneurship Conference

A Digital Conference

May 10th 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern

You Are Invited Into an Entrepreneurship Classroom

You Are Invited Into an Entrepreneurship Classroom

Get transported into a live learning environment!

In the video above Julienne Shields explains the experience she is offering our Digital Conference participants!

Join us for the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Digital Conference and you will work live with Julie’s students at Millikin University on an exercise focused on estimation, iteration, and failure.

Watch Julie teach a real lesson, with real students, during the conference!

In this session, you will:

  • Watch Julie teach her iteration, experimentation and failure exercise in real-time
  • See how Julie’s students respond in real-time
  • Interact with, and provide feedback to, Julie and her students

Are you looking for exciting tools and exercises to engage your students and enrich your classroom? You are why we created our Digital Conference Experiment!

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

 


Julie is Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Millikin University, is an entrepreneur through the historic farm she owns, and is an educator whose energy and passion for igniting students’ entrepreneurial spirit will leave you wanting more!

Join us for this unique digital conference format; we will guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises to:

  • Enable your students to work on big ideas
  • Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  • Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

Join us May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!
Making it Real

Making it Real

How to create a true entrepreneurial experience for your students

In the video above Doan explains his exercise for getting comfortable thinking creatively!

If you want your students to get truly excited about your class from the first day, or refresh your own experience as a teacher, read on!

This exercise will get your students feeling:

  • The creative energy that comes with brainstorming a new business model
  • The anxiety of making a sales pitch
  • The exhilaration of making their first sale
  • The inspiration that comes from seeing they too can build a profitable business

In this exercise, we explore the question: How can we provide students a true entrepreneurial experience within a classroom context? In other words, how can we make it real?

“The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a [student] of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.”

– Seymour Papert   


This article is a collaboration with Dr. Doan Winkel, the John J. Kahl, Sr. Chair in Entrepreneurship and Director of the Edward M. Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University (and co-founder of TeachingEntrepreneurship.org). He developed this exercise so his students with had a powerful learning experience about entrepreneurship during the first moments of his course.

Doan developed this exercise to provide his students with the opportunity to experience entrepreneurship on the very first day of my entrepreneurship course. Students are placed in a situation that reflects many of the pressures, constraints, and reward incentives of new business creation in a compressed 30 minute time frame.

Doan’s complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

Step 1: The Set Up

Scout out a location with plenty of shops and foot traffic. You’ll want this location to be nearby so students don’t lose too much time traveling. Doan gets students off campus so it feels more “real”, but some educators may be able to conduct the exercise on campus depending on the density of stores and foot traffic.

This location is where the class will meet on the first day. Once you decide on a location, be sure to get the word out to students regarding when and where to meet soon after registration begins. Send a selfie at the meeting spot, Google Maps coordinates, and anything else to help students find you on the first day of class. Email students reminders multiple times, including the day before classes start, to make sure you inform students as they add and drop courses. In case anyone does not get the message, put a notice in your classroom reminding students that the first meeting was offsite and to wait in the classroom until everyone returns – about 45 minutes.

You will be grouping students into teams of four, so get enough cash in $1 bills so that every team can start with $10.

Be sure to confirm with your institution that you are allowed to give students cash to use in the exercise

If your institution does not allow you to provide the cash, also let students know they need to bring 2 or 3 $1 bills with them the first day of class (depending on team size you will use).

Step 2: Class-time

Meet your students at the chosen location, team them up in groups of 4 as they arrive, and hand 10 $1 bills to each group.

Step 3: Announce the challenge

Teams have 30 minutes to make as much money as they can, legally. Whichever team makes the most profit, keeps all the money from all the groups.

Winner takes all!

Don’t provide any other specific guidance. Students will want to ask questions. Don’t answer them – walk away after reminding them to meet you back in the classroom in 35 minutes.

Step 4: Debrief

As teams arrive in the classroom, note on the board the profit made by each group and collect their money. Determine the winning team and disperse the winnings.

Start a debrief about the experience, starting with the winning team.

Questions to address can include:

  1. How did they arrive at decisions? Negotiate? Pivot their business idea?
  2. Did students work individually or as a team? Why?
  3. How did the ambiguity feel?
  4. How did it feel using someone else’s capital?
  5. How did they identify a market need?
  6. How did they identify and connect with customers?

See the complete lesson plan below for more ideas and topics to cover.

Results

Hopefully many will feel excited and motivated by the learning experience and competition. This will provide the following benefits:

  • Get students excited about class from day 1
  • Get your students feeling the emotions of entrepreneurship: excitement, anxiety, confidence, inspiration
  • Re-energize yourself with a more experiential class
  • Build familiarity and bonding amongst students.
  • Identify students who need more support with this teaching style.

By having students go through this exercise early in the course schedule, you can draw on their experiences when developing ideas throughout the term.

In addition, the exercise

  • creates a unique experience for students on the first day of class,
  • sets the tone for things to come, and
  • gets everyone (including you!) out into the world for some real learning in real time

Get the “Making It Real” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Making It Real” 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, so you’re welcome to share it.


Companies aren’t built in classrooms. They’re built in often ambiguous and rapidly evolving markets with limited resources while imposing tremendous pressures on founders. Let your students discover what strengths they bring to a team of entrepreneurs.


Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference is Coming!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us on May 10th. Jim Hart, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  • Enable your students to work on big ideas
  • Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  • Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

For more in our continuing series of free classroom resources, subscribe below.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.
Break Through Your Students’ Creative Fear

Break Through Your Students’ Creative Fear

This exercise will help your students develop more creative ideas and more creative solutions to problems!

How do we Teach Creative Confidence?

In the video above Jim Hart explains his exercise for getting comfortable thinking creatively!

This article is a collaboration with Jim Hart at Southern Methodist University, who developed this exercise to enable students to be more confident thinking creatively by breaking through their fear/judgment barriers. This exercises teaches students how to recognize what an impulse feels like, and to allow themselves to follow an impulse without judging or fearing it.

Jim’s complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.

The Set-up

To help students feel more comfortable being uncomfortable, show a clip from “Whose Line is it Anyway?” demonstrating improvisation theater, like this one:

Tell your students that this exercise will help become more creative, so they can work on the ideas that matter to them and that will challenge them because they are more creative ideas. 

Tell the students that you’re all going to play a fun game like what you just showed them in the clip, where you may all look a little foolish. Encourage them to allow themselves to look a bit foolish.

Because students may feel a bit uncomfortable during this exercise, you need to 

Create an atmosphere where it is safe to be open-minded and say anything. 

Explicitly tell your students they will not be graded on this exercise. Reassure them that each of them has really creative ideas in them, but that most of us struggle to be creative publicly because we are afraid of sounding or looking foolish.

Attempt #1

Place students standing in a circle, facing inward. Randomly pick two students. One is Student A, the other Student B, and they exchange as follows:

B: “What are you doing?”

A: [says a random activity – for instance, “eating a banana”]

B: [mimes the activity A just mentioned]

A: “What are you doing?”

B: [says a random activity – for instance, “riding a bicycle”]

A: [mimes the activity B just mentioned]

B: “What are you doing?”

The two students continue to do this until one of them pauses in answering the “What are you doing?” question. When one pauses, make a buzzer noise and tell that student he/she is out. Go to the next student in the circle, and they begin again with the remaining student from the original pair.

What typically happens is that students worry about what their peers are thinking and so are consistently and quickly buzzed out of the exercise.

Prep for Attempt #2

After roughly 20 minutes, stop Attempt #1. Tell the students the following story:

In the movie The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise plays an American Civil War hero who is brought to Japan to fight and defeat the samurai. He is eventually captured and the samurai take him to their camp in the mountains. Winter arrives and Cruise is stuck at the samurai camp until the winter weather passes. The samurai start teaching Cruise their ways, but he cannot compete with their sword skills.

Play the following clip:

Tell your students they are minding too much, that you don’t want them using their mind.

Encourage your students to let their impulses guide their words.

Get your students excited by telling them that you will teach them a technique to dramatically increase the time they can last in this exercise, and that they will reap the following benefits:

  • They will become more effective communicators.
  • They will develop more creative ideas for solutions to problems.

Attempt #2

Stand in the circle of students. Have your students close their eyes and imagine they are sitting in a movie theater, looking at a movie screen. That screen is their mind’s eye, and they will see images on it. Tell them you will say a word and they should allow the image to pop onto the movie screen in front of them; they should allow the image to pop into their mind.

Ask your students to say “got it” when they’ve got an image of the word you say in their mind.

Say “apple” [students say “got it”]. Say “tire” [students say “got it”], say “desk”, “blue sky”, “birds”, “samurai” (each time waiting until the students say “got it”).

Have your students to open their eyes. Stand in front of each student and ask them to nod when they have the word you’ll say to them in their mind’s eye. Say a random word to each student, wait until they nod, then move to the next student, and do this with each student.

Now conduct the original exercise again, starting with the original student pair. Wait until one student pauses too long, buzz them out, add the next student, and so on.

Results

This exercise will help students follow their impulses and allow themselves to get into a stream of consciousness without judging it.

If your students can be more aware of the images and words in their consciousness, they can improve their creative confidence.

When your students are more creatively confident, they will develop stronger ideas and solutions to problems, and will engage in richer communication. This can be particularly useful if you have them making pitches later in the semester.

In the pitch process, students need to be very clear about every word they are saying, and need to be comfortable telling stories so they engage their audience. If they are more aware of the images and words they are trying to communicate, they should be better storytellers. This exercise will help them build that awareness!

Complete details to bring this exercise to life in your class, including all the instructions for you, are in the lesson plan below.

Get the “In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio” 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, so you’re welcome to share it.


Thank You to Jim Hart

A big thanks to Jim for creating and sharing this exercise! For more information about Jim and the amazing work he’s doing at Southern Methodist University, click here.

 


Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference is Coming!

If you want to learn and practice exercises to better engage your students, and learn how to assess experiential learning,  join us on May 10th. Jim, Julienne Shields, and our very own Justin Wilcox will use our unique digital conference format to guide you through experimenting with the tools and exercises they introduce to:

  1. Enable your students to work on big ideas
  2. Engage your students in entrepreneurial skills and mindset
  3. Help your students with problem validation.

At this conference, you won’t learn by listening, you’ll learn by doing!

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP  for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

For more in our continuing series of free classroom resources, subscribe below.

Join 3,200+ teachers. Get new lesson plans via email.