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Author: Doan Winkel

Drinks are on us at USASBE2020!

Drinks are on us at USASBE2020!

3 reasons you should attend the USASBE conference in New Orleans in January:

  1. Free drinks!
  2. Learn about new methods and tools to engage your students (we are leading 5 sessions)
  3. Attend the Innovator’s Dinner and meet thought leaders

This annual conference is an incredible few days where entrepreneurship educators, scholars, and practitioners plan entrepreneurship programs and share their bold teaching, scholarship, and practice work and ideas.

If you’re going, we’ll see you there!

Happy Hour Is On Us!

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. We will be hosting our third-annual happy hour party. Like last year’s engaging event, we will be paying for drinks for the first 100 people who register!

 

 

Innovator’s Dinner – Meet Thought Leaders

This year, we are experimenting with an “Innovator’s Dinner” on Friday night. This will be a special gathering for 20 innovators where you can connect with like-minded, innovative entrepreneurship educators in an intimate setting. We will be

  • Sharing best practices!
  • Connecting with innovators and possible collaborators
  • Learning ways to better engage our students

We are offering a limited number of Innovator’s Dinner tickets for $75, which includes a full Creole dinner, free drinks, inspiring conversations, and a couple group activities we have in mind 😉

5 Talks + A Competition

We will lead a handful of sessions during the conference:

60 Minute MVP 2.0

This is an intense and exciting exercise that teaches critical aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset and lean start-up methodology, namely the iterative process of hypothesis testing through the creation of minimum viable products (MVPs). In 60 minutes, with no prior technical expertise, students work in teams to design a landing page, create an explainer video, and set up a way to measure pre-launch demand from prospective customers by accepting pre-orders or email addresses. USASBE attendees will get to experience creating an MVP themselves, and will leave with a detailed lesson plan they can use to run this exercise back in their classes.

Customer Interviewing:
Learning the Basics Through Gamification

This is a fun, interactive exercise where educators use a combination of Customer Interviewing Playing Cards which they can print out, and an online collaborative quiz game (Kahoot) to teach core customer interviewing skills. Specifically, it will demonstrate to students:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should be and should not be
  • Based on their interviewing goals, they will learn what questions they should and should not ask during customer interviews

USASBE attendees will leave the session with a PDF of the interview playing cards they can print out when they return to school, access to the interviewing quiz game, a copy of a recommended interview script template and a detailed lesson plan on how to use the interviewing cards, game and script in class.

Entrepreneurs vs. Inventors:
The Lottery Ticket Dilemma

This exercise provides a fun, experiential way for students to conceptualize customer behavior, and identify business opportunities, by demonstrating it’s not actually customer problems that drive behavior, but customer emotions. After this game-based activity, students understand why some products are successful even if they don’t solve an obvious problem, and how to leverage that fact to identify non-problem based opportunities. Attendees to this session will get to experience the lesson themselves, and leave with a lesson plan they can use to integrate this exercise in their classes.

Fears and Curiosities:
Engaging ALL Students on Day 1

Not all of our entrepreneurship students want to start companies. Fortunately, entrepreneurship education isn’t about starting companies; it’s about developing skills and a mindset that will serve our students whether they start a company now, later, or never. This exercise helps students understand the value of their entrepreneurship classes, even if they never envision themselves becoming an entrepreneur, which helps them to engage in the class from the first day. USASBE attendees experience the exercise themselves and then leave with a detailed lesson plan so they can use this exercise in their class.

Normalizing Failing Through the Wish Game

This exercise was borrowed from faculty at Stanford University and developed into the foundation of an MBA Entrepreneurship course to teach entrepreneurship skills by having classmates iteratively deliver wishes for each other. In this exercise, students write down big, specific wishes, such as being able to meet a celebrity, or visiting a certain place. The professor chooses one person to be the wish grantee, and the rest of the class works for a period of time to deliver that wish at a future date of the professor’s choosing.
This exercise is about hyper-collaboration, so all students benefit by working together under considerable constraints. This exercise is a powerful path for students to learn entrepreneurial skills like ideation, customer interviewing, prototyping, selling, and mobilizing resources, all in the context of creating memorable experiences for their fellow classmates.

Defending Our Title!

We are excited to defend our title as the reigning Excellence in Experiential Exercises (3E) champion from USASBE2019. We were honored to receive this recognition for our “A Better Toothbrush: Testing Assumptions via Customer Observations” exercise, which is a vital part of our award-winning Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum. That recognition motivated us to design more engaging exercises for you and your students.

 

 

 

 

We hope to see you there!

Justin, Doan and Federico

 

 

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:

  • Improve Student Idea Generation. This lesson plan enables your students to build ideas around the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems they are most excited to help them resolve.
  • Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews. This lesson plan helps your students conduct higher quality interviews with customers by learning exactly what to ask during a customer interview, and how to ask it.
  • “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!

Join 70+ Universities Using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum!

teaching entrepreneurship

Request a preview of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) today and make this Spring the most engaging semester of entrepreneurship yet! Our curriculum is full of experiential exercises that will make your students’ learning come alive.

Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

If your students are struggling conducting high-quality interviews with customers, or you’re not sure how to get them started, this lesson plan is for you.

With this lesson plan, your students will learn exactly what to ask during a customer interview, and how to ask it.

When students first see they will be interviewing customers, they feel nervous, overwhelmed, and worried. Why?

  • They’re nervous about talking to strangers.
  • They don’t learn this technique somewhere else.
  • They’ve never seen or heard sample interviews.
  • It feels like too much work.
  • They’re worried about looking and feeling stupid.

In this lesson plan, students will practice customer interviewing with their classmates to expose to interviewing techniques, and to deepen connections between them.

Specifically, in this lesson plan, students will learn:

  • Basics of customer interviewing techniques
  • What questions to ask during customer interviews
  • How to create rapport with interviewees
  • What it’s like to be interviewed
  • Differences between interviewing and surveying customers

Customer interviewing scriptBefore Class

Print out at least one Interview Script Template, for each student. Generate a B2C script where the:

  • Interview Type = B2C
  • Role = student
  • Problem = having too much work to do and too little time
  • Context = during midterms

During Class

Use this exercise when students are preparing to start validating their first Business Model Canvas assumptions. They will validate these assumptions by interviewing Early Adopters – see the Finding your Early Adopters module in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) for explicit instructions to prepare students to interview their Early Adopters.

teaching entrepreneurship

Let students know there are techniques that can help them interview customers in a way that helps them test their assumptions, but it takes some practice to get good at, and comfortable with, these techniques.

Let them know it’s normal to feel awkward or nervous interviewing at first, everyone does, but that after a while, it becomes as natural as having a conversation with a close friend.

Tell them they’re going to get their first chance to interview today, and they’re going to start off, by interviewing their teammate(s).

Step 1

Tell students their one and only goal with customer interviewing is to understand the problems their customer is actively trying to solve.

Show students this intro video on interviewing customers to give them a broad sense of the objectives:

 Step 2: Warm Up

Start out with a few warm-up, rapport-building questions. These are questions that make your students and their interviewees feel comfortable so that your students can get into a flow of conversation before diving into problems or difficulties.

What to ask warmup questions

Here are some examples:

  • Ask about the weather – students might even do a quick web search to find out what it’s been like where they are: “How’ve you been faring with all the rain recently?”
  • Comment on sports – again, a web search is helpful: “49ers are the team no one wants to play again this year.”
  • Simply ask how their week has been.

Step 3: Understand the Role

B2B (business-to-business) Script: Your students want to understand the challenges their early adopters are facing, so they should focus on that person’s role, be it a student, or a hiring manager, etc. They want to focus on how that person defines their role, what success looks like for them, and, ultimately, the challenges they face in achieving that success.

By focusing on their role, as opposed to the entire company, you students have a much more sincere and open conversation.

With that in mind, your first question here is:

How would you describe your role as a __________?

what to ask: role definition

This is a nice, easy first question to get the person starting to talk about the ins and outs of their job. Let the interviewee describe in their own words what it’s like to have her job.

It is really important that your students understand how this person views their roles and responsibilities. They will be referring to their words over and over during the rest of the conversation. This will also help them to create a mental framework of what their job is like.

As the interviewee responds, be sure to write down the words and jargon they use.

If it’s the first time your students have heard the word or something described in a specific way, they need to ask about it. Don’t be shy! This is their chance to hear the definition of a term directly from their customer – it’s also a chance for their customer to demonstrate their expertise (a good thing).

Going forward, the best way to build rapport is to…

Use their words to talk about their job and problems.

Using their words and phrasings will help your students build trust as they get into the more vulnerable part of the conversation around problems and difficulties.

Step 4: Define Success

Now that your students understand their potential early adopter’s job description, the next step is to understand how they define success. The question here is

What does success look like for you?

This question is meant to be aspirational. What are they looking to achieve? How does their performance get measured? What expectations does this person’s boss have of them? What expectations do their customers have? What expectations do they have of themselves?

what to ask: define success

The answer to this question will help guide your students’ conversation. At the end of the day, they will be helping your students solve their problems so, ultimately, they can achieve the success that they have just named for your students!

Their success is your students’ success.

Your students will be successful when they help their customer be successful – this question will help them figure out how to do that.

One tip is to circle here, saying something like, “If I understand you correctly, if we were to solve this problem, we can help you achieve [your success].”

Reflecting back their success will also help build rapport. It’s a way for your students to remind them that they are here to help them solve a problem and achieve their goals.

Step 5: Identify the Problem

Your students now dive into the problems their interviewee is facing.

what to ask: b2b problem

For B2B interviewees, by asking about their customer’s role and goals, your students have created a sufficiently safe context to ask about their challenges:

What is the hardest part about achieving that success?

what to ask: b2c problem

For B2C interviewees, this is your students’ starting point. Their customer doesn’t have a job description or larger company vision, so they can start with the personal challenges. After their initial warm up questions, ask:

What is the biggest challenge you are facing as a [customer role]?

Both: In this question, your students are listening for the challenges that are preventing the customer from achieving their success or living their life as they would like.

Again, students should listen for the words they use to describe their difficulties. Ask a lot of questions to clarify and fully understand what they are telling them.

The answer to this question will get to the heart of what their customer is looking for.

Below this question your students will notice there are 3 columns. That’s because parts of this script are designed to be repeated so they can discover all of the problems your customer is trying to solve. More on that below.

Empathize, empathize, empathize.

At this point in the script is a reminder that your students should be empathizing with their interviewee throughout the conversation. They don’t need to go into their own stories, but do acknowledge if they’ve experienced a similar difficulty or if they can understand where they are coming from.

Phrases such as the following can be helpful for students letting someone know they’re on their team.

  • I’ve been there.
  • That makes complete sense.
  • I can see how that would be frustrating.

When empathizing, be genuine. If your students can’t put themselves in their shoes, ask for more information. They want to understand their customer as thoroughly as possible.

Many of us are used to putting forth a front of having “it all figured out”.

If someone is sharing their problems, they are taking a risk to be vulnerable.

This is especially true for B2B, where your students are asking someone to admit that they are having difficulties in their role with the company. Validating their experience will help them feel safe and comfortable so they will continue to open up.

Step 6: The Last Time

Your students now want to know whether their customer is actively “paying” to solve the problem they just mentioned. To do that, they should ask

When was the last time you tried to solve this problem?

what to ask: last time

This question is key.

The answer will tell your students if they are an Early Adopter or an Early Majority. They are looking for Early Adopters – customers who are already “paying” to solve the problem.

For B2B, listen for evidence they’ve “paid” to solve the problem within the last 12 months – the typical business budget cycle.

For B2C, listen for evidence they’ve “paid” to solve this problem within the last 6 months.

The answer is easy to interpret:

If they’ve “paid” to solve this problem recently, with a currency that will lead to your students’ victory, they’re an Early Adopter for a solution. If they haven’t, they’re not.

If they’re an Early Adopter, continue with the questions below. If they are not, start again from the previous question:

“What else is hard about achieving your success?” for B2B

or

“What else is challenging about [customer role]?” for B2C.

This is why there are multiple columns for notes under this question. Most of the time your students will have to go through the series of questions a few times before striking gold. Use the second and third columns of the script to dive into alternative problems.

Step 7: Specific Problem Scenario

Once your students know they have an Early Adopter, they can start to gather information specifically about their customer’s attempts at solutions. Ask:

Can you tell me about the last time that problem occurred?

what to ask: problem scenario

Here, your students are looking for a more detailed description of the actual problem. They are hoping to get beyond generalizations or broad descriptions of their customer’s struggles, and dial down into a specific instance where they had this problem and tried to find a solution.

This strategy is important for both B2B and B2C.

Why is this important? In this response, your students are listening for more specific words, jargon and emotions that help to understand the problem. This will help them understand how their customers describe the heart of the issue.

Again, ask a lot of questions. There are no stupid questions – the more information your students can get, the better.

Take special note of the words they use, the jargon they use, and the emotions they describe. This will form the foundation of the marketing strategy.

The scenario the customer describes can also serve as a case study later on. If they give your students a very concrete example, they can use it to help develop a solution when they’re back inside the building, brainstorming.

Step 8: Marketing Copy

This question will answer all of your students’ marketing copy questions for both B2B and B2C. Ask:

Why is it a problem for you?

Warning: this question may feel awkward to ask – but your students must ask it.

what to ask: marketing copy

It will probably feel obvious why it is a problem and your students will be tempted to skip this question. However, the way they describe why it’s a problem is likely to be different than how your students would describe it.

Your students are not psychic, so they shouldn’t pretend to be. Let the customers speak for themselves.

Above all else, your students want to know the words their customer uses to describe their experience, and the emotions they feel when encountering this problem.

In the marketing copy, when your students can use a customer’s exact phrasings and identify the exact emotions they are feeling when faced with a problem, they will resonate with the customer on a profound level.

The better your students understand their customer, without making any assumptions of their own, the better they will be able to serve them, and the better – and more successful – your students’ solution will be.

If your students don’t hear any emotions mentioned the first time they ask this question, keep trying. Say something like, “Interesting. And why is that a problem?”

Keep going, asking why up to five times, until they get to the emotional core of their customer’s experience of the problem.

Step 9: Current Solutions

Now it’s time to for your students to figure out where they should do their marketing. To do that, ask:

How did you find your current solution?

what to ask: current solution

The answer to this question is key because it will help your students figure out how to find more people like the interviewee, with similar problems. This is just as true for B2B as B2C.

Eventually, the answers your students collect to this question will drive their marketing channel definitions. If one customer has gone there to find a solution, it’s likely others have gone there as well.

Step 10: What Isn’t Ideal About Their Solution?

Presumably, the current solution for this customer isn’t working – that’s why they mentioned it as a problem earlier in the interview. At this point, your students are in a perfect position to ask:

What’s not ideal about this solution?

what to ask: what is wrong with the solution

Here, your students will discover how they’re going to differentiate their solution from their competition.

Your student’s solution will be superior, because their understanding of the problem is superior.

The information your students gather from this question will feed into their solution ideation process – ensuring they solve the problem better than their competitors.

Step 11: Rinse and Repeat

Even if your students hit on something good the first time around, there may be more value available in this interview. At this point, your students should go back to the Hardest Part question to find out what other problems are at the top of the customer’s list.

Remember: use the additional columns of the script to take notes for additional question iterations.

After that, validate they are an Early Adopter for the new problem they mention by asking when was the last time they tried to solve it. If they are, continue with the rest of the interview questions, including a possible third iteration.

Alternate Questions

If your students make it through the second round of questions and there’s still no mention of the problem they’ve hypothesized, here is another question they can ask to both businesses and consumers:

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing as a [customer’s role] with respect to [problem scenario]?

what to ask: alternate questions

In this question, your students will spoon feed the customer a situation where they are likely to experience the problem that they’ve hypothesized. This will focus your students in on the specific area of their customer’s job or life context that aligns with their own interests.

From there, circle back to the “when was the last time you tried to solve this problem?” question and continue the exercise as before. In this scenario, your students need to pay extra close attention to their interviewee’s answer.

Important: If your students spoon feed their customers a scenario where they are confident they will feel the problem your students hypothesize and either they don’t cite the problem you hypothesized or they aren’t actively looking for a solution – they aren’t Early Adopters!

If this happens, it’s clear something has to change:

  • If this happens just a few times, no big deal. Not everyone in your students’ interview channels is going to be an Early Adopter.
  • If this is happening frequently, but your students are discovering a different problem the customers are Early Adopters for, no big deal – they can pivot to solve the new problem they’re reporting.
  • If it’s happening frequently, and your students are not discovering problems customers are Early Adopters for, no big deal – they can pivot their interviewing channels or their entire target customer segment (refer to your the ExEC curriculum for exercises for alternative segments to interview.)

Step 12: Wrap It Up

When your students wrap up an interview, they want to be sure they are leaving the door open for future conversations, even if this person is not an Early Adopter. To do that, say:

I’m actively exploring a solution to [their problem]. Can I contact you if I find a viable solution?

what to ask - wrap it up

Regardless of your students’ hypothesized problem, they should use their customer’s words to describe their problem in this closing…even if it’s not the problem your students are currently focused on solving!

Use their words to describe a problem your students hope to solve.

It is true your students may not pursue a solution to their problem now, but if enough other customers present the same difficulties, they’ve discovered a viable place to pivot. In fact, their interview may end up being one of the data points that convinces your students to pivot!

By your students asking them if they can contact them if they discover a solution to their problem, they’ve left the door open for further communication should they fall into their Early Adopter category now, or ever.

what to ask: wrapping it up

For B2B, your students will also want to ask:

If we wanted to put a solution to this problem into place, who else would we need buy-in from?

In a B2B situation, there are often multiple stakeholders in the adoption of a new solution. This question will prime your students’ interviewee to give them permission, and an intro, or just let them know who else they would need to contact to get buy-in for a solution.

Step 13: Ask for Other Interviewees

So your students can quickly talk to other similar customers, ask the interviewee if they know other people trying to solve this problem. Say something like:

I’m trying to understand this problem from a wide range of perspectives. Do you know one or two other people within your organization who are struggling with [the problem they are actively trying to solve in their words]?

what to ask: Wrap it up

This will help your students knock out their interviews even faster, and from a group of highly related customers!

Step 14: Say Thank You!

Finally, no matter who your students are interviewing, they should thank them for their generosity and their time. Tell them that the interview has been helpful – because, I guarantee, it will have been. Your students may also share that their will bring their information back to their team to help inform the development of their solution.

People enjoy being helpful. Make sure you let them know they have been!

Congratulations, your students now know exactly what to ask during their customer interviews – and what to listen for!


Get the “How to Interview Customers” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “How to Interview Customers” lesson plan. This exercise walks 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.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

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Missed Our Recent Articles?

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High Functioning Innovation Teams in 10 Steps

High Functioning Innovation Teams in 10 Steps

Student teams formed randomly erode the student (and professor!) experience through internal conflict and apathy.

This lesson plan will help your students form high-performing innovation teams by creating more alignment around interests, and more diversity of skills.

Successful entrepreneurship teams have aligned goals and diverse skills. Students looking to gain entrepreneurial skills need to practice teamwork and collaboration around common goals. 

To help students mitigate some of the biggest drawbacks of group work, during this exercise they form the entrepreneurial teams based on the other people in the class whose goals and motivations most align with theirs. 

Help students execute better, and conflict less, by empowering them to successfully assemble their own teams.

For this post we will be using the Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills worksheet from the Lesson Plan below.

Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills WorksheetThis exercise will enable students to:

  1. Identify their goals for the course.
  2. Self-form teams based on shared goals.

In an entrepreneurship course, students spend time asking people for interviews, conducting interviews, analyzing the interviews, building MVPs, and pitching their solution. They will need to work with teammates to tackle this tremendous workload.

By the time they’re done with this exercise, they will be in teams that give them a greater likelihood of enjoying the course while developing ideas that are meaningful to them.

Aligned Goals

You want to optimize the positive aspects of teamwork for your students, while mitigating the negative aspects. To accomplish this, don’t assign students to teams. Instead, teach them the keys to creating a successful team and let them practice those skills to interview and choose teammates.

The first key is aligned goals. Successful innovation teams, or founder teams, need to be aligned in terms of revenue and impact goals, as well as a number of other criteria (culture, company size, etc.) Ask students to brainstorm some goals that might be helpful for members of their course team to be aligned on. They might mention:

  • Grades
  • Business outcomes (start a company, pass the class, etc)
  • Customers to serve

Let students know this exercise will enable them to identify classmates that align with them along these three goals.

Diverse Skills

The second key to creating a successful team is the diversity of team member skill sets. Imagine a sports team where all the players are excellent at one component, for instance, soccer players all being excellent goalies. This team will fail in their ultimate goal of winning because they are all good at one small portion of the larger plan.

Entrepreneurship team members also need diverse experiences. These teams are smarter at analyzing facts, which applies directly to the students’ need to analyze interview and experiment data.

The Exercise

Step 1Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills Step 1: Minimum successful grade

Students should first write down the lowest grade they could get in the class and still consider their performance in the class a success. Stress to students this is not about their ideal grade.

Step 2

Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills Step 2: minimum successful business outcomeYour students will choose the option that they most want to achieve during this course. If appropriate, they can check multiple boxes.

Steps 3 and 4

Aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet: Step 3, customer uniquely suited to servePrior to this exercise, students should have worked to identify customer segments who they either are a part of or have been a part of in the past. From this list, students choose the top two they want to pursue.

aligned goals and diverse skills step 4: student's majorStudent next fill in their academic major.

Step 5

aligned goals and diverse skills step 5: student kills and experienceStudents will brainstorm the skills and experience they possess that could be helpful in serving customers and/or validating a business model. Here are some ideas to help your students think of their skills:

  • They are a member of the customer segment
  • Any relevant job experience
  • Know someone who is influential within their customer segments
  • Have a large reach within this customer segment (e.g. large social media following, know a bunch of them, etc.)
  • They an artist, designer, software developer, good with tech, good with numbers, good writer, good at creating videos, etc.
  • Experience leading teams before
  • Previous entrepreneurial experience
  • Bi-lingual (i.e. can speak the customers’ native language)

Leave the room so your students feel comfortable sharing their minimum successful grades. Instruct students to form groups based on their minimum successful grades, and within groups, to share their minimum successful business outcomes, the customers they are uniquely suited to serve, their major, and the skills and experiences they have. Read this example:

“Hi, my name is Jennifer. My minimum successful business outcome is to try starting one. I can uniquely serve roboticists and florists. My major is Computer Engineering and I have skills and experience building websites, and launching an app in the Apple App store.”

Step 6

aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet step 6: potential teammate notesStudents now turn to finding teammates by finding students with similar goals, and different skills.

As students interview each other, they take notes of who seems like a good fit with them, and why.

Steps 7 – 8

aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet step 7: team name and team minimum successful grade

Students will next imagine a team name (encourage them to be creative and develop a name that reflects what value they are trying to create, and for whom). They should agree on the minimum successful grade for the general team.

Step 9

Aligned goals and diverse skills step 9: minimum successful business outcomeEach student will bring their own dreams to the group. Give students ~5 minutes to identify shared business outcomes and jot those dow.

Step 10

The last step is for all students, in their individual teams, to narrow down the customers they are uniquely suited to serve, either because they were members of that group, are members of that group or have an intentional purpose to work with that group.

Summary

Your students just identified the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems/emotions they’re most excited to help them resolve. In doing so, your students identified several potential paths that could lead them toward creating a profitable business. By focusing on the people and using them as inspiration for business ideas, your students have an infinite source of potentially successful businesses to choose from now, or in the future.


Get the “Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills” lesson plan. This exercise walks 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.

 


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 6,000+ instructors. Get new lesson plans 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:

Improving Student Idea Generation

Improving Student Idea Generation

This lesson plan will help you increase the quality and creativity of the ideas your students work on.

As we’ve talked about before, we know that most successful entrepreneurs don’t focus on products, they focus on problems. So idea generation should really start with identifying the problems we can solve.

Successful business ideas solve problems by addressing the emotional needs of their customers.

Whether by solving problems, or offering pleasurable experiences, all successful business ideas resolve an emotional desire of customers.

Knowing that, one way to come up with business ideas would be to brainstorm lots of different options, and then hope that one of them will resolve an emotional need of your customers. Of course that means your students spend a lot of time coming up with ideas – most of which will have no substantial emotional impact on their customers. Instead, they will go the other way around.

Your students start by understanding the emotional needs of potential customers, and then use their needs to come up with ideas on ways to resolve them.

For this post we will be using the Your Ideal Customers worksheet from the Lesson Plan below.

Click to download the worksheet.
This exercise will show your students how to develop meaningful ideas that solve problems by helping them…

  1. Identify the customers they are ideally suited to serve.
  2. Hypothesize the emotional needs of those customers.

By the time they’re done with this exercise, they will have a set of potential customers they can serve, and some ideas about problems they can solve for them.

Step 1

Groups of people you belong to filled inYour students will make a list of the groups of people they currently belong to, and all the groups they used to belong to. Each is a group of people whose problems your students understand better than the average person. If they serve members of this group, your students have a competitive advantage because they know them better than other people. The more segments they come up with, the more problems (i.e. ideas) they can come up with.  Tell your students to come up with at least 10.

Step 2

Groups of people you want to serve filled inYour students will list the groups of people they are not part of, but are excited to help.  In this list, the passion your students have for helping these people will be their unique advantage.

Your students don’t have to know these segments intimately, they just have to want to serve them.

Step 3

Groups you are most excited to work for filled inFrom all the groups of people brainstormed in steps 1-2, students pick the three they would be most interested in helping solve a problem they are facing. Next, it’s time to brainstorm what problems, or emotional needs, your students might be able to help them resolve.

Step 4

Biggest challenges for a group filled inStudents will brainstorm the biggest challenges members of the first group face. Once your students have a couple problems written down, imagine “A Day in the Life” of one of these people. What’s it like when they wake up? What do they do after that? Think about how the rest of their day is affected by being a member of this group. Once your students have a rough sense of their average day, ask them to try to identify the hardest part of their day. This process may help your students identify even more challenges they can help them solve.

Steps 5-6

Students will repeat that process for step the second and third potential customers “segments.” In this scenario, we’re using the word “segments” to describe a group of people with a common set of problems that might ultimately become your students’ customers.

Step 7

Customer emotions filled inGo to the second page of the worksheet, and list they three potential segments again. For each segment, use the questions to identify emotional situations that either cause members of the group pain or pleasure. These situations are additional scenarios that your students might be able to build a business around resolving for the particular customers – which they can test in future exercises.

Steps 8-9

Most interesting customer emotions selectedLooking at all of the challenges on the first page of the exercise, and the emotional situations on the second page of the exercise, students should identify:

  • The situations they hypothesize are the most emotionally intense for their potential customers. Circle the two most intense situations.
  • The problems or emotions they are most excited to resolve for their customers. Put stars next to two of those.

Step 10

Looking at the problems or emotional situations circled and starred, students should choose three combinations of customers and problems/emotional situations they would like to explore going forward. These will serve as their first “Customer” and “Value Proposition” hypotheses, and they will use them as the basis for their first set of business model experiments! If their assumptions are right, they may have just identified their ideal customers, and how they’re going to serve them!

Summary

Your students just identified the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems/emotions they’re most excited to help them resolve. In doing so, your students identified several potentials paths that could lead them toward creating a profitable business. By focusing on the people and them as inspiration for business ideas, your students have an infinite source of potentially successful businesses to choose from now, or in the future.


Get the “Your Ideal Customers” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Your Ideal Customers” lesson plan. This exercise walks 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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Missed Our Recent Articles?

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Why I’m Running for USASBE President

Why I’m Running for USASBE President

I am a starter, with big ideas. The kind that make you sit back in your chair (or jump out of your chair, depending on your risk tolerance).

I am not a finisher – details and I have an on-again-off-again relationship. I need a community to create impact, and I know I would have one in the USASBE family, because we are so woven together in our pursuit of becoming the boldest teachers, scholars, and practitioners we can be. (btw, please join hundreds of entrepreneurship educators in New Orleans this January for our annual USASBE Conference!)

I have seen the operations of this organization for many years, both as a member and how we engage with our members, and as a Board member and how we run the organization. Nothing is perfect, and while we do a fantastic job of delivering an great conference experience, we leave the other 51 weeks of the year largely ignored.

We can do more! We can do better!

I have some ideas how:

  • Most of us currently do or aspire to host any variety of competitions on our campus. Pitch competitions. Business model competitions. Design competitions/hackathons. Business plan competitions. I would like to see USASBE become the leading authority on how to develop and deliver an innovative competition experience for students. I think many of our competitions are fairly ineffective in accomplishing sustainable and responsible impact for the students. What if we were the go-to resource for anyone looking to implement a robust competition on campus?
  • On each of our campuses, we currently do or aspire to host any variety of guest speakers. Maybe you’re looking for a classroom guest. Or an event keynote. Maybe you’re looking for a student club keynote. No matter what your need, if you are looking for any sort of entrepreneur guest on your campus, we should be the go-to resource for any guest speaker needs. What if we built a USASBE Campus Entrepreneur Speaker’s Bureau? (and monetized it, just like we teach our students to do)
  • In our membership, we have a hugely diverse mix of folks new to the academy, some who have been around the block more times than they can count, and anything in-between. Our members represent all kinds of colleges and universities, from all kinds of departments and centers. This diversity screams for developing a transformative Member Mentor Network. The newbies need help navigating this career path. The old folks need help keeping up with current trends and technology. Everyone should be a lifelong learner. We all like to learn, and we all like to give back. What if we built a Member Mentor Network that deeply engaged every member in meaningful learning and professional development?
  • USASBE membership is a nationwide blanket; we have members in every state across the US, and many foreign countries. In all our individual communities, we see many social problems that could use an entrepreneurial solution. What if we leveraged our national network to begin attacking some national social problems that affect all our communities (recidivism, hunger, etc.)?

These aren’t even the scary ideas (I’ll save those for later!), these are just the kinds of things I think about on a daily basis.

I do bring some shortcomings to the table. I am not the best with keeping track of details. I struggle mightily with work-family balance, and am learning how important it is to put family first. I have lower-than-average emotional intelligence so sometimes I step in it – but always act with the best innovative intentions.

I love to collaborate. I love to build scaleable things. Whether it’s an award-winning curriculum, or a transformative experience for high school girls, or anything else, my professional passions are:

  1. To fix our broken education system by giving students a voice and control.
  2. To motivate younger generations to be comfortable owning their dreams and creating their own careers.

You can see I’m firmly student-focused. I don’t make apologies for that, as I believe that is how I can create the most impact for others. Similarly, I believe in USASBE I can make the most impact by disrupting normal routines and tired procedures to help our members create more value for students on their campuses.

I look forward to serving the USASBE community long into the future, in whatever role the community decides is best. Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit of me, and the opportunity to lead us into the next exciting chapter!


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Teachers Need Tools

Teachers Need Tools

“I was never excited about how I was teaching, until I found ExEC. The tools bring the learning to life, and my students have never been more engaged!” – Doan Winkel, John Carroll University

Building a Curriculum

Like any profession, teachers need the proper tools. An entrepreneurship classroom should be buzzing, alive with active learning. Students should be:

  • experimenting
  • building
  • interviewing
  • failing
  • reflecting

Textbooks and their associated “tools” don’t deliver on that potential; slides and test banks, and case studies fall short of creating experiential learning opportunities our students deserve.  Our award-winning Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) gives you the tools. Literally!

Toolbox for Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum

The Tools You Need, When You Need Them

With ExEC, you get an LMS template, a full suite of detailed lesson plans and slides for each class period, an extensive assessment guide, and resource guides.

  • Our LMS templates allow you to hit the ground running so you don’t waste time organizing the course structure or assignments.
  • Our lesson plans walk you through each class period minute-by-minute to deliver every aspect of our curriculum, along with hints, tips and tricks based on years of interviews with our professors and students.
  • The assessment guide gives you a method to assess student process, not progress. This encourages skill development, meaningful learning about the market, customer, and problems, and an experimental mindset they can leverage no matter their career path.
  • With our curated resource guides, you get in-depth coverage of dozens of topics such as financials, legal issues, and team formation.

These tools are quite valuable for students, who have lifetime access to ExEC, as they navigate their entrepreneurial path post-college and find the need for this information.

Starting this fall, when you sign up for ExEC, you also get your very own experiential toolbox filled with the tools you need to deliver the experience we promise. For FREE!

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Toolbox

We provide you with:

  1. Spaghetti, marshmallows, tape and a tape measure to teach students why business plans fail.
  2. Mechanical pencils to teach students how to identify early adopters.
  3. Customer interviewing cards to teach students how to effectively interview customers.
  4. Post-it notes (because any good entrepreneurship educator needs lots of post-it notes!)

Tools Need a Process

When you sign up to teach with ExEC, you get access to a structured curriculum that engages your students  from day one in real-life learning experience. We are a team of entrepreneurs and educators who have been building this curriculum for years using the very same lean principles we train educators to teach their students.

More importantly, you get the tools necessary to engage students in practicing skills, actively. They learn:

Students should learn by doing during class time. You should not be explaining entrepreneurship topics to them, you should be inviting them to practice the skills real entrepreneurs use to deliver real value to real customer. With ExEC, the learning comes to life every class period. We enable you to guide them through practicing hard skills that entrepreneurs need to succeed.

Fall is almost here. ExEC has the tools you need to deliver an experience your students will never forget!

We built this experience for you, for your students. ExEC enables professors to easily shift away from the traditional stand-and-deliver model to a model where the real teacher is the students’ experience.

Build an Engaged Class this Fall

If you want the tools to get your students buzzing with the excitement of active learning, our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum is your one-stop shop.

Dozens of professors are using the ExEC toolkit to bring entrepreneurship to life for their students. Request your preview today to get a jump on planning your Fall courses.

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:

  • Recommended Tools for Teaching Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship professors need tools to teach skills. These are the best tools students can use to practice entrepreneurship.
  • “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!
  • Why Textbooks Don’t Work. Textbooks are not an effective way to teach entrepreneurship. Experiences are. Students don’t want to read. They want to do. Engage students with the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Want More Tools To Engage Your Students?

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How to Teach MVPs

How to Teach MVPs

MVP is arguably the worst buzzword in entrepreneurship today.

  • It is not a “product”.
  • Nobody can explain what “viable” means.
  • Nobody can explain what “minimum” means.

We hear it every semester – students jumping right to an idea of a completely functional app, or video game, or restaurant / bar. To one day achieve that dream, students need to first understand what is the first Minimum Viable Product (MVP) they should build.

In this exercise, students will design their first MVP by identifying their riskiest business model assumption. They’ll then design the simplest experiment they can to test that riskiest assumption.

Specifically, students will learn:

  • What is an MVP?
  • What is the Riskiest (Business Model) Assumption?
  • How to identify their Riskiest Assumption
  • How to design a test using their first MVP

Before they sink the resources necessary to build that app, or that video game, or open that restaurant / bar, they will understand how to iterate through quick tests to make sure they build a product customers actually want.

MVP Designer Worksheet

What are MVPs?

Provide students this definition of an MVP:

A version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers, with the least effort. – Frank Robinson

The goal here is to emphasize the 4 major components of the definition:

  • Collect the maximum amount
  • Of validated learning
  • About customers
  • With the least effort

Walk students through the components one-by-one:

  • #2 (validated learning) means to run an experiment to validate a hypothesis
  • #3 (about customers) means that when they run experiments, students need to focus those experiments on their customer/business model (not solely on product)
  • For #4 (with the least effort), ask students “Why would it be important for entrepreneurs to run experiments with the least effort possible?”

Answer: to save resources (e.g. time/money), in the event their hypotheses are wrong. That way they can maximize the number of business model iterations they can make.

After this discussion, re-phrase the definition of MVP as:

The easiest way to test your most important business model hypothesis.

Once your students understand the concept of an MVP, the next step is to identify the most important business model hypothesis!

Riskiest Assumption

Ask your students to fill in the blank:

A chain is only as strong as its ___________ link.

In that way, the “weakest” link of a chain is the most important in the chain; it will determine whether or not the chain fails.

Ask students to consider each of the components of the Business Model Canvas as links in a chain. How would they decide which component, or link, is the most important to test?

The component they should test is the one that is most likely to lead to their business model’s failure.

Tell students that there’s a special name for the component of their business model that is most likely to lead to its failure. We call this the “Riskiest Assumption.”

The riskiest assumption is always the most important to test with an MVP.

Students often ask about testing multiple hypotheses (assumptions) at once. Make a strong point that if they tested multiple hypotheses at once, they would find it very difficult to discern which hypothesis they invalidated if a particular experiment fails. In other words, by focusing one one hypothesis at a time, they can be certain whether

For example, if a company were to test their pricing, channel and value proposition assumptions at the same time and the experiment failed to generate the number of sales they expected, it wouldn’t be clear which of the three assumptions was to blame (e.g. wrong channel, wrong value proposition, or wrong price). In this scenario, they would be no closer to building product customers want!

Given the necessity of focusing on the riskiest assumption, if we go back to the definition of an MVP once again, we get the following:

The Minimum Viable Product is the easiest way to test your riskiest business model assumption.

The next step, is for your students to identify their riskiest assumptions.

Finding the Riskiest Assumption

In order to identify their riskiest assumption, students need to rate all of their Business Model Canvas (BMC) components in terms of risk.

To do that, they’ll need to consider two characteristics for each component:

  1. How critical is that hypothesis to the success of their business model?
  2. How confident is the students that hypothesis is valid?

Students can evaluate the components using the Riskiest Assumption Matrix.

riskiest assumption matrix

Students will map each BMC component into one of the four quadrants of the matrix:

  • Lower-Left: Less Critical + Low Confidence. Assumptions that students have little data on but will not drastically affect the success of their business model.
  • Lower-Right: Less Critical + High Confidence. Assumptions that have plenty of supporting data but will not greatly impact their business model.
  • Top-Right: Highly Critical + High Confidence. Business model assumptions that could significantly impact the business model that have been validated.
  • Top-Left: Highly Critical + Low Confidence. Business model assumptions that could significantly impact the business model that have yet to be validated.

The assumptions in this top-left quadrant are the riskiest to the overall business model and students should test first with their MVPs. The closer to the top-left corner of the chart, the more risky the assumption.

Walk students through scoring, and plotting, the components from their BMC by using Customer Segments as an example. Ask students to rate their “Customer Segments” (CS) assumptions based on two criteria, both on a scale from 0 to 10:

  • How critical is this assumption to the success of their BMC? (0 = not at all critical. 10 = extremely critical)

“Critical” here is defined as, “If these hypotheses were proven false, how likely would that lead to the collapse of the overall business model?”

As they think about their score, tell students that while the customer segments component of their business model will always be critical to their business model’s success, meaning it should get a relatively high score, for some business models the CS component is more critical than others.

For example, if a student has several distinct, but highly related customer segments with similar problems (e.g. they can serve dog owners, cat owners, ferret owners, etc.), they might be able to quickly pivot their CS hypothesis if their current assumption gets invalidated. In that way, they may score their CS component as slightly less critical (e.g. 7 – 8) than a business model with a single unique CS (e.g. CIOs for federal agencies) that is more difficult to pivot without changing the entire business model.

Note: the actual scores don’t matter at all so you can tell students to just give them a “gut feel” number. What matters most is how they score the components relative to one another.

Once students have written in their critical score, ask them to score…

  • How confident are they that their CS assumptions are valid? (0 = not at all confident. 10 = extremely confident).

Their Confidence levels should correspond with how much evidence students have that their hypothesis is valid.

As students conduct customer interviews they should develop a moderate to high level of confidence this is the right customer segment for them to solve a problem for.

Ask students to write in their confidence scores for their CS component.

Once they write down their scores, students should plot the Customer Segments component on their Riskiest Assumption Matrix by putting a dot at the appropriate point on the chart, and labeling it with the letters “CS” above the point.

Students need to map all their BMC hypotheses onto the Riskiest Assumption Matrix. Provide them the following guidance to help students calibrate their risks:

  • Value Proposition: highly critical, medium confidence. Arguably the most important set of assumptions in the BMC (i.e. highly critical).
  • Customer Relationships: less critical, any confidence. Relationship models can often be altered as necessary to meet the demands of customers.
  • Channels: highly critical, low confidence. Students won’t be able to sell a solution to customer problems unless they have a means of reaching their customers.
  • Revenue Streams: highly critical, low confidence. Students won’t be able to build sustainable businesses without revenue streams.
  • Cost Structure: moderately critical, medium confidence. Costs are important because they have a direct impact on the financial sustainability of a business model, but costs can often be optimized and reduced over time, moderating the critical nature of these assumptions. Students should be able to collect at least a little validating data on the costs they will incur solving the problem they want to solve.
  • Key Resources: less critical, medium confidence. Key resources are typically assets the student already has access to, or will need to get access to in order to fulfill their value proposition. These are often less risky assumptions because the same activities can be delivered with different resources, if the originally assumed resources are not available. These assumptions typically have medium confidence because the student already knows if they have some of the resources they require.
  • Key Activities: moderately critical, low to medium confidence. Key activities, while pivotal to fulfilling the value proposition, are often flexible as there are a number of ways to solve any given problem, making these assumptions less critical. These assumptions may be well known, but can also be significantly influenced by the revenue streams (high revenue streams can often lead to more quality-oriented key activities).
  • Key Partners: low to moderately critical, low confidence. Key partners represent the external organizations that help deliver on the value proposition. Sometimes they are required, often alternatives can be utilized to deliver their portion of the value proposition if some key partner assumptions are incorrect.

Once students plot their BMC components on their matrix, ask them to identify their riskiest assumptions by locating the dot that is closest to the top-left corner of the canvas.

Students should identify either their Channel or Revenue Stream hypotheses as their most risky. If they don’t, discuss with them and the rest of the class why they should re-evaluate the risk.

Many students will identify that their Value Proposition assumption is their riskiest. Convey that they, like all humans, are incredible problem solvers and that if there’s enough demand to solve a problem (as demonstrated by revenue), you’re convinced they will find a solution to the problem by learning a new skill, or using all the money they get from customers to hire the right people to solve the problem. This confidence should cause the Value Proposition assumption to be less risky than the Channel or Revenue Stream hypotheses, for which they should have very low confidence.

Tell students it’s almost always harder to get people to pay to solve a problem than it is to solve it. Even with a cure for cancer, they would have to navigate the channels and revenue streams required to monetize pharmaceutical treatments.

MVP Storming

Next, your students will learn how to develop MVPs to test their riskiest hypothesis. To start, they’ll brainstorm potential MVPs for a hypothetical riskiest assumption that you give them. It is helpful to show students a few real example MVPs:

  • Dropbox’s “Demo” video was a combination of working code and video editing magic of features they would eventually implement if they validated their riskiest assumption – that enough people cared about the problem to make it worth solving.
  • Airbnb launched an MVP to test demand for rooms to stay at during conferences. One of their earliest MVPs was testing demand for their site at SXSW.

Channel Testing MVPs

Give your students the following scenario:

Let’s say you’ve spoken with working parents and the biggest problem they are trying to solve is that when their kids get sick, it’s stressful because getting their children care takes too long, and the parent loses their entire work day.

You’ve identified that channels are your riskiest assumptions. In particular you’re not sure if you can get enough people to click on your Facebook ads to meet your financial projections (annual reach of 45,000-people with a 5% click through rate (CTR)).

Then ask your students: What MVPs could you create to test these channel assumptions?

Remind students that an MVP is, “The easiest way to test their riskiest business model assumption.”

Discuss students’ answers, eventually letting them know that the easiest way to test this assumption would be to create a simple Facebook text ad targeted at working parents to measure how many people click on the ad.

Revenue Stream MVPs

Alternatively, propose to your students that:

You’ve identified that your riskiest assumption is your revenue stream. In particular that working parents will pay $199/month for access to 3 in-home pediatrician visits each year.

Ask your students what MVP could be created in this case?

Potential Answers:

Pre-Orders: Create a site that collects pre-orders from prospective working parents. The site should mention the price and ideally require a credit card to play the pre-order, but the credit card shouldn’t be charged until the founders are confident they can deliver on their value proposition.

Letters of Intent (LOIs): Collect Letters of Intent (LOIs) – signed, non-binding, documents indicating that the prospective customers will agree to using this service at a given price point.

While LOIs are typically used in business-to-business (B2B) scenarios, you can use this example as a way to introduce LOIs by explaining that they are non-legally binding documents that state a person/organization “intends” to take an action (e.g. buy your product once you build it). While LOIs don’t provide as much validation (i.e. increased confidence) as much as actual sales, an LOI still requires signatures and approval from stakeholders within an organization, which provides much more validation than a simple verbal agreement.

Tell students that asking their customers to sign LOIs is a great way to test their Revenue Stream assumptions if they are selling to other businesses.

Students’ MVP

With these examples in mind, and having previously identified their riskiest assumption, ask students to brainstorm their first MVP. Once they have an idea, ask a few students to present:

  • Their riskiest assumption, and
  • The MVP they’ll create to test it

Lead a discussion so the class can give them feedback to help them hone their MVP ideas.

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:


Get the “How to Teach MVPs” Lesson Plan

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

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

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Faster Prep This Fall with ExEC

Faster Prep This Fall with ExEC

Prep your experiential class in days, not weeks!

A Structured Experience

Your students can learn the skills an entrepreneur uses to build something someone wants using our award-winning Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) .

Fall is coming. ExEC has the exercises your students want and the structure you need!

If you’re looking for a structured way to make your class real from day one, that engages your students, try ExEC. We built a blend of digital (for resources and assignments) and real-life learning experiences, and practice what we preach by interviewing our faculty and students, so we are continuously improving the experience for you and for your students.

An Engaging Experience

We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback from students and faculty, and we have grown from no schools adopting ExEC to over 50 schools adopting it in less than 2 years.

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

Here is what two of our professors had to say after experiencing ExEC in their classes:

Our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum focuses on a few core topics that are essential to entrepreneurs:

Our founding team are entrepreneurs. We’ve spent years interviewing entrepreneurship faculty and students. This combined knowledge led us to build an evolving, award-winning entrepreneurship curriculum that probes topics in-depth that entrepreneurship textbooks gloss over.

We engage students in practicing skills, actively. Class time should be spent learning by doing, with professors guiding students through an experience where they can see the material come to life in a way that is meaningful for them. We built that experience for you, for your students. ExEC enables professors to easily shift from the ineffective sage-on-the-stage model of education to the guide-on-the-side model, because the real teacher with the ExEC curriculum is the students’ experience.

ExEC is the entire learning experience, giving students meaningful content and the tools to turn that content into action.

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 bring entrepreneurship to life for their students. Request your preview today to get a jump on your fall courses.

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 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!
  • Why Textbooks Don’t Work. Textbooks are not an effective way to teach entrepreneurship. Experiences are. Students don’t want to read. They want to do. Engage students with the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.
  • Recommended Tools for Teaching Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship professors need tools to teach skills. These are the best tools students can use to practice entrepreneurship.

Want More Tools To Engage Your Students?

We email new experiential entrepreneurship tools, techniques, and lesson plans regularly.

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

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Design Thinking 101: Design the Ideal Wallet

Design Thinking 101: Design the Ideal Wallet

Inject Design Thinking In Your Class

Whether starting a business, or working within a business to develop new products or services, understanding the design thinking process is a powerful tool to deliver and capture value in the marketplace.

design thinking process

The Wallet Project, from Stanford University’s d.school, is a fast-paced way to introduce your students to design thinking. This is a group activity (from 2 to 100+ participants) in which students rapidly do a full cycle through the design process. The project is broken down into specific steps (of a few minutes each), and students have worksheet packets that guide them. In addition, one or two facilitators (not participating in the project) prompt each step, and add verbal color and instruction. Students pair up, show and tell each other about their wallets, ideate, and make a new solution that is “useful and meaningful” to their partner.

This exercise is great because every student has an artifact (their wallet or purse) that contains so much meaning in it. You can get some really interesting information about someone just by asking about their wallet. This project also tends to yield final solution ideas that are physical, and more easily prototyped.

What Students Learn

Students get the feel of a design approach, gain some shared vocabulary, and get a taste of each design “mode” (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test). Specifically, students learn:

  • the value of engaging with real people to help them ground their design decisions,
  • that low-resolutions prototypes are useful to learn from (take an iterative approach)
  • to bias toward action (you can make a lot of progress in a little bit of time if you start doing).

Step 1: The Wrong Approach

Tell students:

“Instead of just telling you about design thinking, we want to immediately have you jump right in and experience it for yourself. We are going to do a design project for about the next hour. Ready? Let’s go!”

Give students the “Design the IDEAL Wallet” worksheet and use this timer to count down the 3 minutes.

design the ideal wallet worksheet

Don’t give students any instructions here – just tell them to draw an idea for their ideal wallet. It’s important to remind them that you are not a good artist (whether you are or are not), and that they are not going to be judged at all by their artistic ability.

The intention here is to contrast an abstract problem-centric approach to a human-centered design thinking approach.

Remind students after each minute expires. After the 3 minutes expires, ask students:

“How did that feel?”

They will likely offer some emotions that are not that positive. Highlight those, and tell them “that was a typical problem-solving approach, taking on a given problem, working using your own opinions and experience to guide you, and with a solution in mind to be designed. Let’s try something else – a human-centered design thinking approach.”

Step 2: A Better Approach

Give students the “Your New Mission” worksheet and have them pair up.

your new mission worksheet

Their job is to design something useful for their partner. Tell students the most important part of designing for someone is to gain empathy. Students will do this through having a conversation with their partner.

Tell students that Partner A will have 4 minutes to interview Partner B, then they will switch. Have Partner A walk Partner B through the contents of their wallet. Encourage Partner A to ask questions about when they carry a wallet, why they have particular things in there, and to make notes of things they find interesting or surprising.

Start playing upbeat music (I like Motown) and start the 4 minutes. Partner A asks Partner B to go through Partner B’s wallet. Then they switch and spend 4 minutes in reversed roles.

Step 3: Dig Deeper

After this first set of interviews, encourage students to follow up on things they found interesting or surprising. They should dig for stories, feelings and emotions (around pictures, artifacts, etc.) Encourage students to ask “Why?” often and to let their partner talk.

Students need to understand that the wallet is a distraction, that what is important for them to discover is what is important to their partner. Remind students to make note of any unexpected discoveries and to capture quotes.

Step 4: Reframe the Problem

Give students the “Reframe the Problem” worksheet.

Reframe the problem worksheet

Have each student individually reflect for three minutes on what they learned about their partner. Tell students to synthesize their learning into two groups:

  1. Their partner’s goals and wishes. Students should use verbs to express these. Remind students that these should be needs related to the wallet and life, that they should think about physical and emotional needs. Give them an example of maybe their partner needing to minimize the number of things he carries, or he needs to feel like he is supporting the local community and economy.
  2. Any insights they discovered. Tell them they can leverage insights when creating solutions. Give them an example that they might discover their partner values purchases more when using cash to make it. Another example could be that the partner sees the wallet as a reminder and organizing system, not a carrying device.

Step 5: Take a Stand

This is where students articulate their point-of-view around which they will build solutions. Tell them to select the most compelling need and most interesting insight they gained from their partner. This statement is going to be the foundation for their design work, so encourage them to make it actionable, and exciting. Give them an example like these:

“Janice needs a way to feel she has access to all her stuff and is ready to act. Surprisingly, carrying her purse makes her feel less ready to act, not more.”

or

“Arthur needs a way to socialize with his friends while eating healthy, but he feels he isn’t participating if he isn’t holding a drink.”

Step 6: Sketch to Ideate

Give students the “Ideate” worksheet.

Ideate worksheet

At the top, they write their problem statement. Tell them they are now creating solutions to the challenge they’ve identified. Push them that quantity is better than quality here, that they should go for volume of sketches of ideas. Remind them the goal here is idea generation, not evaluation; challenge them by saying “see if you can come up with at least 7 ideas!”

Keep telling them as each minute passes, and remind them to be visual, to not use words but to use pictures.

It is important to remind them here that they may not be designing a wallet, but that they should create solutions to the problem statement they just created.

Step 7: Share Solutions and Capture Feedback

During this step, partners share their sketches with each other for 4 minutes each. As each partner gives reactions to the sketches, the other partner should take note of any likes and dislikes, and also listen for any new insights. Remind students the goal here is not to validate their ideas, and not to explain or defend their idea. This is an opportunity to learn more about their partner’s feelings and motivations. After four minutes, students switch.

Step 8: Reflect & Generate New Solutions

Give students the “Iterate based on feedback” worksheet.

iterate worksheet

Tell students to take a moment to consider what they learned about their partner and about the solutions they generated. Using all they’ve learned, ask students to sketch a new idea. This idea can be a variation on an idea from before, or could be something entirely new. It is OK if they need to adjust their problem statement to incorporate new insights and needs they discovered in Step 7.

Encourage students to provide as much detail and color around their idea as they can. They should think about how the solution fits into their partner’s life, when and how they might handle or encounter the new solution.

**NOTE: While students are working, grab the prototyping materials.**

design thinking prototyping materials

Step 9: Build!

Give students the “Build and test” worksheet.

build and test worksheet

Tell students the next step is to create a physical prototype of their solution. Explain they should not just make a scale model of their idea.

They should create an experience that their partner can react to.

They need to actually make something their partner can engage and interact with. Students who want to create a service will ask how they can create that. Talk about creating a scenario that allows the partner to experience it – they can use space, act it out, etc.

Push students to be quick, remind them they have only a few minutes.

Step 10: Share Your Solution & Get Feedback

Now one partner will share their prototype and collect feedback, then partners will switch roles. Tell students they are not interested in validating the prototype, but instead are interested in a targeted conversation around the experience, specifically focused on feelings and emotions. Remind students their prototype is not precious, that they cannot cherish it and should let go of it. What is valuable here is the feedback and new insights they will gain from their partner’s interaction with the prototype. Students need to watch how their partner uses and misuses the prototype. They should take note of what their partner liked and didn’t like, what questions and ideas emerged.

Step 11: Group Gather & Debrief

Create a space that all students can gather around – move tables together, clear chairs, etc.

Have everyone put their prototypes in the middle of the gathering space. Ask students

This step is important! A well facilitated reflection has the power to turn this exercise from simply a fun activity to a meaningful experience that could impact the way participants approach innovation in the future. Quickly pull together a few tables that everyone can gather around. Ask students:

  • “Who had a partner who created something that you really like?”
  • “Who sees something they are curious to learn more about?”

When a student is curious about a prototype, ask for the person who created the prototype and engage them in the conversation:

  • “How did talking to your partner inform your design?”
  • “How did testing and getting feedback impact your final design?”
  • “What was the most challenging part of the process for you?”

The key to leading this conversation is to relate the activity to the following takeaways:

  • Human-centered design: Empathy for the person or people you are designing for, and feedback from users, is fundamental to good design.
  • Experimentation and prototyping: Prototyping is an integral part of your innovation process. A bias towards action, toward doing and making over thinking and meeting.
  • Show don’t tell: Communicate your vision in an impactful and meaningful way by creating experiences and interactive visuals.
  • Power of iteration: Learn, try, fail, learn more, try again, fail again, learn more, and so the cycle goes. A person’s fluency with design thinking is a function of cycles, so we challenge participants to go through as many cycles as possible—interview twice, sketch twice, and test with your partner twice. Additionally, iterating solutions many times within a project is key to successful outcomes.

Missed Our Recent Articles?

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Recommended Tools for Teaching Entrepreneurship

Recommended Tools for Teaching Entrepreneurship

“What are the best tools to teach . . .?”

It’s a question we get all the time from entrepreneurship professors. So we thought we would share the tools we recommend to teach your students critical entrepreneurship skills like:

  • Customer Interviewing
  • Prototyping
  • Financial Projection
  • General Productivity

In entrepreneurship education there are always new tools, tips, and tricks to discover and incorporate into your classroom. It’s overwhelming trying to keep up-to-date and know what is useful for your students to practice critical entrepreneurship skills.

As we prototype and refine our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we try hundreds of tools to determine what is useful as a learning opportunity, and what is a value for students on a very limited budget. Below are our choices for your students to learn critical skills they need to navigate the entrepreneurship landscape.

We sorted the list of tools we recommend below into categories so you can quickly learn what tools we recommend for different components of your course. We tested out hundreds of options to find the tools that provide the best value in terms of most engagement and provide a free option, at least for a short trial period.

If you have recommendations for tools your students love, please comment below with the tool and why they love it.

Customer Interviewing Tools

As we have discussed many times, customer interviews are the most critical element to validating a business model. Once your students have identified who to interview (early adopters), and where to find these people, motivating students to conduct real interviews can be challenging. As we heard from a professor who switched to using ExEC, students will often not get out of the building to interview customers each week because they are not comfortable interviewing real people.

Just like learning any skill, students need the proper tools to develop the confidence to interview customers so they can effectively validate their business model assumptions.

Here are our recommendations for customer interviewing tools you can incorporate into your classroom so your students feel confident conducting real interviews.

Otter.ai. Otter is a tool students can use to record (audio only), transcribe, and share interviews. With Otter, students can play, edit, organize, and share audio and notes from interviews from any device. This is a great tool for ensuring students do their interviews and enabling professors to review them and provide feedback very efficiently.

Interview Transcription Tools

Kahoot. As we practice what we preach, our ExEC team experiments with how exactly to teach students how to interview customers. This is a very difficult skill to effectively teach, but we think we finally nailed it!

customer interview tools

Our updated method of teaching customer interviews is using ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards with an online collaborative quiz game to show students:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should and should not be, and
  • What questions they should and should not ask

Get familiar with Kahoot; watch this Kahoot demo video, and review the Kahoot questions here. Students love games, so take advantage of that and teach them interviewing through a gaming experience.

Lino. Like any good entrepreneurship professors, we are big fans of post-it notes. I mean, really big fans – we look for every way to use them to generate ideas and organize information. The problem we kept hearing from our professors with post-it notes is that it’s difficult (and expensive) for students to use them across many weeks of interviewing. So we discovered Lino, and we love it!

Think of Lino as an electronic post-it notes canvas. As students record and transcribe each customer interview, they can use Lino to map out their findings, to analyze their interview data, and to identify patterns in their qualitative data. Because it is all electronic, you can incorporate this into your LMS so you can monitor and assess your students’ progress.

Prototyping Tools

No matter what problem your students are working on solving, they need to know how to develop and iterate a prototype. This is such an important skill that in our most recent iteration of ExEC, we encourage our professors to start the semester off with students prototyping. In today’s digital world, and for most of us who do not have a maker space and staff at our disposal, prototyping is a digital affair. We found a variety of tools for prototyping websites and apps.

Website Prototyping Tools.

As we outline in our 60 Minute MVP exercise, building a functioning website with zero technical expertise is not as hard as it seems. With the following tools, any student can build a landing page (a simple, single-page website) that:

  1. Tells their customers the problem they are solving,
  2. Uses a video to demonstrate how they will solve the problem and
  3. Asks for some form of “currency” from their customers to validate demand.

Landing Page Tools. To create a simple landing page, we recommend using Wix or Weebly. Both offer free options, and both require no technical expertise as they are drag-and-drop, template website builders. There are slight differences between the two, for instance Wix offers handy tools such as photo filters and animated texts.

With either option, your students will be engaging customers in no time.

Explainer Video Tools. To engage customers on their landing page, your students should include a quick video that hints how their solution will solve the problem. We found a few tools that make creating explainer videos a breeze. These tools allow students to create engaging animated videos that are professional-looking, with a large selection of media, templates, and animation effects from which to choose.

  • Powtoon. The slide-based format of Powtoon allows students control over how to present information. Here is a much more in-depth review of Powtoon.

teaching video explainer tools

  • Animaker. This tool has one of the largest animation libraries of any comparable platform out there. Here is a much more in-depth review of Animaker.
  • Moovly. This tool contains one of the largest stock media libraries online. Here is a much more in-depth review of Moovly.

App Prototyping Tools.

Our students love ideas for apps, because they are products students constantly use throughout the day. As with websites, tools to build apps seem to be endless. We identified a few tools that students can use to develop interactive app prototypes to test our customer demand and usability. We recommend two categories – low fidelity (wireframing) and high fidelity (polished).

Low Fidelity

High Fidelity

  • inVision  (interactive prototyping tool)
  • Adobe XD (wireframe & design tool)
  • Proto.io (interactive prototyping tool)
  • Sketch (digital design platform)

teaching prototyping tools

We also recommend a few User Interface (UI) Design and User Experience (UX) Design tools.

With all these tools, students can create mockups of what they want their app idea to look and feel like, so potential customers can view and interact with it on mobile devices. Generally speaking, students may find it more difficult to work with Origami and Sketch unless they have more technical expertise.

One other useful tool is Overflow.io, which is slightly different in that it is a design tool focused on enabling user flow diagrams. User flow is the path taken by a prototypical user. Your students can map out screen-by-screen a customer journey from the entry point through a set of steps towards a successful outcome and final action, such as purchasing a product.

Financial Projection Tools

One of the most difficult aspects of entrepreneurship to teach effectively and engagingly is financials. Because students often struggle with the application of financial concepts, professors need a tool that makes financial modeling approachable and creates confidence in students. We could not find such a tool, so we built the Financial Projection Simulator to solve our problem.

teaching finance tools in entrepreneurship

This tool allows students to quickly iterate and identify a potentially viable revenue model in a rigorous way that doesn’t overwhelm them. We incorporated default values in drop down menus and instructions for researching more detailed estimates to create a more approachable way for students to experiment with assumptions in their financial models.

General Productivity Tools

We are champions of experiential education, especially in entrepreneurship. In an experiential course where students must practice idea generation, customer interviewing, prototyping, financial and business modeling, pitching, and selling, students can easily be overwhelmed and lose focus.

As we practice what we preach in building ExEC, we discovered a variety of tools that can keep students organized and engaged.

Customer interviews are the lifeblood of an entrepreneurial endeavor.

It is critical students keep every nuance and nugget of information from their interviews. Reviewing notes is an important way for them to improve their interviewing skills. And past interviews are a treasure trove of validation and potential marketing copy, so being able to capture and transcribe them is essential.

Capturing Interviews. To enhance their learning, students can record video of interviews – or meetings with cofounders, partners, investors, and other stakeholders – using Zoom. Zoom integrates with Otter, so students can very easily create transcripts of any video recordings.

When students watch videos of their interviews, they learn how to decode nonverbal reactions from customers, and also become more self-aware regarding their own nonverbal reactions. This is important because their reactions may sometimes influence the customer’s reactions, so increasing their self-awareness is very important.

Taking Notes. Students should also take notes (or have a friend take notes) while interviewing, to record their thoughts and reactions real-time. We find that taking notes on a computer creates the chatter of typing, which is a big distraction. So, we recommend going (sort of!) old school and writing notes.

One great tool for taking and sharing notes is Rocketbook, which are reusable smart notebooks. These notebooks connect to all the students’ cloud services (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) so they can easily send and organize their notes (if you get the Wave version, you microwave it to reuse it – how cool is that?!?!?)

Providing Context and/or Feedback. If your students (or you) need to provide feedback, Loom or Vidyard are a great way to record short video screen captures so the recipient can follow along, and can replay/revisit to fully digest the feedback. These tools is also great for students to provide context when asking for feedback.

In many situations, it is beneficial for students to be able to quickly set the stage for someone to provide feedback. For instance, when sharing documents, worksheets, notes, or assignments with professors, teammates, or customers, if a student can give some background and also make a clear and specific ask, it makes the feedback process much more efficient. A student can record a screen capture of a document, explain where they’d like feedback, why, and explain the context of the information. This context helps the reviewer provide very targeted and richer feedback.

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 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!
  • Textbooks Don’t Work. Textbooks are not an effective way to teach entrepreneurship. Experiences are. Students don’t want to read. They want to do. Engage students with the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.
  • Teaching Finance in Entrepreneurship. Finance is a difficult subject to teach in entrepreneurship. Our financial projection simulator is the best way to teach financial projections without overwhelming students.

Want More Tools To Engage Your Students?

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