Students’ eyes glaze over when they read the syllabus.
How we can engage students and start teaching them entrepreneurship skills from the moment they walk into our classes?
Jay Markiewicz from Virginia Commonwealth University developed a novel way to start your semester that almost guarantees students will WANT to come back!
Step 1: Problem Definition and Customer Discovery
It’s the first day of class. We want to be anti-boring.
We want to put students in the middle of an engaging experience right away.
And even better, we want the engagement to be instructive.
By asking the question below, the moment is instantly relevant because students are experiencing it in real time. Students begin by using Post-it notes to answer this question
What are the challenges and concerns students face on day one of a new course?
Surprised and intrigued by the question, your students write down their answers on Post-It notes you’ve left on their desks before class started.
Then you tell your students to text their friends and ask them the same question.
Surprised again (this time by being instructed to text during class) your classroom will fill with discussion and energy as students get replies.
Just like that, within the first 5 minutes of your course, your students are practicing the real-world entrepreneurial skill of problem discovery…and loving it.
In small teams of 3-4, students take a moment to meet each other and then collaborate by discussing with each other the challenges/concerns they wrote on their post-it notes.
In this step, students start identifying problems, and progress into customer discovery, all in the first moments of class!
Step 2: Data Analysis
In this step, teams use their Post-it notes to group similar answers, ranking their top concerns/challenges.
Each team writes their top 2-3 answers on the board to start a list of all of the concerns/challenges students identified.
You can now engage the class in a discussion on the priority “problems” that students have on day one.
Here are some example answers you may see as the top priority”
“Getting to know each other. Avoiding day one awkwardness.”
“Getting interested in the course. Knowing what I’ll be learning throughout the course.”
In this step, students start analyzing customer discovery data – and you’re not even halfway through your first class!
Step 3: Solution Generation
Now we engage students even deeper, and have a little fun along the way!
They practiced problem definition, customer discovery, and data analysis. The next skill is generating solutions to the problem they just identified.
Ask students to write answers on the Post-it notes to the following question:
If you were me, what solutions would you design for these problems?
Students don’t need to text friends this time. Instead, have them form NEW teams of 3-4 students and go through the same steps as above – meet each other, identify the most common solutions, then debrief with answers grouped on the board or wall.
Step 4: Reflection
The last step of this amazing kickoff experience, included in the lesson plan below, are to have students reflect on the question, “How was this activity instructive to us about entrepreneurship?”
This is where students identify, in their own words, the entrepreneurial process – complete with their own ah-hah moments. It’s a really fun way for students to discover the key principles of entrepreneurship….all on the first day of the class!
Click below to….
Get the Full “What’s Your Day 1 Problem?” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “What is Your Day 1 Problem?” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!
Want More Exercises Like This?
ExEC is a structured collection of experiential exercises that teach students entrepreneurial skills regardless of their relationship to entrepreneurship.
As an less expensive alternative to a textbook, ExEC provides students lifetime access to a wide range of entrepreneurial tools, and provides instructors:
Has a guest speaker ever said something to your class you had already taught, but your students seemed to believe it more from them?
It’s not because students don’t listen. It’s because when an outsider reinforces something we say, it feels more important.
This is one of the reasons guest speakers are great, but they can be hard to schedule for every lesson. So for any lesson you really want to drive home, you can try using a video as a validating external voice.
Here are some videos of Steve Jobs that you can use in conjunction with lessons on growth mindset, marketing, and pricing:
“If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”
This is a fantastic video to reinforce the Failure Resume lesson. This exercise is a favorite among students and helps them develop growth mindset skills, especially when they’re endorsed by someone like Steve Jobs.
This video, where Steve talks about why the best ads barely talk about the product at all, is a great compliment to the Lottery Ticket Dilemma. This lesson helps students understand the persuasive power of emotions and was the winner of USASBE’s 3E competition.
This video is an amazing example of Steve’s reality distortion field. Your students can see him convince a crowd that the iPad (a larger but less capable iPhone) was a steal at 250% the price of an iPhone because…it’s more like a laptop than a phone?!
You can use this video in conjunction with the Financial Modeling Showdown to demonstrate that the optimal price of a product isn’t determined by its cost of goods sold, it’s determined by what customers are willing to pay for it.
Tell students they are hired as a product designer. Their first job out of school is to design an ideal backpack. To help them do this, introduce the series of worksheets laid out in the Backpack Design Challenge lesson plan.
Step 1: The Most Exciting Purchase or Gift
The first worksheet asks students what is the most exciting thing they bought themselves, or were given as a gift recently.
It is really helpful with this exercise for you to share your perspective. At this step, share with them a concrete example of something that really excited you.
Make sure the thing they think of is something specific, and something they were really looking forward to. For example, a birthday present, or a holiday present, or something they’ve been wanting for months that they finally splurged on.
Step 2: Feelings About the Purchase or Gift
Students record the feelings that came up as they made the purchase or received the gift. Give students time to reflect on the emotions they felt.
The point of these two steps is to build the foundation for the design thinking exercise to come.
Our goal is for them to learn a set of skills that helps them design products and services that get their customers as excited about the thing the student is creating as the student was about the purchase or gift.
Now we will teach students to design a backpack that people get super excited about.
Ask students to describe their three “must have” features of their backpack.
Start by describing your three “must haves” and give them a few minutes to write down their three “must haves” that are unique to them.
Step 4: Draw the ideal backpack
The next step is for students to draw their ideal backpack. The point here is not beautiful artwork. The point is to visualize what the backpack with their must-have features looks lke.
Step 6: Ideal backpack reflection
Pair your students up for this step. Each student shares their drawings with their partner.
Each partner will ask lots of questions to dive deep into why their partner wanted certain features and anything else they are curious about.
Next, give students a few minutes to reflect on their partner’s backpack design. They describe what they saw and heard, how they felt about what they saw and heard, etc.
Components of the traditional design process
What should be built (start with product in mind)
How should it work / what should it look like? (functionality)
Do people love it?
Goal: build the best thing
Alternative approach: design thinking introduction
Explain to your students that what they just experienced is the traditional design process. Continue by sharing that this traditional way is not the best way to get customers excited about their product or service.
Ask them whether their partner offered to pre-order when saw other design. Was their partner so excited that they offered to give them real money? The answer will be no.
Explain that in the traditional design process, someone
decides a product they should build
figures out the functionality of their product – what are the nuts and bolts
as a last step, they launch their product and work to figure out whether people love it
For your students to design something that gets people truly excited, they need to understand the design thinking process.
The design thinking process has five steps to create products people get really excited about:
Talk to your students about the difference between the traditional design process and the design thinking process. In the traditional design approach, they start with thinking about the product they’re going to build.
In the design thinking process, they start with no product in mind. Instead, they start by understanding the customer’s emotional needs. In other words, what motives them on emotional level? This is the empathizing stage
If the goal is to build something people love, empathizing should be the first step in the process not the third step.
Step 7: Design something useful
Now that they are inspired to design something people want, pair students up again. Students interview the partner they previously worked with for 4 minutes each.
It is important here to tell them to forget about the backpack. They are taking a design thinking approach, so they don’t know what the “right” thing to build is. They learn what their partner really loves and why, so they can design something these customers truly want.
The goal of this interview is to find out what’s the hardest part about being a student, how they felt, when they felt that way, and why it’s a problem.
Step 8: Dig deeper
Students then conduct another 4-minute interview with their partner. The difference is, this time they
What feelings arise for their partner when they have the problem they described before
Have they done anything to try and solve that problem
Students next will define the problem their partner mentioned. They will
Synthesize data obtained from partner interview
Answer 3 questions
What goals is their partner trying to achieve?
What did they learn about their partner’s motivation
What is the partner point of view: [partner name] needs a way to [verb] because [problem to solve]
This step outlines for the student a structure for the process of designing a solution that excites their partner.
Step 12: Ideate solutions
We now understand the problem. The goal here is to draw 5 different designs for alternative solutions using the new information they gathered. These designs can be anything. They don’t have to be based in reality – encourage your students to use their imagination.
Step 13: Solicit feedback
In same pairs as before, students share their new solutions with each other and provide feedback. They share with each other what do they like, what don’t they like, and why.
Students will then iterate with their partners to come up with a more ideal solution for the problem based on their partner’s feedback.
This work will likely have nothing to do with backpacks – it will relate to the biggest problems the students experience. It could be about time management, or the dining hall, or parking, or boring classes.
That’s OK – we are working to get them trying to solve real problems for their partner!
Step 14: Reflect on new design
Students now have a new design based on feedback from their partner. Now we want them to reflect on that new design.
In pairs, they will answer two questions about the design their partner developed to solve their problem:
What emotions come up with thinking about partner’s new design, and why?
More excited about partner’s original design or new design, and why?
Step 15: Compare approaches
Now you will recap everything with your students as a class. Tell them they went through two approaches to design:
Traditional design approach – their first design
Design thinking approach – their second design
They now fill out a comparison worksheet for these two approaches. First each student writes down the two different designs their partner create for them. The questions they will answer about these two designs are:
Which design are they most excited about?
Which design is more feasible?
Which design solves their partners’ problem better?
Which design would they choose?
Ask the class as a whole which design method feels more valuable. Specifically, ask them to put up the numbers of fingers representing the number of Xs they have in the Design Thinking row.
You should see an overwhelming number of students put up at least 3 fingers for the design thinking approach.
Highlight for students that this is why we do design thinking:
It is so much more powerful for creating ideas that are exciting to customers and that they want to pay for because the product actually solves their real problems.
Then, summarize for your students that they just completed the full design thinking process:
They empathized – they worked to understand their customer’s problems
They defined the problem – they gathered all the information they learned from their customer & now understand the problem that customer experiences
They then ideated on solutions for that problem – they developed multiple potential solutions for the problem their customer was experiencing
They prototyped products to solve the problem – here they would develop something that a user could actually interact with
Last, they tested their prototype – they solicited feedback from their customer to learn what appealed to them and what did not
The design thinking process is iterative. Students went through it once during this exercise. After testing, they can start again by empathizing with their customer based on their new product.
This approach is powerful because it will help your students work on solving problems that real customers actually experience.
After this exercise is a great place to segway into your syllabus and the topics you will cover and experiences students will have. You can connect this experience to the rest of your course by highlighting they will now be able to:
Understand a wide range of customer needs
Defining the problem
Iterating on a solution to that problem
Designing prototypes of that solution
Testing how customers feel about that solution
Get the “Backpack Design Challenge” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Backpack Design Challenge” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!
We will be sharing more engaging exercises like this one!
Subscribe here to get lesson plans delivered in your inbox.
If students can get their audience to feel something, their chance of “success” rises dramatically.
We’ve all been there. Two students stand on one side of the screen, two students stand on the other. One student talks to the screen while the others fidget nervously until it’s their turn to stumble through what they couldn’t quite memorize.
Student presentations are painful. For them. For us. For judges.
Use the videos below to teach your students to deliver presentations that make their audience feel something.
Option 1: Make The Audience Feel Something About Themselves
Students often jump right into describing or selling the product/service.
This is the classic pitch mistake.
Students need to know their audience – their goals, their values, their struggles. The more they know about their audience, the easier it will be for them to bring the audience’s point of view to theirs. In the video below, Dallas Mavericks owner, and Shark Tank billionaire Mark Cuban shares how he sold Mavericks tickets when they were the worst team in the NBA.
Mark is not selling the basketball game. He is selling the feeling parents have when they create family memories at the basketball game.
Mark understand that his customers (parents) want to create memories with their children. And more importantly, the kind of memories the parents have with their parents. He convinces customers that a Mavericks game experience creates those lasting memories. Mark makes an emotional appeal to his audience’s nostalgia so they will feel something about themselves and buy his product.
Option 2: Make The Audience Feel Something About You
If your students want people involved, they can open up about themselves and weave their personal story into their presentation. If they are vulnerable, their audience begins to feel something.
This approach is about students finding something that is true about them that may also be true about their audience.
In the Shark Tank pitch below, a founder (Phil Lapuz) gets sharks tearing up tearing up – including Kevin O’Leary, who is the definition of a robotic investor!
Phil is vulnerable and authentic. He uses his own story to remind the sharks about the risks of starting a new company, something that each shark undoubtedly remembers and feels very intensely.
Help your students appeal to their audience’s emotions by:
Being vulnerable, and authentic
Identifying their audience’s values – what matters to them
Specifically link their product/service to those values
The audience is immediately compelled to act because they remember, they feel, and they believe. They empathize with the person pitching and with the product/service. Phil makes the sharks feel something about him so they will invest in his startup.
Option 3: Make The Audience Feel With You
Amy Cuddy’s video below is about imposter’s syndrome, which she felt and which many in the audience undoubtedly felt at one time or another. They feel Amy’s fear and angst. Because they remember, and feel, their fear and angst.
People clap during Amy’s talk, because they are celebrating her and what she is offering another young woman experiencing imposter syndrome. But they are also clapping because they recognize something in themselves.
Amy doesn’t just make her audience feel something about themselves.
She doesn’t just make her audience feel something about her.
She makes her audience feel with her. And in that moment, they will go wherever she wants to take them!
If students default to their normal Powerpoint presentation technique, the audience defaults to processing language. All their effort is spent decoding words into meaning, instead of feeling. Share these videos with your students to help them understand that great presentations make audiences feel something.
In upcoming posts, we will share lesson plans, quick slides, and a variety of other resources to keep your students engaged!
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So how did Dennis and his colleagues – Michael Harris, Director of the Miller School of Entrepreneurship, David Mayo, and Corey Pulido – grow their entrepreneurship program so quickly? And more generally…
How do Top 50 entrepreneurship schools get on, and stay on, that list?
To find out, we interviewed the leaders of several Top 50 programs so we could share their techniques with you.
Who We Interviewed
Below you’ll find a summary of what we learned during our interviews, as well as…
5 concrete steps you can take to grow your entrepreneurship program.
Step #1: Define Your Niche
Most of the successful entrepreneurship programs we interviewed did two things early on to spark their growth:
They intentionally started small and
They specialized in an area of entrepreneurship that leveraged their local community and institutional culture
For instance, Iowa State University leaned into agricultural entrepreneurship, and East Carolina University specialized in the needs of eastern North Carolina. Studying your local ecosystem by identifying the largest industries, companies, and communities will help you define your niche. Additionally, you can look at your local Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, or similar entity, to see how they are marketing your community.
Defining your entrepreneurial niche is important because it will help your program stand out in a sea of other academic programs, not to mention accelerators, incubators and community-based organizations. Narrowing in on a small group of students you can serve extremely well as your program is still growing will increase the success rate of your program, which you can highlight as case studies to create a positive feedback loop that grows your program.
So if your local community has a large Latinx population, consider specializing in Latinx entrepreneurship. Or if your entrepreneurship program has a number of instructors who are veterans, consider developing programs that specialize in veterans entrepreneurship.
Over time, you’ll be able to grow and broaden the scope of your program, but when you’re starting out, do like the most successful programs have done and ensure that you can provide a fantastic opportunity for a small set of entrepreneurs in your community. Then, highlight their successes to help fuel your program’s growth.
Note: This is our first article in a series dedicated to growing entrepreneurship programs. We’d love your input on which article we should write next.
If you want more details on this specific step (i.e. how to define your entrepreneurial program’s niche and create programs specific to it) please vote here and we’ll expand the overview above into a full article and checklist.
Step #2: Name Your Champions
The Top 50 programs we talked to overwhelming stressed the importance of identifying people on your growth team to fulfill these three roles:
Administrative Champion: A Dean, Vice-President, Provost, President, etc. who has been at your school for some time and has excellent relationships with faculty, staff, and the ability to get buy-in for creating new programs.
Faculty Champion: Preferably a tenured faculty member who can drive the implementation of your new academic and extracurricular programming.
Data Collector: Someone to aggregate program metrics, testimonials, and success stories.
Note: the same person can fulfill multiple roles, you just need to make sure you’ve got someone owning all three levels of responsibility.
Champions are people who can help you launch your efforts by providing critical feedback, opening doors, and giving their resources. Many of the programs we interviewed mentioned specifically having two campus champions – one a tenured faculty member, and the other an administrator (Dean, Vice-President / Provost, President). With respected champions who can reach across campus, program growth has a clear path for growth. They also recommend giving the faculty champions a meaningful title and a commitment of time and support to help them help your entrepreneurship program.
Another potential benefit to identifying champions is that they sometimes rise into leadership positions at the university (Dean, Vice-President / Provost, President) and can provide ongoing support and visibility for your program from the top down.
Jamey Darnell from Penn State University mentioned that working towards getting ranked as a top entrepreneurship school is a great way to get administration excited, and achieving rankings is a great way to keep them excited.
In addition to stressing how important campus champions were to building their program, the leaders we interviewed all spoke about the importance of a data collector: someone to capture their efforts and successes and report them as part of the Princeton Review rankings process. As with your champions, consider providing this person (ideally a faculty member) with a title and a small monetary stipend to emphasize the importance of the role and ensure they have time to complete it. In addition, make sure other people on campus know who this person is – put out a press release, introduce the data collector at campus meetings and events, etc. This person will interface with faculty, students, and administrators, so letting your campus know who they are and what they’re doing enables them to collect more stories and data.
If you’d like us to write a more detailed article about how to identify and empower your entrepreneurial champions, please click here.
Step #3: Start a Fellows Program
Every program we talked to emphasized the importance of early cross-campus collaboration. Creating these connections will help you accomplish two things:
Get buy-in from a wide range of tenured faculty which helps establish academic legitimacy.
Grow your program by embedding entrepreneurship across the curriculum which introduces it to more students.
To do this, you want to build a cohort of entrepreneurial ambassadors across campus. As Tom Swartwood at Iowa State University recommended, you want to:
“Deputize people around campus.”
Jamey at Penn State University found that having a cross-disciplinary program leads directly to growth because they get to meet students wherever they are: at a law school, at an incubator, etc. For the same reason, Susan Fiorito at Florida State University recommends developing a diversity of courses and programs to reach as far across campus as possible.
The most effective mechanism we heard for building cross-campus collaboration was through an “entrepreneurship Fellows” program. In a Fellows program, you pay non-entrepreneurship faculty a small stipend to bring entrepreneurship into their curriculum. For example, you might pay 4 or 5 faculty in different disciplines a few thousand dollars to each develop a course that focuses on entrepreneurship in their respective discipline. Judi Eyles at Iowa State attributed much of the entrepreneurship program’s success to spending a little money early on to “turn faculty into ambassadors.”
You guide the Fellows through learning about entrepreneurship in the context of your university (and your niche), and collaboratively develop ideas for how to introduce it into their curriculum. You will also want to include faculty involved with your curriculum approval process in your Fellows program, which will help smooth the course approval process when you get to that stage.
Each year, add more Fellows to your program (both senior faculty and new faculty), in new disciplines, while former Fellows serve as mentors. You can thereby build a rich and diverse community of entrepreneurship champions across campus.
The big payoff from an investment in a Fellows program comes in two forms:
Cultivating entrepreneurship educators across many disciplines creates a rich fabric of entrepreneurial courses, which increases interest in entrepreneurial minors, and majors.
Student entrepreneurs get a diverse range of experiences and perspectives, which increase the quality of their experiences and their outcomes as future entrepreneurs.
If you’d like us to write a detailed guide on how to create a fellows program, please click here.
Step #4: Map Your Ecosystem
Ecosystem maps will help you understand the relationships between the people and assets that contribute to creating amazing student experiences. Building an ecosystem map specifically provides two benefits:
You identify the people who support entrepreneurship (so you can empower them) and those who do not support it yet (so you can interview them to understand their perspective and work to bring them onboard)
During your research, you plant the seeds from which your entrepreneurship program will grow. As you map your ecosystem, you talk to faculty, staff, students, and alumni about your vision and goals for your program. When it is time to make an ask, these stakeholders understand what you’re doing and why.
The leaders we interviewed mentioned the following as critical components to include in your ecosystem map:
The faculty and staff who collectively create your student experience.
The practices they perform – the services or value they deliver to students.
The information they require, use, or share to contribute to their parts of the university.
The people, systems, faculty, and staff they interact with to be successful in their roles.
The channels through which they communicate – e.g., email, campus newsletter, campus forums.
For a demo on how to start outlining the key players in your ecosystem, check out this great video by Meg Weber from Western Washington University:
Want more details on how to build and leverage an ecosystem map? Click here and we’ll expand this into a full guide.
Step #5: Connect Your FACS
After you’ve identified your niche, champions, Fellows, and ecosystem members, you’re ready to take the final step that separates the Top 50 entrepreneurship programs from the rest…
Connect your constituencies to accelerate growth.
Successful entrepreneurship programs are intentional about connecting their “FACS”:
Each of these groups complements the others, and together, creates the fuel for program growth. For example, you want to make sure you’re actively promoting programs connecting:
Faculty to Alumni – Great for finding guest speakers, internships for students, publicizing your programs’ success stories, and soliciting donations.
Faculty to Community – Great for getting pitch competition judges, finding inspiration for class projects, highlighting student success stories, and soliciting donations.
Students to Alumni – Great for mentorships, jobs, and potential investments.
Students to Community – Great for mentorships, jobs, and inspiring class projects.
As Judi Eyles at Iowa State University mentioned, “you need to make it easy for the outside world to connect with your students and faculty by giving them a portal to connect.” Intentionally building relationships with students will help you keep in touch with them as they transition to alums, and enable you to extend relationships with them and their growing network.
Creating relationships with alumni and community members will provide the “reality” your students yearn for as they wonder how to apply what they’re learning in the classroom. Alumni will also create opportunities for students – through job shadowing, internships, seed funding, adjunct instructors, and the list goes on.
Does your entrepreneurship program offer your alumni and community members multiple opportunities to contribute their time, expertise, and/or money to help your program grow?
If not, you may be able to accelerate your program’s growth by connecting your “FACS.”
If you’d like us to write a detailed guide with specific ideas on how to connect your FACS, please click here.
Bonus Step #6: Focus on Skills
The top 50 entrepreneurship programs we interviewed had one more resounding practice in common:
They prioritized entrepreneurial skill development over “success stories.”
The programs we spoke with acknowledged that entrepreneurial success stories are fantastic to share to grow your community, but they can be few and far between. So instead of focusing exclusively on those, the programs emphasized the value for students of learning entrepreneurial skills, regardless of their perceived career path.
Universally applicable skills like design thinking, financial modeling, and business model validation turn today’s students into returning alumni who are looking to hire similarly skilled and innovative graduates.
With the exercise and techniques we discuss in this class, we’ll show you how to engage all students in entrepreneurship, regardless of their desire to become an entrepreneur, so they can develop their entrepreneurial skills.
If you teach an intro or elective entrepreneurship course, this workshop is for you!