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Turn Your Students into Creative Superheroes

Turn Your Students into Creative Superheroes

“[Creativity] may be harder to find in older children and adults because their creative potential has been suppressed by a society that encourages intellectual conformity.” (Baumol, 1999: 93)

Entrepreneurship is about innovation, problem solving, and creativity. We understand the innovation process well, and how to solve problems. Creativity is the elusive piece…

How do we Teach Creativity?

In the video above Dr. Emma Fleck explains her exercise for supercharging student creativity!

This article is a collaboration with Emma Fleck at Susquehanna University who developed this exercise to stimulate creative imagination by taking students back in time to when they were overflowing with creative confidence. Students get to embody their own superhero through imaginative play and the use of costumes, masks, and icons which represent this powerful time in their lives.

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

Step 1: Before Class

Your 5-Year-Old Students

Before this exercise, your students should ask family members what they were like as 5-year-olds.

superhero, creativity, entrepreneurship

They can talk to parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. – anyone who knew them at that age. It’s critical for this exercise they are reminded of their younger, more creative selves.

Encourage your students to bring a memento – a stuffed animal, a picture, etc. – something that represents that time in their lives.

TED Talk

In addition, any good lesson on creativity in schools should begin with Sir Ken Robinson’s classic TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?“, and Tony Schwartz’ article How to Think Creatively.  Assign this video or reading to be completed before your next class.

Step 2: Discuss School, Creativity & Entrepreneurship

Have a discussion with your students about the role of creativity in education, and whether the American education system supports or detracts from creativity.

Some of these ideas are controversial and can stir up a healthy debate. Take advantage of that to engage your students in a lively discussion.

Continue with a discussion of creativity in the entrepreneurial process, and how we can be more creative.

Step 3: Who is Your Superhero?

Here is your chance to be a superhero! Don a mask, a cape, and any other superhero accoutrement – sell your students on the excitement of remembering their superhero dreams!

Take your students back to when they were 5 years old. Ask them:

  1. What inspired them?
  2. Who did they look up to?
  3. What did they dream they would be when they grew up?
  4. What were their favorite activities/toys?
  5. What were the limitations in their lives?

Take your students back to a time when there were no imaginary boundaries, no limitations, and when they had the ability to see the world in a different capacity. Encourage your students to share about their past, their history, through what they learned from family members.

Step 4: Become Your Superhero

Ask your students what happened between when they were 5 years old and today. What happened to those dreams of astronauts and figure skaters? This discussion brings a large dose of reality (and excuses!) into the room.

Fill your classroom with costumes, masks, and craft materials.

Play music from when your students were 5 years old. Play superhero music. Encourage your students to embody their 5 year old superhero. Take lots of pictures, and encourage your students to take lots of pictures – these will come in handy later in the semester as reminders to embody that superhero, when they find themselves in a creativity rut.

Talk about superhero characteristics.

Drive home the notions of endless possibilities & no limitations that encapsulate what their concept of a superhero ignites in them.

Step 5: Reflecting on Creativity

Ask your students to write a reflection based on these questions:

  1. How do you feel during this exercise? What element of this exercise had the most impact on you? Why?
  2. How can we capture that feeling of creativity and lack of imagination as our 5-year old selves and use it for future endeavors within entrepreneurial problem solving?

This works well later in the semester when you need your students to think around problems, to imagine endless possibilities and no limitations.

Remind them of their superhero and enable them to take the leap!


This exercise has been tested over an 18-month period within four entrepreneurship courses:

  • A high-school summer entrepreneurship course (17 students aged 15-18)
  • An undergraduate introduction to entrepreneurship course (24 students aged 18-19)
  • Two upper division undergraduate entrepreneurship courses (48 students in total aged 20-23)

In gleaning feedback from all participants, Emma noted the following:

  1. If left as a single touch point, this exercise has limited impact. The reflective elements outlined above are essential to the success of the exercise where students are challenged to acknowledge the feelings associated with the exercise.
  2. Students acknowledged that their creativity had been stifled due to an immersion in their degree program and that this activity helped them to remember that they were creative problem solvers.

    This being my last year of college, I have realized that a lot of the time you are conditioned to overanalyze, memorize for exams and get good grades but this showed me that sometimes you really do need to go back to the most basic, innocent way of thinking. While this was fun, it did have a powerful impact on me and I have already started using this way of thinking in, and outside of school situations.”

  3. A small number of students, specifically older students, reported feelings of discomfort such as “I felt very silly. I just don’t like to be silly in class.” It is imperative that students are made to feel comfortable in the classroom environment when taking part in the exercise and in sharing their personal experiences.

    You should reassure students that the classroom is a safe environment and photographs must only be taken with permission.

    Further support should be given to these students in attempting to let go of their inhibitions and this is addressed if the educator can immerse themselves in the activity by dressing up which alleviates the discomfort of those students.

The more you can help your students feel safe, by being embodying the principles of the exercise yourself – creativity, self-expression, childishness – the more your students will be able to re-discover their hidden creativity.

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

Get the “Embodying the Superhero” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Embodying the Superhero” 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.

Your students want to fly. They want to dream. They want to believe. It's our job to say yes! Click To Tweet

Thank You to Dr. Emma Fleck

Emma Fleck, Susquehanna University

A big thanks to Dr. Fleck for creating and sharing this exercise! For more information about Dr. Fleck and the amazing work she’s doing at Susquehanna University, click here.

Dr. Fleck is also one of the professors who piloted our forthcoming Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC). Her insights and feedback have been some of the most formative we have received. We strongly encourage anyone who gets the chance to collaborate with Dr. Fleck, to jump at the chance.

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See you at USASBE 2018

See you at USASBE 2018

Are you going to the USASBE conference in January? If so, we’ll see you there!

Friday Night Party

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first, we’re throwing a party Friday night after the conference, and we’ve got room for 100 USASBE Conference attendees to join us.

Click for details and to RSVP

3 Talks + 1 Award

We’ll also be leading a handful of sessions during the conference:

  • Teaching Without A Textbook (Thur. @ 1 pm) – A half-day workshop on Thursday demonstrating four real-world experiential exercises you can use to teach problem validation and the entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Demoing Interviews & MVPs (Fri. @ 9:15 am) – Learn how to demo a live customer interview to your students, and use that interview to build an MVP before your students’ eyes.
  • 3 Steps to Better Idea Generation (Sat. @ 1:15 pm)- Three exercises that will help your students generate better business ideas by helping them focus less on products, and more on problems.

Plus, ExEC, our new entrepreneurship curriculum…

…is a finalist for the “USASBE Excellence in Pedagogical Innovation Award!

We’ll be talking about how ExEC’s, “Show. Don’t Tell.” approach to experiential learning has been having a positive impact across 20 universities during it’s pilot phase…and we’re just getting started!

  • Come cheer us on at 1:45 pm on Friday in Salon 5 at the Excellence in Pedagogical Innovation Award!

Hope to see you there!

Activate Your Students in 60 Minutes

Activate Your Students in 60 Minutes

Immersion pressure challenge chaos motivation 60 minute MVP

If you haven’t already run the 60 Minute MVP exercise in your class this term, now is the time. It’s the most popular exercise on our blog – over 500 students having done it this month alone.

As Thomas Nelson, one of our new Experiential Curriculum (ExEC) pilot professors from the University of South Alabama, told us after running this exercise:

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

In just 60 minutes, your students will…

Design Landing Pages

Your students will build a website that describes the problem they’re solving, like this one Thomas’ students built:

Here’s one from Emma Fleck’s class at Susquehanna University, another of our pilot professors:

Create Explainer Videos

Your students will build an explainer video to show how their solution solves that problem, like this one from Thomas’ class:

Your students will build a currency test to validate demand for their product, like this:

Teach your students this critical entrepreneurship lesson:

We’ve documented all of the instructions your students need to follow in the lesson plan below.

You want to do this exercise in your class. Your students need you to do this exercise in your class.

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

Get the “60 Minute MVP” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “60 Minute MVP” exercise walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan


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

Reminder: Learn From Professors Who Teach Without a Textbook

If you want to replace all your lectures with activities like the 60 Minute MVP, join us on Nov. 13th, to learn from four professors who have done just that, and to learn if the same will work in your class. They will tackle the most common problems, like:

  1. How do you grade/assess my students without a textbook?
  2. How do you engage students who aren’t into entrepreneurship?
  3. How do you set student expectations when they’re used to traditional classes?

Teaching Without a Textbook

An online panel discussion

Nov. 13th. 1:30 – 2:30 pm Eastern Time

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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Teaching without a Textbook

Teaching without a Textbook

Marshmallow challenge failure
Nothing teaches better than failure experience 🙂

Textbooks and lectures are the antithesis to an engaging entrepreneurship classroom. You already know…

The entrepreneurship mindset is best developed through experience.

In fact, you’ve probably already incorporated a number of experiences into your course, and noticed how your students are more engaged than when you lecture.

Which begs the question…

What if you replaced all your lectures with activities?

4 Professors Can Show you How

Emma Fleck, James Sprenger, Jennifer Daniels and Mike Dominik have all jettisoned textbooks from their entrepreneurship courses this semester, replacing them with exercises from the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

The benefits from making the switch have been eye-opening:

“I LOVE [Who Are Early Adopters?] exercise!!! So many times, I have had conversations with my students who are going to interview their dad, friend, someone who works in the industry and this exercise really takes the time to dispel this myth that these are important.” – Jennifer Daniels

“One student described [60 Minute MVP] as a Navy Seal mental training exercise. Not sure it was that intense, but they were amazed and proud that they got it done.” – Thomas Nelson

“Given the previous exercises students were able to quickly identify the interview channels that their early adopters might use. Students felt very confident about getting out and learning about the problem.” – Emma Fleck

At the same time, building a textbook-free course takes some consideration. If you’re interested in going experiential, these professors want to share details about their transition at:

Teaching Without a Textbook

An online panel discussion

Nov. 13th. 1:30 – 2:30 pm Eastern Time

Is it Worth Changing your Course?

A lot of questions will come up as you think replacing a textbook with experiential activities:

  • How much work will the transition be?
  • How will your students respond?
  • What are the downsides?
  • How will your administration respond?

At the Teaching Without a Textbook webinar, panelists will answer all of those questions, as well as any additional questions you have about their experience:

  • What’s the hardest part about teaching without a textbook?
  • What do they wish they would have known before ditching their textbook?
  • What are the best exercises they teach now?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of ExEC?

By the end of the panel discussion, you’ll know whether or not going textbook-free is right for you.

Engage your Students

You already know…

The key to engaging your students is to replace words with action. Click To Tweet

Join us on Nov. 13th, to learn from four professors who have done just that, and to learn if the same will work in your class.

Teaching Without a Textbook

An online panel discussion

Nov. 13th. 1:30 – 2:30 pm Eastern Time

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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An Interview About Empathy: Meet Our Founder

An Interview About Empathy: Meet Our Founder

Many of you know me (Doan) from USASBE or my blog, or my research, but you may not know Justin Wilcox, the passionate entrepreneur driving With this post, we pull back the curtain and introduce our wizard!

Who Is Justin Wilcox? A Snapshot:

  • 2003: Degree in Computer Science from Cal Poly
  • 2003: Engineer/Lead at Microsoft
  • 2007: Left Microsoft to start a healthcare company
  • 2009: Realized no one wanted what the startup was building
  • 2009: Found out why after learning about Customer Development
  • 2010: Used Customer Development to turn healthcare startup around
  • 2010: Started Customer Development Labs blog about how that happened
  • 2012: Blog turned into talks at Lean Startup conferences
  • 2014: Talks turned into workshops with accelerator programs (e.g. Google for Entrepreneurs, Techstars, Startup Weekend, etc.), and Fortune 500s
  • 2015: Workshops turned into the FOCUS Framework and the “How to Find Product-Market Fit” workbook series
  • 2017: The FOCUS Framework inspired our ExEC curriculum

Let’s Dive Deeper . . .

Justin and I did a one-on-one interview so you could hear his perspective in depth.

Or if you prefer, here’s a summary of our conversation:

How did Justin come to build curriculum for university professors?

As mentioned above, Justin started a healthcare software company, but realized that he built a product nobody wanted to use. He studied what went wrong in his entrepreneurial journey, eventually finding Steve Blank’s Customer Development model, one of the precursors to The Lean Startup.

It was then that Justin realized,

He hadn’t learned how to empathize.

While he learned how to write code in school, and build innovative products at Microsoft, innovation was meaningless if it didn’t lead to impact. To create impact, he had to learn how to see the world from his customer’s perspective – to feel what they felt. To become a better innovator, he had to become a better empathizer.

At the time Justin discovered Customer Development and Lean Startup, they were largely theoretical concepts with little practical guidance on how to apply them. So Justin started developing, documenting, and teaching, ways to practice integrating empathy into the entrepreneurial process.

After helping thousands of individual entrepreneurs do just that, university professors began reaching out asking Justin for help teaching these methodologies in the classroom. That’s when it became clear:

Professors faced the same challenges turning Lean Startup theory into action that he had.

Having discovered effective ways to teach the techniques, Justin reached out to me and we began collaborating on ways to teach them to entrepreneurship professors – which is when was born. 🙂

Why work with academics instead of entrepreneurs?

The big draw for working with academics is the impact multiplier we enable. By collaborating with professors, Justin learned he could have a larger impact because we as professors work with hundreds of thousands of students every year.

By helping us teach our students how to understand other people’s perspectives (empathy) and how to sustainably solve their problems (via business model validation), our combined impact can be much larger than if Justin worked solely with entrepreneurs.

Our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.

Where would he like to see entrepreneurship education go?

Justin practices what he preaches, and he’s heartened by professors who act the same way.

He wants to support teachers who apply the lean principles they teach, so they can optimize their impact. To that end, Justin is most excited by professors who treat their class like a startup:

  • Creating hypotheses about their course,
  • Running experiments to optimize the course,
  • Measuring their impact with metrics.

Justin wants to see more professors treat students like their customers and engage with them to build better courses.

These principles work. The more we apply them, the better we can teach them.

What most exciting about ExEC’s Fall Pilot?

We’ve implemented a system for students to give us emotionally-driven feedback on every exercise.

Students tell us, and their professors, how they feel about each exercise.

The insight from this is super exciting for both of us. The aggregated feedback helps us know how students feel about their course, so together we can iterate and improve them.

Student feedback from ExEC’s Business Model Canvas intro exercise

Looking forward, what is most exciting is our ability to turn that data into engagement analytics so professors know in real time exactly how their students are feeling, and how exactly they are engaging with the material.

What’s the next step with ExEC?

Justin is busy updating much of the underlying technology for a streamlined experience for professors and students.

We are keeping our Spring cohort fairly small; there are only about five spots still available.

If you’re eager to use an experiential approach, can provide us feedback on a regular basis, and can ask your students to provide us feedback on a regular basis…

Then you’re a perfect candidate to be an ExEC Pilot, and you can shape the way entrepreneurship is taught.

Bonus Question

If you’ve read this far – thank you – you deserve a little extra. What’s one thing that very few people know about Justin?

He holds a Guiness World Record.

Want to know for what? Shoot him an email or ask him at the upcoming USASBE conference!

Want to work with Justin and I to change Entrepreneurship?

If you’re a progressive entrepreneurship professor interested in getting your hands dirty in the name of improving entrepreneurship education join us and you can play a significant role in reshaping how entrepreneurship is taught at colleges around the world.

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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Create a Syllabus Students Will Read

Create a Syllabus Students Will Read

We love creating and sharing resources to make classrooms more engaging. We are not alone in that passion. This week, it is our pleasure to collaborate with a kindred spirit, both in terms of teaching experientially, and in sharing resources to help others do the same.

Dr. Colleen Robb is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and the Associate Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at California State University, Chico. Check out the fantastic tips, tricks, and lessons she shares on her blog.

The Infographic Syllabus

After reading her post How to Get Your Students to Read Your Syllabus: An Infographic, and given our perspective on co-creating your syllabus, we had to collaborate with Dr. Robb!

In her post, copied below, Dr. Robb shares her journey of turning her syllabus into an infographic so students would read and remember it.

Click to view Dr. Robb’s full syllabus infographic.

I know, we’ve all been there. It’s the end of the semester and students suddenly realize your late work policy, your attendance policy or your quality work policy.  I’ve actually talked to students about this and they cite reasons such as:

  • It’s just like every other syllabus they’ve read
  • It’s too long
  • It doesn’t apply to me
  • I never really look at it until I have a bad grade

Like it or not, our students these days are just as distracted as we are.  They simply do not take the time to read the syllabus.  So, this term, I thought about why that might be.

It turns out, I am just as guilty as they are.  I don’t thoroughly review the credit terms on my credit cards or the terms of agreement when I buy a song from Apple. Why should I?  They all read the same.  It’s blah, blah, blah.

Well, this term, I decided to up my game and get my syllabus up with the times.  I created an Infographic version of my syllabus.  I actually decided to upload that image directly to Blackboard so it is the first thing students see.

Piktochart also offers a “Presentation Mode” for your infographic

I made a list of all the things students seemed to forget about my class (attendance policy, plagiarism policy, late work policy).  I then took all of these frustrations and put them in beautiful, colorful visuals so they would actually look at them.

Piktochart is a free site that allows you to create professional looking infographics for any purpose.  I made an infographic for my Introduction to Entrepreneurship course so the students understand where the course will lead them. It has been the most successful by far. You can see the full infographic here.

Whether this visual tool is used for a class project or an overall class syllabus, the students’ response has been tremendous.  For the first time, I’ve had students send me emails that they are aware of the class policies!

Create your Syllabus with your Students

What appealed to us so much was not just the creativity of Dr. Robb’s approach, but that it very quickly and easily allowed students to understand the structure of her entire course. We love that she saw her syllabus as an opportunity to try something different to better engage her students.

As we’ve talked about in a previous post, your syllabus presents a unique opportunity to listen to your students’ problems and to turn those into a plan of attack together. Co-creating your syllabus with your students is an effective way to begin your semester because many students don’t think entrepreneurship will be relevant to them in their career.

Through this co-creation process, you can understand the problems that are most salient to your students, and then weave those into the syllabus, so they understand which weeks you’ll be solving problems most relevant to them.

Your syllabus is not just a contract between you and your students. It is not just a bunch of words. As Dr. Robb suggests, it can come alive and be a model of how you want your students to think and to act. We so enjoyed learning about Dr. Robb’s approach that we dove into combining her approach of creating an infographic with our approach of co-creating a syllabus.

Here’s a quick video extrapolating how these two approaches combine to create an even more powerful approach to engaging your students from day one.

Co-Create your Syllabus Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute lesson plan to help you co-create your entrepreneurship syllabus with your students. 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 so we can improve it!

Get the lesson plan

And don’t forget to check out Dr. Robb’s blog for more resources and guidance on making your classroom experience more engaging!

What are you Working On?

If you’re working on an innovative way to impact students in your class and want to share with the 1,500 members of, let us know. This is an experimental collaboration, and if it works out, we may do more like it!

What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will interview co-founder Justin Wilcox!  Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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The Good, Bad and Ugly of the ExEC Fall Pilot

The Good, Bad and Ugly of the ExEC Fall Pilot

ExEC is an experiment to see if we can revolutionize how entrepreneurship is taught in college classrooms.

Halfway through our first pilot semester, we wanted to share the results so far – warts and all – so the entrepreneurship education community at large can learn along with us.

The Numbers

We’re grateful to have 10 schools across the United States and Canada piloting with us this Fall:

  • Rowan University
  • Brandon University
  • East Carolina University
  • Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)
  • University of South Alabama
  • Gulf Coast State College
  • Xavier University
  • John Carroll University
  • Susquehanna University
  • Georgia State University

Across these institutions, we have nearly 500 undergraduate students using the curriculum.

Just as ExEC challenges those 500 students to do, we’re testing the curriculum’s assumptions and iterating its design. Here’s what we’ve found so far.

The Good

Our pilot professors and students have told us ExEC stands out with respect to other curricula in a couple areas:

Developing the Entrepreneurial Mindset

We want students engaging with their customers, discovering problems that can be solved instead of just thinking of new ideas to create.

One professor told us:

“More than anything, I’ve enjoyed that we have spent 4-5 weeks exploring the issue of problem solving. In previous classes, students have been convinced they had the right solution to a problem by week 2 and no matter what research they found, they wouldn’t pivot appropriately given the new evidence.”

Students are also sharing their excitement at better understanding how entrepreneurs think. One student said:

“This activity made me look at the creation of a product in a different aspect than I have before. It allowed me to think of solving a problem and not just creating a product to create one. It needs to be something that people will actually use. It made it easier for me to be creative and think more like an entrepreneur.”

Another student told us:

“The exercise was a very clear, somewhat concise explanation of the mindset needed for successful entrepreneurship. It shows the clear relationship between successful startups and outlines the key consistencies for success.”

And perhaps our favorite student feedback:

“[The Business Plans vs. Business Experiments exercise] made me think like a kindergartener again and that made me excited.”

Replacing Lectures with Experiences

ExEC provides professors with comprehensive lesson plans, and constant support, so you can create experiences like this that will excite students about experiencing entrepreneurship.

One of the exercises uses marshmallows to teach students about the danger of hidden assumptions, and why business plans lead to failure more often than not:

Pilot students have been sharing their excitement with the exercises as well. They are seeing how they can apply what they are experiencing in class:

This really showed me what it takes to develop an idea. Also helped me get more in touch with who I’m trying to target with my idea and how it can help [him/her].”

“I can use the [exercise] for all business ideas that come to mind and when analyzing other companies.”

Students have shared how the exercises have shifted their thinking:

“I feel I will perform better in the future when completing a project because now I know the value of prototyping, also, now I understand the importance of identifying the hidden assumptions which cause many times good ideas to fail.”

“Knowing how feelings play a part in buying and decision making is interesting and will help with my business model. I did not really think or relate the two before this class.”

“This provides a clear understanding of what it takes to solve a problem and come up with ideas to solve those problems. It showed me some key resources that I did not know before to help start a company through problem solving.”

Getting Students Interviewing Customers

We want students having real conversations with real customers about the customer’s problems. This is the essence of entrepreneurship, and a skill we heard most professors struggle teaching.

One professor told us:

“Given the previous exercises on identifying the early adopters and clarifying the problem statement, [The How To Ask for Interviews exercise] was a very positive exercise. Students were able to quickly identify the interview channels that their early adopters might use (social media, blogs, interviews) and plan how to initiate that conversation using the strategy outlined in this exercise. By the end of today, the students felt very confident about getting out and learning about the problem.” 

Our interviewing exercises push students to think about learning from actual customers, instead of industry or product “experts”, as shared by one professor:

“I LOVE [Who Are Early Adopters?] exercise!!!  So many times, I have had conversations with my students who are going to interview their dad, friend, someone who works in the industry and this exercise really takes the time to dispel this myth that these are important.”

The students are also realizing how powerful interviews are, especially in comparison to surveys, thanks to an ExEC exercise that makes them survey and interview customers, and compare the results:

“The [Student Challenges Survey exercise] is showing how surveys do not capture the full picture from a consumer whereas an interview lets the customer give more feedback.”

After half a semester, we are confident the pilot students are engaged in their class experience. Through that engagement, we see them developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and honing their customer interviewing skills.

The Bad

We preach iteration because there’s no way to get everything right the first time around – and that’s the case with ExEC. Here are a couple areas we need to focus on going forward.

Less is More

We created too much content. We originally wanted to arm our professors with more experiences and exercises than they could ever use, so they could build a customized syllabus specifically for their class.

That strategy has started to backfire as some professors have, understandably, began feeling pressured to cover a lot of material in a limited amount of time. One told us:

“I was extremely nervous . . . to teach a class that had so many new components that I was learning day by day.”

Another shared:

“I think there are too many lessons on interviewing, although I see its utility.”

ExEC has 30+ experiential exercises, which is simply too many for one semester, especially when life readjusts the class schedule, as it did with Hurricane Irma for a couple professors.

The Fix

Based on the exercises students find most impactful, we’re streamlining ExEC’s content to focus on a subset of activities.

Restricting Access

We were so excited to share ExEC with as many schools as possible, we initially weren’t as rigorous as we should have been in restricting access.

ExEC has a lot of moving parts, several of them untested before this semester. We should have started with a slightly smaller, more targeted, pilot cohort so we could iron out ExEC’s wrinkles (details below) more efficiently.

The Fix

Having been through trial by fire this semester, we think we have a handle on the major issues. That said, we’ll be limiting access to our upcoming Spring Pilot, just to err on the side of caution.

The Ugly

There is one area we really missed the mark this semester. Because of it, we’ve already started the redesign process.

Poor Design Choices

We made some incorrect assumptions about the technical comfort of some of our students and professors – which really means we made poor design choices on our end.

Our pilot professors and their students are less familiar with technology than we anticipated. We expected more feedback like this from one professor:

“I have taken one class at a time, one new element at a time and really enjoyed exploring the new materials.”

But one professor told us:

“I like to think I’m not stupid, but working through this to get it ready for my students makes me question that.”

And one student told us:

“I’m absolutely thrilled that [I] bought a program coded by a team of incompetents.”

While our professors certainly aren’t stupid, and we (hope we) aren’t incompetent, any experience that makes even a subset of customers feel that way needs to fixed immediately.

The Fix

We’ve already begun making to several exercises, but there’s more work to do.

We’ve started redesigning both the professor and student experiences from the ground-up; while the content will largely remain the same going forward, the way professors and students interact with it will be completely revamped.


So far, this has been a perfect pilot!

Not perfect in that we got everything right – we certainly haven’t – perfect in the sense that this is what pilots are for. With the help of our amazing pilot professors, we’ve been living the Build, Measure, Learn loop.

We’re really excited about ExEC’s and while we haven’t gotten everything right so far, we’ve made some great progress on some of the hardest parts:

  1. Developing the entrepreneurial mindset
  2. Replacing lectures with experiences
  3. Getting students interviewing customers

Next up, we’ll polish our rough design edges so everyone feels confident engaging with the content!

Want to Shape Entrepreneurship?

As mentioned above, we’ll be limiting access to the Spring Pilot, but if you’re a progressive entrepreneurship professor willing to get your hands dirty in the name of improving entrepreneurship education…

Check out ExEC and schedule a preview.

We’ll accept a handful of programs into the Spring Pilot, which will not only get you early access, as you can see, you’ll also play a significant role in reshaping how entrepreneurship is taught at colleges around the world.

Stay Tuned

For more updates on ExEC, and our continuing series of free classroom resources delivered to your inbox, subscribe below.

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Teach your Students Why Business Plans Fail

Teach your Students Why Business Plans Fail

What if you kicked off your next semester with a flurry of activity that showed your students how to avoid the biggest mistake in entrepreneurship – by letting them experience it?

The perfect failure 🙂
Xavier University an ExEC Pilot

This exercise will turn your students’ love for competition into an active learning opportunity about entrepreneurship that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

The Marshmallow Challenge is an 18-minute chaotic construction competition that teaches entrepreneurship students why

Invalidated assumptions hinder all new initiatives.

and are ultimately the downfall of most new companies. They learn a bias towards action, and the power of resilience in the face of a challenge.

Many professors use the Marshmallow Challenge as an ice-breaker, or as a team-building exercise, with great results. But very few use it to teach its most valuable lesson . . .

Hidden Assumptions

Several of your students will fail this challenge – and it will be glorious!

George State University an ExEC Pilot

The objective of the Marshmallow Challenge is for student teams to build the tallest free-standing structure they can out of uncooked spaghetti, string, tape and a single large marshmallow.

Inevitably, your students will assume the marshmallow they need to place on top of their structure is lighter than it is, and they’ll assume uncooked spaghetti is strong than it is, leading to a pile of broken, edible, dreams.

In this way, your students will get to learn first-hand:

Just like in entrepreneurship, invalidated assumptions lead to failure.

In traditional classes, business students get trained to write comprehensive business plans – not realizing hidden assumptions will ultimately hinder their success.

On the other hand, kindergartners excel at the Marshmallow Challenge because they don’t make plans based on hidden assumptions. The first thing they do is run an experiment, putting a marshmallow on a piece of spaghetti to see what happens. From there they iterate, building the tallest structure possible.

Courtesy of Tom Wujec

This experimental mindset is what you want your students to embody throughout the rest of your course.

With this exercise, they’ll experience the dangers of hidden assumptions first hand so they’ll be primed to validate their business model assumptions in future lessons:

  • Do customers have the problem your students want to solve?
  • Will customers pay to solve it?
  • Can your students actually solve the problem?

Students Love It

400+ pilot students have done the ExEC version of the Marshmallow Challenge. So far, they’re loving it:

“This activity was not what i was expecting and i took away a lot from it. It taught me to look at a project with no previous assumptions and it make me think like a kindergartener again which made me excited.”- Hannah

“The Marshmallow experiment gave me a real life example of why experimenting is much more beneficial than planning things out.“– Morgan

“Now I know the value of prototyping, also, now I understand the importance of identifying the hidden assumptions which cause many times good ideas to fail.” – Andreina

“After the activity, I understood the importance of adapting to problems and the dangers of assumptions.”– Eric

Powerful Learning

The fast pace, excitement, and ultimate failure many teams experience during this exercise replicate the typical entrepreneurial experience, and demonstrate many of the pitfalls of traditional business plans:

  • Insufficient identification of hidden assumptions (e.g. the marshmallow is much heavier than they realize, the spaghetti is less rigid than they expect, etc.)
  • Developing plans based on those hidden/incorrect assumptions
  • Investing all their resources (e.g. time, tape, etc.) in a single, large, “launch” attempt vs. iterating on many simpler versions

After the exercise, your students can write up a reflection, incorporating essential principles of entrepreneurship:

  • Assumption identification, and assumption validation, are critical to creating successful companies
  • Iterations and experimentations are the key to validating their business assumptions

Try it Next Semester

You can easily incorporate the Marshmallow Challenge into your class, just:

Check out ExEC and request a free preview.

If you decide to use ExEC, we’ll provide you with:

  • A step-by-step lesson plan with details on how to prep, execute and discuss the exercise
  • Music to play during the challenge to get your students excited and engaged
  • A learning objective-solidifying reflection assignment
  • Free Marshmallow Challenge Kits, including all of the supplies you’ll need (e.g. spaghetti, string, marshmallows, tape measure, etc.) for each of your students!

Full Class Engagement

If you want to start your class with a bang of energy and active learning, give the Marshmallow Challenge a shot.

So far the 10 ExEC Pilot professors and their students love it. We think you, and your students,  will too 🙂

Rowan University an ExEC Pilot

For more information on the Marshmallow Challenge, be sure to check out Tom Wujec’s incredible website. He’s got a ton of great resources available there.

What’s Next?

We’ll share a fully-transparent update into the Fall Pilot Cohort of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Through faculty and student testimonials, we’ll share with you what’s going well and what we need to improve for next semester, as we practice what we preach, iterating our way to a more engaging and impactful entrepreneurship curriculum.

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

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Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

Modeling Customer Interviewing w/ a Demo

Click play above for the customer interviewing tutorial outlined in this post.

You want your students to “get out of the building” and talk to customers, but that idea can be anxiety producing, for both you, and your students.

They’re anxious because they have to talk to strangers in a way they’ve never had to before, and you’re anxious because you know customer interviewing is the point in the course when students are most likely to check out.

How do you keep your students engaged?

You’re hearing every excuse imaginable from your students about why they haven’t interviewed customers:

  • They don’t want to ask the wrong questions.
  • They aren’t sure who the “right” people are to interview.
  • They just broke up with their girlfriend. Or they have the swine flu. Or both.

Bottom line is your students are terrified about this critical step in the entrepreneurship process. They are afraid of the unknown. When the time comes for them to step outside the classroom and validate their assumptions with actual customers, they are likely to check out.

How do you keep your students engaged?

How do you turn their fear into excitement?

You show them what customer interviewing looks and feels like. You do a live customer interview in class.

Making yourself vulnerable in front of your students will give them the confidence they need to succeed! Click To Tweet

Below, and in our lesson plan, we lead you through the 5 simple steps to conduct a real customer interview call during your class.

Live Customer Interviewing

mTurk is short for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which is a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. What you need for live customer interviewing is a human being who has a problem. The mTurk marketplace is the perfect place to find a stranger who experiences a particular problem.

mTurk Customer Interviewing

Note: Do not stage this interview by having a colleague or friend or business partner call in. It is imperative you create the situation your students are so nervous about – interviewing a stranger about a real problem they experience.

You need to feel a little nervous about this process, and share those feelings with  your students so they know it is normal to feel that way. You are the role model;

If you want your students to engage, you need to show them how Click To Tweet

Class 1: Create a HIT on mTurk

A HIT is short for a human intelligence task. Create a new HIT here. In this example, we want to talk to parents who have children in day care.

Customer interviewing through mTurk

Step 1: Describe the HIT

Here you want to provide enough details so the people looking for tasks on mTurk can decide if they fit the criteria.

Keywords are an important way for people to find your HIT.

Describe the HIT

Super Important:

You must turn off “Master Turkers.” Master Turkers are a pre-screened, and very small, subset of the MTurk population. You want any folks on MTurk to be able to contact you, as long as they meet your qualifications. Here’s how to do that:

Step 2: Pick a Price

We recommend you offer between $.50 and $2.00 so it is attractive (but not too attractive!) to workers.

Pick a price

Step 3: Write up the HIT

Provide quick, clear criteria and instructions for the workers looking for tasks to connect with you for an interview. Include the date and time when you would like them to call you during your next class session.

Write up the HIT

Feel free to copy and paste (and customize) this HTML for writing up the HIT:

<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you are a parent who picks your kids at day care at least once/week, please call us for a 5-10 minute phone survey.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Please dial the following number:</span></p>
<li><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>*67&nbsp; [your google voice number]</span></li>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Note: dialing *67 before the actual phone number will protect the privacy of your phone number. &nbsp;</span><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>If you reach voicemail again, please wait 10 minutes.</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>&nbsp;<b>Required after Calling</b>&nbsp;- after we finish the survey, we will give you a password to confirm you successfully completed it. Please enter it below:</span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”><b>Password:</b>&nbsp;<textarea rows=”1″ cols=”80″ name=”answer”></textarea></span></p>
<p><span style=”font-family: Arial;”>Thank you very much! &nbsp;We really appreciate your help! &nbsp;</span></p>

Note: the “password” is a word you tell your interviewee to type in once the interview is complete.  You’ll see what they type in before you approve the HIT (i.e. pay them) so you can ensure only the people who successfully completed the interview get paid.

Step 4: Create a New Batch

Step 5: Publish the HITs

Class 2: The Call

Remind your students of the context of your call so they understand what problem you’re trying to solve, and who the customer is you’ll be talking to. After your call, debrief the call by asking your students to critique it.

What went right? What went wrong? Why did it go wrong?

How could you have kept the person on track?

What were some stronger questions to ask? What questions should you not have asked?

Customer Interviewing Homework

Give your students homework of critiquing another real customer interview. The more real interviews they see and hear, the more comfortable they are conducting them, the more engaged they are in your class. Here is a sample interview you can use for a homework assignment.

Get the Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Modeling Customer Interviewing Lesson Plan to help you excite your students about customer interviewing! It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan

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 the comments below so we can improve it!

What’s Next?

In a future article, we will provide a checklist for you to plan an experiential entrepreneurship class! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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Problem Validation: The One Topic You Must Teach

Problem Validation: The One Topic You Must Teach

You’re preparing for fall classes, staring at your syllabus, worrying:

  • Should I teach prototyping or legal formation?
  • Where do I fit in startup marketing?
  • What about IP law or valuation?!

A 16 week semester is far too short to teach everything we want in our entrepreneurship classes. This article will help you prioritize what to teach, because there’s one topic that matters more than any other:

Problem validation is the most important topic to teach in entrepreneurship. Click To Tweet

Problem validation is critically important; everything else in entrepreneurship flows from it. You can’t overlook it when prioritizing your schedule.

Why Problem Validation?

There are 3 reasons you must teach problem validation in your introduction to entrepreneurship, capstone, and your graduate entrepreneurship courses:

  1. It’s the most important aspect of entrepreneurship.

    Customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems. Your students can’t figure out what customers will buy unless they validate problems.

    entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea
    Once your students understand how to validate problems, they’ll quickly see how the rest of a business model falls into place.
    Every aspect of business models flow from problem validation, so it’s imperative we teach our students how to do it well.
  2. Problem validation cannot be read. It must be practiced.
    If they have to, students can learn other topics like valuation, IP law, legal formation, and marketing outside the classroom. There are endless blogs and videos that cover the basics of every topic in entrepreneurship…except problem validation.
    Students cannot learn how to talk to customers by reading about it. Your students have to experience asking the right customers, the right questions.

    Students learn problem validation, by doing problem validation. Click To Tweet

  3. You’re their only teacher.
    No one else in your students’ academic career will touch the subject of problem validation.
    Your accounting and finance colleagues can help them with revenue modeling. Engineering professors can help them with product development. Your business law colleagues can help them with legal formation and IP issues.

    But problem validation, this thing that is so important to entrepreneurship, will only be covered by you.

    If you have to cut something from your schedule, cut anything but problem validation. Make sure you’re teaching this because nobody else is, and because it is the most important aspect of entrepreneurship!

    No one will teach problem validation, except you. Click To Tweet

Workshop: How to Teach Problem Validation

It’s critical we don’t just talk about problem validation. We must teach our students how to do it, and to do it the right way.

(Note: surveys are not the right way 🙂 )

If you want help with that, we’re hosting our first free, 1-hour, online workshop on June 22nd, 2017. We’ll talk about the three phases of problem validation:

  1. Problem hypothesis
  2. Problem discovery
  3. Problem confirmation

We will teach you these three phases, and we’ll show you engaging exercises you can run in your class to teach them.

Teaching Problem Validation teaches business model validation

Join us if you want to learn how to teach this subject that every entrepreneurship teacher needs to teach, and teach well!

We will send a video recording of the workshop to anyone who registers, but you don’t want the video. You want to show up live, because it will be an interactive workshop. To see and experience the exercises, you’ll want to be present.

What’s Next?

We will be sharing more exercises to teach customer interviewing soon! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.

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