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Pitch Days: How to Grow Your Program

Pitch Days: How to Grow Your Program

If you’re looking to increase enrollment for your entrepreneurship program…

Pitch days can be incredible catalysts for growth.

In this article, with the help of Meg Weber, Director of Community Engagement and Lead InstMeg Weber, entrepreneurship educatorructor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Minor at Western Washington University, we’ll build on our Improving Student Pitches article to talk about how to use pitch day to increase the size of your program.

Increasing Entrepreneurship Enrollment

Just like we teach our students that their businesses need to solve a problem for their customers:

Students are our customers and finding a job is their problem.

With data from thousands of students who’ve completed the Fears and Curiosities exercise, we know students’ biggest concerns about life after school revolve around jobs:

  • Can I find a job?
  • Will I like it?
  • Will I be good at it?
  • Will it pay enough?

If you want to attract new students to your program, the key is to:

Demonstrate that students in your program get great jobs.

Pitch days are fantastic opportunities to advertise the career opportunities your program provides. Below we’ll detail 3 steps to make make the most of yours:

  1. Identify “high value” employers
  2. Invite them to be guest judges
  3. Invite prospective students to pitch day where they can see that students involved with your program get to connect with those employers

1. Identify High Value Employers

“High value” to us means employers that can satisfy the needs of our students in terms of supplying jobs that they’ll be good at, will enjoy doing, and will pay enough. Here are some tips on how to find those employers.

Ask Students Where They Want to Work

Ask students, “What companies would you be excited to work for?”, make a list, and constantly keep these companies top of mind because:

Every person you can introduce students to that works for one of those companies can help you recruit more students.

Students will often tell you they want to work for companies that are associated with brands they love:

  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Nike
  • Tesla

Whatever your students tell you, search your LinkedIn connections and keep your eyes peeled for any connections you have to those companies.

Bonus Tip: Start Linking-In with all of your students now. Eventually some of them will get jobs at the companies your future students will love and pitch day will be a great opportunity to invite them back!

Talk to your Career Center

Talk to your career center on campus and ask them for lists of employers who visited previous career fairs / job days. Also, take a look at who is hiring on your school’s job board.

Search Job Boards

Look for job postings on:

  • LinkedIn
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor

Look for companies that are trying to hire students like yours and that can offer high-quality, good-paying jobs.

2. Invite the Employers to Pitch Day

Once you have a list of high value employers, pitch day is the perfect opportunity to create connections between them and not only your current, but your prospective students.

Find the “Right” People

Ideally, the people you invite from the employees are hiring managers: people with some say over who gets invited in for interviews. If you don’t know any, check LinkedIn, ask your career center, alumni office, or use the contact information associated with the job postings you found.

Invite them to Judge

Identify the people who you think students will respond most positively to, and invite them to be judges. Their companies and positions will be part of your marketing material for pitch day, so make the most of these coveted judging positions.

Side Note: Be sure to set judges expectations that you’re teaching a process (not just launching products).

Your judges might be familiar with a more traditional pitch day format, where people are pretending to know their future revenue, sales, growth, etc. You will need to conduct some basic training with your judges so they understand your students are learning a process and not necessarily working on launching investment-ready products or services. They will hear your students sharing what they did, what they learned, and what they’ll do differently next time (as opposed to, “This is a $10B market and if we capture just 1%…”).

Setting expectations ahead of time will be crucial to ensuring your judges (i.e. your students’ prospective employers) think highly of them during pitch day.

Invite Others Employers to Coach

You can only have a few judges, but you can engage more potential employers as coaches for your students. For those interested in coaching, prepare them with a brief summary of some projects that you think will be especially interesting for them. Your students should progress through multiple practice pitches, each of which is an opportunity for a coach to help them (and you!) create more impact:

  • Rough draft idea quick-pitch – students pitch the basics of their idea early in the course
  • Process pitch – a few weeks before pitch day, students practice sharing their journey (not the outcomes)
  • Dress rehearsal – a week before pitch day students practice their final pitch

Invite coaches to your pitch day and acknowledge their contributions. After the event, you and your students should send a follow-up handwritten note to coaches thanking them for investing their time and expertise.

Take every chance to deepen the connection with your students.

Sample Invite Emails

We’ve included some sample email invitations at the end of the article that you can use to recruit coaches and/or judges.

3. Make Pitch Day a School-Wide Event

Open Pitch Day to all Enrolled Students

Pitch Day isn’t just for your current students – it’s an opportunity to recruit your future students!

When prospective students see that your current entrepreneurship students are building close connections with employers they want to work for, they see your program as a way to solve their biggest problems.

Ask your students to present an invitation to student clubs around campus. Start with entrepreneurship-related clubs like:

  • CEO
  • DECA
  • Enactus

and expand to other clubs in which your students are active. On any given campus there are hundreds of student clubs. Be strategic about those that have engaged members and related goals around employability and entrepreneurship. For instance, your students can present to entrepreneurship fraternities like Epsilon Nu Tau and Sigma Eta Pi, and professional business fraternities like Alpha Kappa Psi and Delta Sigma Pi.

Expand beyond the clubs and departments that are already intimately familiar with your program. Remember, your goal with a pitch day is to grow your program, so you want to reach out to students from areas you don’t normally engage with.

Use this as an opportunity to strategically connect with departments you don’t normally engage with. Maybe that’s the science departments. Or the foreign language departments. Or the fine art departments. Ask your students to present to their other classes, and to their friends majoring in these departments.

Give your students a chance to practice their pitching skills. Give your campus a chance to be excited by your program.

Equip students with a short template so messaging is consistent – keep to the point of “network with employers” as the main message.

Leverage the power of social media. Ask the university to share promotions on their official social media accounts. Incentivize students to share on their social media accounts by making it a deliverable of their pitching assignment (or extra credit).

And last, but certainly not least, take this opportunity to invite your university’s administration. Enable (and guide) your rock star students to handle these introductions – administrators will appreciate it more coming from students. Many will politely decline, but you can make them aware of what you are doing. And if they do show up, make sure they feel the energy of the connections you’re creating between students and employers.

Work with your enrollment/admissions office to invite prospective freshmen and their parents.

The enrollment/admissions team wants to highlight the best of your university for prospective freshmen. Enable them to invite these students to your pitch day – local students and their parents can attend physically, and others can join via Zoom.

This builds your funnel of freshmen students for your program by exciting them before they even get to campus! You can provide immense value to your enrollment/admissions office. Plus, universities struggle with retention and helping students find their way early on in their university careers. Pitch days can help to inspire and have students see future opportunities.

Provide food and drinks for everyone who attends

People get hungry and thirsty, and having food and drink at an event helps create spaces for connection. You don’t want the typical student event pizza and red Solo cups. But you also don’t want the alumni wine and charcuterie. Go for some very simple (and not messy) appetizers and finger foods along with a selection of soft drinks and water.

Food and beverages don’t always come cheap, especially as your guest list grows. If you have former students running or working with local food vendors, reach out to explore ways to incorporate and highlight their stories. You can also ask areas around campus to help fund this and receive recognition, given the presence of potential employers and donors. Ask your career center, a College of Business, enrollment/admissions office to share the cost and get sponsorship benefits of recognition at your pitch day event. See below for more tips on increasing funding.

During the event, highlight your program to prospective students in attendance

Throughout your event, highlight to prospective students the kind of learning experiences they will encounter in your entrepreneurship program.

In breaks between pitches, or as your judges are deliberating, talk to prospective students about how they too can learn how to pitch companies like they’re hearing. Also, share with them stories of the types of companies and jobs successful students from your program are currently engaged in (these stories will also resonate with alumni and enrollment/admissions staff in attendance).

During the event, facilitate connections between your judges and your high-performing students to grow your list of successful graduates from your program.

Most communities really want to give back to students– as educators we just need to figure out the in-roads. Many of the students at Western Washington University are food systems aficionados. One such student is Arlen Coiley. Arlen entered our entrepreneurship program with a great fervor for coffee- of all sorts- recycling hulls, creating compost, exfoliating soaps, you name it- this guy was ALL about coffee.

During his time in the program, Arlen pitched his coffee fervor to community members, who then hired him for events, invested in expanding his pop-up stand Handshake Coffee, and ultimately helped develop connections and now a vibrant restaurant called Storia Cucina.

Get Sample Emails for Inviting Judges and Coaches

Plus get a demo of how to map out external investors to help grow your program:

Go Forth and Grow Your Program

You now have a playbook to use the pitch days we all do to grow your program.

  • It’s not just an event for your students to practice pitching.
  • It’s not just an event to give your students beer money.

This is your opportunity to make connections between your current students, your next cohort of students, and the people in the community who want to support those students.

Teach the Process

If you’re interested in teaching the process that leads to unforgettable student pitches, check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

Students complete award-winning experiential exercises during a journey of finding a problem worth solving and then finding a solution worth building.


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share information about our upcoming Summer Summit where we will share some exciting new exercises!

Subscribe here to be the first to grab a “seat” at the Summit.

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Example 8-Week, 10-Week, 12-Week Entrepreneurship Syllabi

Example 8-Week, 10-Week, 12-Week Entrepreneurship Syllabi

Experiential courses produce great results, but it can be challenging to cover everything you want in 8, 10 or 12-week:

  • Summer classes
  • MBA/graduate programs
  • Quarter schedules
  • Canadian semesters

Same skills. Less time.

A compressed schedule doesn’t mean your students can’t develop many of the same skills as longer courses, but it does mean you need to be strategic with your course design. That’s because:

Customer interviews and business model experimentation skills take time to develop.

It’s tempting to compress these into a few days, but to really learn them takes practice. That means students may have the best experience by reducing the topics we cover and devoting more time to the highest ROI skills.

So while we’re always disappointed to see topics like pricing optimization go in shorter courses, there are a set of topics we always cover because they offer the best bang for the buck in terms of entrepreneurial mindset development:

  • Idea Generation: Great business ideas come from understanding customer’s needs
  • Business Modeling: How to identify your
  • Customer Discovery Interviews: The core of building a successful business is understanding a customer’s emotional needs
  • Design Thinking: The best way to understand your customer is to see the world from their perspective
  • Financial Modeling: Great business models must be financially viable and sustainable
  • MVPs: Minimum Viable Products focus on learning about business models.
  • Experimentation: How to identify and test the riskiest assumptions of a business model
  • Pitching & Storytelling: How to create an emotionally driven narrative

Example 8-Week Syllabus

Below you’ll find an 8-week sample syllabus you can use if you teach:

  • Summer
  • Graduate and
  • MBA classes

Screenshot of 8-week sample syllabus

Example 10-Week Syllabus

If you teach on the quarter system, feel free to use this 10-week sample syllabus:

Screenshot of sample 10-week syllabus

Example 12-week Syllabus

Our 12-week syllabus is perfect for our friends in Canada!

Screenshot of sample 12-week schedule

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Get the Sample Syllabi

Split it Across Two Classes

Another option is to divide the topics across two courses. A number of the schools we work with take our 15-week schedule and do just that.

With ExEC, students get access for life, so splitting the material across two classes can save them money.

Typically that looks like:

  1. An intro course that focuses on “Why (and How) to Find Problems Worth Solving”
  2. A new venture creation course on “How to Find Solutions Worth Building”

The benefit of this approach is that students get plenty of time to develop both sets of skills.

Semester Experiential entrepreneurship education schedule

Teaching in Summer?

Check out ExEC, a structured, experiential curriculum that’s flexible enough to work online, in-person, or both with any length of class.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share tips and tricks to create engaging communication using Discord!

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

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Improving Student Pitches

Improving Student Pitches

If you end your entrepreneurship class by having students pitch their companies, you may have seen:

A handful of pitches are great, but most are…meh.

We’ve had luck improving the overall quality of pitches for all students by updating what we want students to pitch.

Shark Tank Pitches vs Process Pitches

Most instructors run some form of Shark Tank, Dragon’s Den, or investor-oriented pitches, students try to convince judges the business model they’ve been working on is worth investing in.

We’ll refer to these as “Shark Tank” pitches.

Shark Tank Pitch Pros

  • Pressure
  • Competition
  • External stakeholders

In the typical Shark Tank-style pitch, students experience a sense of urgency and have to perform in a high-stakes environment. This pressure is a good introduction to how entrepreneurship feels. This approach increases competition among students which can yield some improved results for some, albeit not all, students.

Speaking of competition, Shark Tank pitches are nice in that they help prepare students for other competitions – idea pitch competitions, business plan competitions, and so on. Students who perform well in this environment can travel to other campuses and communities and secure prize money to further their idea.

Finally, this format makes it easy to invite community stakeholders into your class experience. Most people are familiar with Shark Tank and this style of pitch so it’s relatively efficient to onboard judges to create a novel feedback experience for your students. This can also help build community stakeholder participation in your entrepreneurship program, which will benefit students far beyond this one pitch contest experience.

Shark Tank Pitch Cons

  • Penalizes students who test/invalidate their hypotheses
  • Disadvantages students interested in small, family, or social businesses
  • Values judges’ opinions over customers’

There are, of course, drawbacks to this investor-oriented pitch approach. Requiring students to present a “successful” business model incentivizes students to present an overly optimistic perspective in hopes of impressing the judges (or at least getting a good grade).

Investor-oriented pitches encourage students to pretend they’ve found a successful business model, even when they haven’t learned how.

The real skills we’re teaching in entrepreneurship classes revolved around how to find a successful business model, not how to pretend you’ve found one. Not only does this encourage students to skew the way they present their business, but it also puts students who invalidate their business model assumptions at a big disadvantage – even though that’s arguably the most important skill to learn.

Students who discovered through customer interviews or experiments that their businesses won’t work often have learned more about entrepreneurship than students who ignore what their customers are saying.

Is it a good idea to penalize students who learned how to prove their own assumptions wrong?

The Shark Tank pitch approach also disadvantages students who are interested in businesses that aren’t attractive to investors, such as small businesses, family businesses, social enterprises, and intrapreneurship. These are all very viable career paths for entrepreneurship students, but with this pitch format, students pursuing these types of business ideas often won’t be as engaged.

Finally, the Shark Tank approach’s most important shortcoming is that it elevates the judges’ opinions over those of real customers. When we bring in judges to determine whose business model will be most successful, we’re reinforcing the narrative that success will be determined by opinions from “inside the building”, as opposed to “outside the building” where real customers are.

Neither we nor our judges can predict which companies will succeed (I was shocked the Airbnb worked as well as it did). The only people who know what will succeed are customers, so it’s our job to teach students how to test their business models with customers – not to pick the winners and losers ourselves.

An Alternative: The Process Pitch

To optimize the classic pitch day in a way that focused on skill-build and engages all students, we’ve found success shifting away from Shark Tank pitches, to what we call “process pitches.”

During a process pitch, the goal isn’t to convince anyone you’ve found a successful business model. Instead, the goal is to convince judges that:

You’ve learned a process for finding successful business models.

To do that students walk through the iterations of their business model canvases throughout the course, telling the story of:

  • What assumptions they made along the way
  • How they tested those assumptions
  • What they changed in their business model as a result
  • What assumptions they want to test next

Process Pitch Pros and Cons

  • Cons
    • Less intuitive to external stakeholders
  • Pros
    • Emphasizes skill development
    • Values testing business models “outside the building”
    • Engages all students in the process

As with the Shark Tank approach, a process pitch approach has its pros and cons. On the cons side, this model won’t be familiar to any external judges, so you’ll want to help them understand the goals of this type of pitch. Suggestions on how to do that in the judging sheet below.

On the pros side, the process pitch focuses students on skill acquisition: business modeling, testing business model assumptions, customer interviews, etc.. Because students are assessed on their process, they are incentivized to test their business model and report out accurate results, instead of skewing data to look more successful than they were.

The greatest benefit to students of this approach is the celebration of a growth mindset and learning from failure. This approach teaches students to see failure as a way to find success – opposed to seeing failure as something that should be avoided like in Shark Tank pitches.

Finally, this approach is inclusive of all students. With a focus on the learning process instead of a business outcome, all students can fully engage regardless of the type of venture they’re looking to build including social enterprises, small and family businesses, non-profits, etc.

Process Pitch Best Practices

It may not be intuitive how to conduct a process pitch, so we’ll share our best practices below.

In process pitches, students should demonstrate:

  1. They understand the business model validation process.
  2. They applied that process and evolved their business model based on experimentation.
  3. The entire process was led by their customers’ emotional needs/problems.

When it comes to judging, the emphasis is on the students’ journey, not their outcome. The goal is not success or failure but what they learned during the process. You want students to tell the story of the race, not just to focus on crossing the finish line.

Consider showing this sample presentation from Owlet – just the first 2:33 minutes shows students what you expect from them. In this great example, these students did a fantastic job talking about the pivots they made in their journey. 

 

Judging the Process Pitch

For a process pitch, students should keep them short in length (3-5 minutes) and give judges a chance to ask follow-up questions related to the individual/team process. It is important to de-emphasize the public speaking aspects of this exercise for students.

In this last week of class, you want students focusing more on internalizing their takeaways from the validation process than you do worrying about their presentation technique.

Judging process pitches can be confusing for people used to watching and judging Shark Tank-style pitches. We built a scoresheet and onboarding process to combat this that you can access below.

Process Pitch Judging Criteria

It’s crucial your judges are familiar with concepts like:

  • Customer emotions/problems should be the central focus of a business model.
  • The importance of identifying business model assumptions.
  • Why and how teams should test their assumptions.
  • How teams leverage the results of experiments is more important than whether the experiment succeeded.
  • How much the team can replicate the process in the future is far more important than how many validated boxes they have in their business model (i.e., showing off a theoretical success).

While the judging score sheet includes a primer on business model validation, you’ll want to make sure judges have a solid understanding of these principles. If they don’t you’ll risk teams getting confusing/conflicting feedback that focuses more on products than process.

Judging criteria screenshot. Download score sheet for details

One way to make sure judges understand what your students will be pitching is to send them the Owlet video above. Just as a heads up, since judges will only ask process-focused questions, these questions should sound more like:

  • WHY did you…?
  • HOW did you…?

On the other hand, judges should stay away from questions focused on the product/idea/market that would sound more like:

  • HOW MUCH/big/long…?
  • WHAT is your…?

Make sure this concept is clear for the invited judges by holding Q&A sessions for your judges.

Here are some specific questions judges can ask to stay focused on the process:

  1. How did your business model changed during the course?
  2. What role did customer emotions play in influencing your business model?
  3. What role did experimentation play in changing your business model throughout the course?
  4. How would you utilize customer emotions and experimentation differently the next time you test a business model (i.e., how you would improve)?

Get the Process Pitching Scoresheet

We’ve created a detailed scoresheet for judging process pitches to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.

Get the Scoresheet

 

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!



What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, Meg Weber, the guru of the entrepreneurship program at Western Washington University, will share tips for using pitch days to grow your entrepreneurship program!

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

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Prototyping Lesson Plan: Building 1-Hour No-Code Apps

Prototyping Lesson Plan: Building 1-Hour No-Code Apps

How often have you heard:

“I have an idea for an app!”

For many students, every idea…is an app idea.

And it’s hard to blame them. Between Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, etc. students are spending more than 7 hours per day on their screens.

Of course, they aren’t alone (and they may be on to something)…

Using Apps to Teach Skills

While apps aren’t everything in entrepreneurship, we can leverage our students’ love of them to:

  • Teach prototyping
  • Enable students to launch an MVP
  • Develop a skill (mobile design) they can use throughout their careers

All with…

An experience that engages students.

Now every student can build an app

How to Build a 1-Hour App

In the 1-Hour App exercise, students will:

  1. Use Glide to create a tutorial app (that would cost ~$70k+ to build from scratch)
  2. Launch their tutorial app
  3. Start building a custom app for their company (or their resume)
Uber Edibles App Template

Turn your students’ love of apps into learning opportunities.

Get the “1-Hour App” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “1-Hour App” 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!


Coming Soon…

In our next exercise, we’ll share a lesson plan that combines Tinder with Plinko!

Subscribe here to get our next exercise, “Why Business Plans Suck: The Game” in your inbox.

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Failure Resume

Failure Resume

Have you ever had a student:

  • Pretend to interview more customers than they actually had
  • Skew the results of an experiment to make their product appear more successful than it really was?
  • Misrepresent why they weren’t able to complete an assignment?

The reason we see the above is because

Students fear failure.

And who can blame them! By the time they get to college, the threat of a “failing grade” has been used as a tool to ensure their compliance for the past 12 years.

Students spend elementary through high school literally being taught to fear failure.

Entrepreneurs can’t fear failure

If there’s one entrepreneurial scale we can teach our students to help them find success no matter where their career path leads them it’s

How to fear learn from failure

This is a scale that all successful entrepreneurs have navigated and mastered, learning from the bruises, and emerging more motivated and confident. Our students can learn from failure, and can learn from those who have found tremendous success because of their unique relationship with failure.

Greatness is Forged by Failure

Start by showing your students a slide featuring the following faces they will recognize:

  • Oprah
  • Elon Musk
  • Vera Wang
  • Steve Jobs
  • You (this is the most important one!)

Entrepreneurs who have failed and eventually been successful

Ask your students:

  • “What do all of these people have in common?”
  • Answer: They were all failures before they were successes.

Tell students:

  • Oprah, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs were all fired from their jobs before they became successful.
  • Show Elon Musk’s Failure Resume, highlighting the number of failures he’s encountered on his way to success.
  • Vera Wang failed to achieve her goal of making the Olympic team in figure skating and failed to get the job as the editor in chief of Vogue (after working there for 20 years) before eventually starting her own fashion line. She’s now in the US Skating Hall of Fame for the costumes she’s designed for skaters.
  • Share one of your own failures.

Next, show a slide with this quote:

The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception and response to failure. – John Maxwell

Tell your students that if they want to find or create a job they enjoy that pays well, one of the most impactful things they can do is change their relationship to failure.

Share with them that failure is uncomfortable for all of us, but the difference between being an average and an achieving person is how they take advantage of failures when they arise.

Tell students in this class you will give them the opportunity to learn how to make the most of their failures. The first step towards doing that is to show them how valuable their failures have already been to them.

Failure Resume

You’re going to ask your students to be vulnerable and share their failures. The best way for them to engage with this exercise is for you to be vulnerable and share your failures with them. In doing so, you’ll demonstrate the failures are what we make of them.

Tell students that if an experience is too recent, or feels too sensitive to reflect on now, they’re welcome to skip that failure and move on to another one.

You want your students to create a resume, but not a typical resume where they document all of their successful accomplishments. This is going to be a failure resume.

Tell your students that using the following categories as inspiration, they should try to come up with at least their three biggest failures, they have experienced, thus far and their lives:

  • School
  • Work
  • Sports/competitions
  • Relationship

They don’t need to come up with failures in each category, they just need to try to come up with three failures in total.

To help inspire ideas, share some examples of your own failures with your students.

Here is my example I share with my students – I talk about failing classes and getting denied admission to school, and about failing at work (getting denied tenure), about getting cut from my high school basketball team, and about lying to my wife.

Example failure resume

For each of the failures that you share with your students, be sure that you have real impactful lessons that you’ve taken from them.

The reflection and lessons learned is the step you must demonstrate for your students. Don’t languish on the actual failure too long!

Tell your students you’ll give them a few minutes in silence to reflect on and identify their failures.

My Biggest Failure

Looking over their failures, ask students to identify the one that they learned from the most. In other words, the one that would change their behavior the most.

With that failure in mind, ask your students to fill in the bottom half of the failure resume, answering the questions:

  1. My Biggest Failure Taught Me…
  2. And Changed My Behavior By….

For example, I share with my students that I learned from my failures to be more thoughtful in my words and actions, which leads me to pause and slow down so I think of others before speaking and acting.

Failure resume: reflecting on failure

After students have written in their answers, pair them up, ideally with someone they don’t know. They share their biggest failure with their partner, what they learned, and how it changed the way they act now,

Once your students had a chance to share with one another, ask a few to share what they learned from their failure with the rest of the class.

Because students are being vulnerable and sharing sensitive information be sure to thank each person who shares and reflect on what positive things it reflects about them that they something helpful away from their failures.

As you’re early in your class. It’s important to appreciate students for sharing; it will set the tone for the rest of your course.

Failure Will Not be Penalized

Tell students in an entrepreneurship course and in their career path, they are likely to run many experiments. Some, if not most, of those experiments will fail.

We encourage you to determine students’ grades by how much effort they put into their experiments, how well they reflect on those experiments, and how much they learn from each one – successful or not. With that approach, you can tell students they will never be penalized in your class for failing.

Making the Most of Failure

Tell your students the key to making the most of any failure is reflection. Once a failure occurs, successful people take time to identify:

  • What failed
  • Why it failed
  • And understand how they can improve next time

Ask your students to complete the last portion of their Failure Resume. For my example, upon reflecting I realized I can be more successful by inviting my wife into helping me be more thoughtful.

Failure resume: planning ahead for failure

By identifying techniques they’ll use to analyze and reflect upon their failure, for example:

  • Journaling
  • Talking to someone
  • Meditating
  • Contemplating alone

Tell your students to commit to themselves that when they face a failure, they will make the most of it by trying some of these new strategies, and by reflecting on the failure.

Get the “Failure Resume” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share a companion exercise to the “60 Minute MVP” exercise. This will help students understand why it is critical to engage customers prior to launching!

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3 Exercises to Start Your Course

3 Exercises to Start Your Course

Each semester we ask the thousands of students using our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum a few questions to understand the challenges they face:

  • What’s the hardest part about being a student?
  • Why is that hard?

What we learn informs our curriculum development. It also helps me, as a professor, formulate a strategy to approach my first day of class so it will be memorable, engaging, and so students want to come back for the 2nd day.

The main challenges we hear are:

  1. Time management
  2. Knowing what they want out of life
  3. Staying focused
  4. Staying positive

Students struggle because they balance so many roles – student, athlete, leader, friend, child, teammate, and so on. They share with us general strategies they use to combat the stress and anxiety they face, such as scheduling their days, having an accountability buddy, asking “adults” for help, etc.

Mostly what we hear is that students don’t carve out the time to dig into what matters to them and how they can leverage their college experience to prepare for a meaningful career around what matters to them.

Understanding the challenges our students face gives us the foundation upon which we can change their path. If we build our course experience knowing they struggle with things like time management, finding meaning, and staying focused, we engage them and provide them tools to become successful.

Here we share three exercises that help students think about what is meaningful to them. Implementing these exercises gives you a chance to map your course learning objectives, modules, and assignments onto specific issues students bring up.

They will feel engaged. But more importantly, they will see your course as useful.

#3: Curiosities + Fears = Engagement

The key to engaging students is making lessons personally relevant.

To discover what matters to your students, you can ask two simple questions:

  1. “When you think of life after college, what are you curious about?
  2. “When you think of life after college, what are you afraid of?”

When you ask students to brainstorm their fears and curiosities individually, and then in small groups, your class will buzz with excited and nervous energy about the future. 

Then when you ask students to share what they came up with, you’ll instantly know how to make entrepreneurship relevant: yours is the class where they’ll get to learn about their curiosities, and allay their fears.
Launch class by focusing on students fears and curiosities

This exercise will help you discover your students’ fears and curiosities – which will likely revolve around making money and finding a job they like after they graduate. While it may not be your natural inclination to help solve those problems for your students during an entrepreneurship course, those topics are the key to fully engaging your customers (i.e. students), because those are the problems they care about most.

Students start by jotting down fears that come to mind when they think of life after graduation. You might ask a few students to share, to help create a safe environment where students can be vulnerable.

Students next jot down what they are most curious about when they think of life after college. For this part of the exercise, using a think-pair-share structure will help students connect. As students begin sharing the curiosities they identified in pairs, use a (digital) whiteboard to identify categories that are consistent across the entire class. You will likely end up with categories related to employment, financial, and social concerns.

Your goal here is to show your students how the material and skills they will learn and practice in your course map onto the things they are currently curious about.

You want to rephrase and connect their curiosities to demonstrate you’ve heard your students well and understand them. For example, “It sounds like you’re curious how to find a job you’ll like, you’re good at, and can make enough money at. Does that sound right?”

This is a critical part of this lesson, you’re asking for your students’ buy-in. The better job you do listening to your students’ curiosities and incorporating them into your description of how you’ll resolve them, the more engaged your students will be throughout the course.

Thank your students for any input to clarify, and tell them that their curiosities align well with your objectives for the course. Tell your students how your course is designed to teach them exactly what they’re most curious about:

Tell them if they are curious about finding a job they’ll like, they will test out several jobs in this class, such as:

    • Sales
    • Marketing
    • Product Design
    • Finance
    • Graphic/web design
    • Being your own boss/CEO

If your students are curious about what it takes to get a good job, you can tell them the vast majority of people get their job based on personal recommendations from someone in their network, and that in this class, they’ll learn the skills they need to grow their network, so they can find better job opportunities.

To maximize student buy-in, this exercise allows you to frame the course for your students in a way that will fulfill their curiosities.

Your Course in Students’ Context

Return next class session with the fear and curiosity categories mapped onto the content/lessons/modules/skills you cover in the course. For instance, if you lay out each week in your syllabus with the topics you will cover, add one column for “Fears” and one for “Curiosities”. List in each column the fear and curiosity categories to which each particular topic relates.

This last step is the most critical. It is your chance to reinforce the connection between the course material and the things your students are currently thinking about. Show them how you will give them the tools to address each one of their fears, and each one of their curiosities.

Students Now Have the Context to Launch

After this activity, your students will understand the value of what they are about to learn. They will be more engaged because the learning is now very real for them.

Click here for the complete lesson plan of the Student Fears and Curiosities exercise.


Want 30+ Lessons Like These?

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

Check out ExEC.


#2: High-Functioning Teams on Day 1

Your students will work in teams, but they’re not looking forward to it. Helping them form functional teams will increase both their motivation throughout your course. 

The Skills Scavenger Hunt is not only a fun way for students to get to meet one another, it’ll help them discover who in the class can help them build a diverse team with aligned goals.

Launch class with a skills scavenger hunt to create high-performance teams

During this quick exercise, students go on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills in the following categories:

  1. Graphics
  2. Technology
  3. Social Media
  4. Design
  5. Sales
  6. Marketing

Students progress through each section, checking any boxes for skills they possess so they find students with complementary skills. Split students into groups, in which students go through each box, and if they possess that skill they share, in 30 seconds or less, details about how/why they achieved that experience.

As this process evolves, each student writes down names and quick notes about any students who possess skills they don’t possess. We suggest shuffling groups at least 1 or 2 more times, to allow students to learn about as many of their classmates as possible.

After the class session, students should post in a discussion board on your LMS what skills they possess and a quick sentence about that particular skill. Students with gaps in their worksheet can identify other students to fill those gaps on this discussion board.

As students meet each other and learn more about their classmates, they set themselves up to execute better, and conflict less, by successfully assembling their own high-performing teams.

Click here for the complete Skills Scavenger Hunt exercise!

#1: Uncover Their Passions

Students who come into our classes passionate about entrepreneurship are easy to engage. 

How do we engage students who aren’t passionate about launching a company? Help them discover what they are passionate about…and help them launch that!

Launch class with the Pilot Your Purpose Exercise

The Pilot Your Purpose exercise help students explore areas that motivate them:

  1. Interests that spark their curiosity
  2. Skills they want to develop
  3. People they want to impact

The combination of these three elements defines a purpose for your students – a personal mission statement that taps into their passions to help others.

Once students have a purpose, you can ground each class session in that purpose. You don’t have to talk abstractly about difficult or stressful topics like customer interviewing or entrepreneurial finance. Instead, your class becomes an opportunity for students to pursue their purpose!

Your class becomes an opportunity for students to pursue their purpose!

Interests + Skills = Passion

The easiest on-ramp to identifying passion is interests. Students think about:

  1. What friends say they always talk about
  2. What they would spend time doing if money was no object
  3. What they were learning about the last time they lost track of time watching Youtube or scrolling on social media

The next step is identifying skills students think about. Similar to interests, students do this by thinking about:

  1. What friends say they are good at
  2. What they would like to get better at doing
  3. What they think they are above average at doing

To identify their passion, students:

  1. Look back at their interests sheet and jot down what excites them
  2. Look back at their skills sheet and jot down what they are interested in getting better at
  3. Think of ways to combine interests and skills

Pilot Your Purpose: Passion

Passion + Impact = Purpose

With a passion identified, students now turn to the impact they want to have on the world. To do that, students think about:

  1. Groups of people they’re excited to help
  2. Problems in their community they’re interested in solving
  3. Global problems they’re interested in solving

Students are now ready to identify their purpose:

  1. Look back at their Passion sheet and jot down what stands out
  2. Look back at their Impact sheet and jot down what stands out
  3. Think of ways to combine passion and impact (which is their purpose)

Pilot Your Purpose: Purpose

When your students identify a specific purpose, they can weave it throughout the rest of the course, as they are developing their entrepreneurial mindset and skill set.

As you begin each module of your course, students will stay motivated as they see the direct application of the particular material to their purpose!

Get your copy of the Pilot Your Purpose Worksheet here!


Want 30+ Lessons Like These?

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

Check out ExEC.


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we’ll share a new exercise for helping to normalize failure so students fear it less.

Subscribe here to get our next exercise in your inbox.

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2020 Top Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans & Tools

2020 Top Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans & Tools

“Your posts help me keep my students engaged – they and I thank you!” – ExEC Professor

Based on the popularity of our 2019 Top 5 Lesson Plans article, here is the list of our 2020 top entrepreneurship lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.

We designed the following exercises and lesson plans to transform your students’ experience as they learn how to stay engaged online, interview customers, and form teams.

5. Gamify Your Lectures

We all struggled during this year of online learning to keep our students engaged. One surefire way to inject excitement into your class is to gamify your lectures. In this lesson, we explain how to use our favorite gamification tools (Slido and Kahoot!) to minimize Zoom zombie syndrome in your students.

These tools allow you to convert concepts you need to cover into questions your students explore one at a time. With this formative assessment approach, you discover what your students already know and what they need help with. Additionally, this approach activates passive students and invites students to teach each other.

Be careful using gamification; don’t overdo it. This gamification technique is great, but if you use it too often its benefits will wear off. Instead, mix this approach up with a number of experiential exercises (like those in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum).

View Directions to Gamify Your Class with Slido and Kahoot!

4. Skills Scavenger Hunt

Students in high-performance teams learn better and perform better. But how do we move students beyond forming teams with friends and teammates? Students matched on aligned goals and diverse skills give them their best chance at boosting their learning capability.

We developed our Skills Scavenger Hunt to facilitate that process and thus mitigate the biggest drawbacks of student team projects. In this exercise, students go on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills.

skills scavenger hunt online ice breaker team building animation

With this unique exercise, students form high-performing teams by going on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills in the following categories:

  1. Graphics
  2. Technology
  3. Social Media
  4. Design
  5. Sales
  6. Marketing

If your students are in teams that are dysfunctional, or just sleepy, their learning can come to a screeching halt as they disengage. Empower them to successfully assemble their own high-performing teams so they execute better and conflict less.

View The Skills Scavenger Hunt Exercise

3. Steve Blank Discusses How to Teach Entrepreneurship

At the USASBE 2020 annual conference, we had the privilege of interviewing entrepreneurship education guru Steve Blank. In the first of two posts, he shared his perspective on how to teach entrepreneurship. Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

In a post loaded with great advice for any novice or expert entrepreneurship educator, Steve opened up about his many decades of experience as an entrepreneur, educator, and mentor. Read the full post for a wealth of invaluable information, but the quick takeaways are:

  1. Educators need a mentor. Effective entrepreneurship educators need expertise in the domains of education and entrepreneurship. Steve advises us to find a mentor in the domain in which we lack experience and expertise.
  2. Educators should train entrepreneurs like artists. Steve encourages us to forget about teaching answers, and instead design learning experiences so students can practice skill-building.
  3. Students learn skills by practicing them. Steve encourages us to learn to design effective learning experiences, as those are the best way to teach our students skills.

Read An Overview of the 1st Half of Our Interview Here

(and Read the 2nd Half Here)

2. 10 Free Tools to Increase Student Engagement

During the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Virtual Conference, we presented 10 tools to increase online student engagement. Learn about these free quiz, video, digital whiteboard, and presentation tools like Gimkit, Note.ly, Mural, and Loom.

You can sprinkle these tools throughout your entrepreneurship syllabus, or stack them like building blocks, to create a deeper face-to-face or online student engagement. Below is a video recap of the conference presentation.

We consistently experiment with a wide variety of tools to help our community of entrepreneurship educators provide engaging experiences for their students. For this post, we curated the 10 tools we feel provide the greatest chance of deeply engaging learning experiences for your students, whether you’re teaching face-to-face or online.

View 10 Free Tools to Increase Student Engagement

1. Lottery Ticket Dilemma

We urge our faculty to focus students on their customers’ emotional needs, which leads to more valuable customer interviews. During this exercise, students discover how important emotions are in the decision-making process and the importance of understanding and fulfilling other people’s emotional needs.

If your students focus more on their products than their customers’ problems, this lesson plan is for you! In this exercise, students learn:

  • Why the majority of startups end in failure, & how to avoid those failures
  • That customer decisions are driven by their emotions
  • To create products customers want to buy we need to understand the emotional journey they want to take

View Lottery Ticket Dilemma Lesson Plan
In addition to our community thinking this is a powerful experience in the classroom, this exercise also won first place in the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Awards at the USASBE 2020 Annual Conference!

Entrepreneurship Education

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

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

We’ve done the work for you.

Less Time = More Engagement

Less Time = More Engagement

Teaching online is harder:

  • Your students (and you!) get Zoom fatigue
  • Hybrid teaching provides extra challenges
  • Students start to disengage

…and the whole thing takes more of your time to manage.

This spring, if you want to save time while engaging your students online, use “the best entrepreneurship curriculum available” – 15 weeks of structured, cohesive, interactive lessons that will engage your students.

Teaching Entrepreneurship Online To Engage Students

Increase Student Engagement

ExEC is an experience, for both our professors and students. Instead of you having to talk at students, the exercises invite your students to learn by doing, so they engage themselves. For example, you can…

Engage Students in Ideation

In many entrepreneurship courses, students brainstorm ideas to work on based on a Bug List or some other sort of brainstorming exercise. These exercises don’t take advantage of students’ passions and can fail to engage them.

Ideation in ExEC starts with brainstorming their ideal customers. Your students start by understanding the emotional needs of people they are attached to (i.e. people they are passionate about helping). Those needs become the foundation of their business ideas, ensuring students are motivated throughout your course.

Example Idea Generation
Idea Generation Worksheet

We know customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems – and right now people’s problems have changed dramatically. The idea generation exercises within ExEC will your students how to identify new opportunities they’re excited about that are inspired by real-world problems.

Engage in Interviews Done Right

Entrepreneurship students must learn how to effectively talk to customers to discover and validate their problems. ExEC uses a three-step experiential process to engage students in this skill. First, students play a competitive game to learn what questions they should and should not ask.

Learn to Interview Customers

When you run this exercise, your students will be immersed as they eagerly sort cards into different piles and compete with one another using their phones to see who can correctly answer the most questions, the fastest.

The second step is for students to practice their interview skills with their classmates. ExEC provides students with a robust interview script, which they’ll practice multiple times with their peers so they can feel more comfortable for step #3 – interviewing real customers.

Engage Students in Customer Interviewing with a Customer Interviewing Script

Finally, for the third step, your students will students interview customers the right way, at which point…

The learning becomes real!

Give your students a structured framework to conduct their interviews increases their confidence and, as a result, ensures they don’t disengage when you ask them to step out of their comfort zone.

Make Hybrid Easier

For better or worse, hybrid teaching is the new normal. When you teach online or hybrid, with proper planning you can replicate the engagement of all the experiences you’d do in-person.

Teaching Entrepreneurship Online To Engage Students

When we designed the online version of ExEC, we conducted considerable research on the best resources to increase online engagement.

We built each class session, each activity, each homework assignment to bring our award-winning engagement into an online environment. With ExEC, you engage students through elements like:

  • Virtual Post-It note exercises with all students simultaneously
  • Class-wide discussions including everyone
  • Small-group breakouts

Using a structured set of lessons like the ones in ExEC enables you to have modular exercises you can integrate into your online or hybrid course to ensure your class is engaging.

Teaching Entrepreneurship Online Professor Testimonial

Plus ExEC offers fully online and hybrid course packages for you on:

  • Canvas
  • Brightspace / D2L
  • Moodle
  • Blackboard

With the right curriculum and enough time to prepare, online learning can be better than in-person.

We will make your hybrid teaching easier.

If you’re teaching entrepreneurship online, you can have an engaging class without reinventing the wheel.Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

Keep Students Motivated

Students spend hours each day on Zoom listening to professors lecturing them. Then they spend hours each night on a computer completing homework and in group meetings. Zoom fatigue is a huge impediment to student engagement – our students have to make more emotional effort to appear interested, and the intense focus on sustained eye contact is exhausting.

Learning on Zoom isn’t fun. It isn’t exciting. Unless you can engage students with something like ExEC!

Engage Students with ExEC Exercises

ExEC launches on day one with a super-engaging exercise called “Fear, Curiosity, and Toothbrushes”. Students interactively share their fears and curiosities about life after graduation. Professors map this information onto the syllabus to show students how the class will benefit them personally, in areas that matter to them.

The second part of this kickoff class is about normalizing failure, using the Toothbrush Design Challenge, which won the 2019 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Exercises Competition at the USASBE Annual Conference. Helping your students recognize the value of failed experiments now, early in the course, will help them make the most of the learning opportunities to follow immediately after this lesson.

The rest of the semester proceeds through a variety of high-energy experiences like the 60-Minute MVP, which one professor described 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.”

ExEC attacks topics students struggle with like finances with fun, game-like experiences like our Financial Projection Simulator.

teaching finance in entrepreneurship

From the first class session to the last class session, we keep you and your students excited and motivated

Make Spring Better

Spring can be more engaging and less stressful for your students. With a cohesive set of experiential:

  • Lesson plans
  • Sample slides
  • Student exercises
  • Rubrics
  • LMS templates

ExEC enables you to deliver an experience your students will never forget!

Best Entrepreneurship Curriculum available

Preview ExEC Now 

 

Entrepreneurship Class Essentials with Steve Blank

Entrepreneurship Class Essentials with Steve Blank

Here is part 2 of our interview with entrepreneurship innovator and educator Steve Blank, where he shares his thoughts on what is essential for an entrepreneurship class and an entrepreneurship curriculum. If you missed part 1, you can catch up here.

Steve Blank is an icon in entrepreneurship education. He is known for developing the customer development method that launched the Lean Startup movement.  A serial entrepreneur turned educator, Steve continues to elevate the field of entrepreneurship and greatly influences how we teach entrepreneurship principals. 

Steve Blank on What is Essential to Teach in an Entrepreneurship Class

Increasing numbers of universities require students to take entrepreneurship courses. While Steve doesn’t believe these courses should be mandatory, he had very clear ideas on what the goal should be for entrepreneurship courses.

The truth is we will have students in our classes that are not interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Whether it’s because they’re taking the class because it’s required or whether they have a true interest in becoming an entrepreneur, we have a commitment to helping our students actualize their potential. 

“How do we make a well-rounded individual in the 21st century?”

Steve shared that, at the core, entrepreneurship courses, build skills in tenacity, resilience, and agility in hypothesis testing. These skills are valid for all students, whether they want to be an entrepreneur or not. And it is his belief that these skills should be the foundation of a liberal arts education in the 21st century. 

Particularly since the evolution of society and technology have created a shorter lifespan for most companies. By building up these skills, students will be able to access them as they go about building their careers. In addition, entrepreneurship classes will help identify future entrepreneurs.

However, these skills shouldn’t be limited to college learning.  Steve envisions these methods being taught as part of a K-12 curriculum as well. Similar to the Korda Institute for Teaching, entrepreneurship can be integrated into classroom learning to bolster student skills, knowledge, and community impact. By designing educational experiences that utilize entrepreneurship principles, students can start learning early to solve problems that impact or involve their community. 

Steve Blank’s 4 Essential Courses for Entrepreneurship Curriculum

We liked the idea of narrowing the focus of an entrepreneurship curriculum, but we also asked Steve if there were courses he deemed essential when designing a curriculum. Here are the four core entrepreneurial classes or concepts Steve believes should be included:

  1. Creativity: This course includes customer discovery and helps students isolate the problems they want to solve.
  2. Lean Launchpad Lite: This is a stripped-down version of Lean Launchpad which Steve believes can sometimes be bogged down with jargon. This class includes the framework and practical questions every entrepreneur needs to ask without a large focus on terminology.
  3. Core Skills (or as Steve likes to put it “Fucking with your head”): This is a skill-building class focused on improving student’s resilience, tenacity, and agility. Lesson plans focus on hypothesis testing and fact-checking. In this class, students become more comfortable with chaos, uncertainty, and even failure.
  4. Capstone: The capstone centers around the specific domain of expertise. For each university, it will vary with the region and the focus of the institution.

Designing Entrepreneurship Curriculum for the Students You Want to Attract

One of the questions we’re often asked is how to build a comprehensive curriculum. When put to Steve, he recommends keeping students top of mind when designing an entrepreneurship curriculum. 

If I was in a university the first question I would ask for an educator is, am I building a curriculum for the students I have, or am I building a curriculum for the students I want to attract? 

He shared the example of talking with some educators in Lincoln, Nebraska who work with farmers. The teachers were interested in putting together a class for farmers. The opportunity this presented for the university, in Steve’s words, “is they could become the Lean expert for farm entrepreneurship rather than replicating the other 7,000 versions of a general Lean Startup curriculum”. The question Steve encourages institutions and entrepreneurship professors to ask when designing curriculum are:

  • Is there a domain of expertise we can or should focus on?
  • Can we create a vertical version of Lean Startup for this area?

Teaching Minimum Viable Product 

On the topic of buzzwords and jargon found in Lean Start-up, the idea of an MVP is one of the most often misunderstood concepts taught in entrepreneurship. Particularly, it can be difficult to teach. 

One of the mistakes Steve discussed regarding the idea of a Minimum Viable Product or (MVP) is that businesses may understand finding a product to fit a certain market, but they stop there. Students and entrepreneurs alike need to understand that all components of the business model need to be tested and some of them need to be re-tested. 

Therefore, when teaching MVP to students, finding customers who want particular features of a product or want the product is just Step 1 of a robust class. For example, we could also design a class around MVP’s for pricing. Students can test whether a product could sell for $20,000 rather than $9.99.  

From customer discovery to learning how to pivot, an effective MVP course teaches students to run experiments across all components of commercialization.

Key Takeaway

Finishing out our discussion, Steve expressed the key takeaway he wants educators and universities alike to realize is that one-size-fits-all does not fit all for an entrepreneurship class. Whether we’re teaching tech, corporate, or social entrepreneurship, he encourages us to take our expertise and adjust our curriculums to get the right impedance match for the right students. In other words, treat our students like customers. 

Our classes are our own little start-up.


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Want More Engagement?

Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

Whether you’re teaching online, face-to-face, or a hybrid of the two, we built our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) to provide award-winning engagement and excitement for your students

  • in any course structure
  • on all major learning management system

Preview ExEC Now

We’ve taken the guesswork out of creating an engaging approach that works both online or in-person. ExEC has a comprehensive entrepreneurship syllabus template complete with 15 weeks of award-winning lesson plans that can be easily adapted to your needs.


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:

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Want to improve how you teach entrepreneurship? Steve has some ideas.


Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Before we get there though, with the fires raging along the West Coast of the US, one of which is stunningly close to Steve’s home, we wanted to send him, his family, and everyone affected by the fires, our best wishes.


Steve and I sat down, pre-pandemic, for an in-depth discussion on the state of entrepreneurship education and ways to improve it going forward.

Below I’ve written up a summary of half of our conversation: thoughts on how to teach entrepreneurship.

In an upcoming part two, I’ll summarize some of Steve’s ideas on creating a comprehensive entrepreneurship curriculum, including:

  • The skills professors should teach their students, and 
  • Four courses Steve thinks are core to a robust entrepreneurship program

First, for anyone unfamiliar: Who is Steve Blank?

Forefather of Lean Startup

Entrepreneur, author, professor, an originator of evidence-based entrepreneurship, Steve Blank has developed or made famous some of the most recognizable approaches to entrepreneurship including: 

In addition, Steve has reimagined the way entrepreneurship is taught throughout the world with his Lean LaunchPad, NSF I-Corps, and Hacking for X (e.g. Recovery, Defense, Diplomacy, Impact, Energy, etc.) programs. 

In short, Steve has dramatically improved the way we practice and teach entrepreneurship.

Why Teaching Entrepreneurship is Hard

One of the very first topics that came up during our conversation was how we all can become more effective instructors.

Roughly 75% of college faculty are adjunct or non-tenure-track professors. Steve shared that as a practitioner, one of the challenges he faced was not what to teach, but how to teach:

There is usually very little onboarding in place to train professors in the most effective way to teach entrepreneurial lessons.”

While most of us are successful entrepreneurs or successful professors, very few of us are equally great at both.

Compounding the problem, Steve mentioned that there are so many kinds of entrepreneurship – small business, high tech, corporate, social, family business, etc.

With these challenges in mind, I asked Steve for recommendations to overcome them.

Steve’s Teaching Tips

Tip #1: Accept You Don’t Know Everything

“I see my mentors and other adjuncts and coaches make this mistake, in thinking your domain expertise is the expertise of entrepreneurship rather than a very narrow slice.”

When Steve first began teaching at UC Berkeley, he was paired with professor John Freeman who recommended he sit in on other instructors’ entrepreneurship courses. Steve mentioned, “the shock to my system, the discovery…there are different types of entrepreneurship.” 

Steve was a successful entrepreneur, but he wasn’t a successful small business, high tech, corporate, social, and lifestyle entrepreneur.

Each type of entrepreneurship has different goals and to be taught most effectively, requires a different approach and expertise. To illustrate his point, Steve mentioned that in high tech entrepreneurship, the first goal is to have a seed round that raises millions of dollars. In small business entrepreneurship, however, the first goal may be to make enough to fund a lifestyle and family.

It’s this diversity in objectives that can make effectively teaching innovation difficult and it was his realization that he didn’t know everything about every type of entrepreneurship that led Steve to increase his breadth of knowledge. 

Tip #2: Get a Mentor

Luckily, Berkely had a semi-formal onboarding process in place which sped up the learning process for new faculty. For other educators who do not have access to that kind of program, Steve recommends:

  • Attending other entrepreneurship instructor’s classes
  • If you’re an entrepreneur first, get another educator to mentor you
  • If you’re an academic first, pair with an entrepreneur to teach

Like we teach our students, teams with aligned goals and diverse skills have better outcomes; the same applies to our teaching. To improve your classes, find people who have a different set of skills and experiences than you and collaborate with them.

When in Doubt: Experiences Teach Skills

“If you’ve never started a company and you’re teaching entrepreneurship, it’s like teaching a med school class and never having cracked a chest.”

Entrepreneurship is a combination of theory and practice and our students learn it best when they are offered by perspectives.

Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Steve further explained his point by saying, “Startups are essentially years of chaos, uncertainty, and terror. That’s not what a typical academic career is like. And so it’s kind of hard to teach tenacity, resilience, and agility and maybe curiosity, which are the key skills for early-stage entrepreneurs without having lived with that uncertainty.”

Students Learn Best By Doing

How do we teach customer empathy, customer development, and customer discovery effectively?

The answer is learning by doing. When Steve teaches his Lean LaunchPad classes, he insists his students talk to 10 customers each week. And he always follows up to ensure they actually made contact. 

For students who have difficulty performing customer interviews, he recommends students practice interviewing. Steve recommends the book, Talking to Humans: Success Starts with Understanding Your Customers.

For an engaging way to help your students understand exactly what questions they should and shouldn’t ask customers, you can also use our free experiential Customer Interviewing Cards lesson plan.

The same goes for every topic in entrepreneurship:

  • Idea generation
  • Solution ideation
  • Finance
  • Pitching

Every entrepreneurship skill must be practiced to be internalized.

The Future of Entrepreneurship Education

Key skills for early-stage entrepreneurs can be taught with the right combination of theory and experiential exercises.

In class, Steve looks to create a feeling that there is no “right” answer that can be found in a book. It is this approach that encourages students to figure things out for themselves and inspires outside-the-box thinking. The Lean LaunchPad methodology Steve created is great for stimulating the chaos of entrepreneurship. It is this chaos that identifies those students ready for the pursuit of entrepreneurship.

Steve conceptualizes his classes as the Juilliard of entrepreneurship; when the way to train artists was with an experiential, hands-on apprenticeship. With this in mind, Steve thinks successful entrepreneurship curricula should include entrepreneurial appreciation.

“These core [entrepreneurship] courses will be the new liberal arts courses of the 21st century.”


Takeaways

Here are my takeaways from the first part of our conversation:

  1. Get a mentor. If your background is in academia, find an entrepreneur to mentor you in real-world realities. If you’re an entrepreneur, find an academic mentor who can teach you about teaching. Teaching entrepreneurship requires both.
  2. Train entrepreneurs like artists. Just like are no “right” answers in art, there are no right answers in entrepreneurship. Instead of focusing on teaching answers, we should focus on teaching skills.
  3. Students learn skills by practicing them. Experiences, not textbooks, are the best way to teach skills.

Check Out Part 2

Click here for the second part of our conversation where we discuss:

  • The necessary skills professors should teach their students, and 
  • Four courses he thinks are essential to a robust entrepreneurship program

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