The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

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

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

Now in Over 40 Universities

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

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

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

Practice what we preach!

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

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

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

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

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

New Professor Platform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessment Guide

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

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

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

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

More Background Reading Material

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LMS integration

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

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

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

Now’s Your Chance!

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

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Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

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

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

5. Syllabus Co-Creation

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

Creating problem Post-It clouds

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

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

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

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

View Syllabus Co-Creation Lesson Plan

4. Why Business Plans Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

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

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

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

entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea

After this lesson, your students’ ideas will be:

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

View Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation Lesson Plan

2. Teaching Customer Observations

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

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

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

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

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

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

1. 60 Minute MVP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View 60 Minute MVP Lesson Plan

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

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

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

Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

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

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Student Entrepreneur Spotlight: Uber for Women

Student Entrepreneur Spotlight: Uber for Women

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

Julia, Hannah and Jennifer
ExEC Entrepreneurs

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

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

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

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

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

Students Become Entrepreneurs

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

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

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

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

In their words, 

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

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

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

Students Love ExEC!

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

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

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

Your Students Can Compete!

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

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

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

The Final Results

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

Your Impact Will Grow Beyond Your Course

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

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

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

As they told us,

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

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

You Can Use ExEC this Fall

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

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

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

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


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Image Insights: Teaching Opportunity Identification

Image Insights: Teaching Opportunity Identification

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

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

This exercise will help your students:

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

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

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

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


Round 1: Identify

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

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

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

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

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

Round 1: Present and Discuss

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

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

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

Possible discussion points:

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

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

Round 2: Identify

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

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

Round 2 Present and Debrief

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

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

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

Specific questions to consider asking:

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

Key Takeaways

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

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

 

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

Get the “Image Insights” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


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Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

You’re an innovative professor. You read blog posts about teaching entrepreneurship because…

You care about engaging your students.

It’s the same reason you’re always on the lookout for new tools to integrate into your class, and it’s the reason you’ve thought about (or have) ditched your textbook in favor of your own lesson plans.

The downside is, creating your own experiential curriculum from scratch is:

  • Time consuming. Researching and developing a full course of high-quality lesson plans that teach real-world skills, and are assessable, takes a massive on-going investment.
  • Disjointed. Every new tool you integrate into class runs the risk of creating a more inconsistent experience for students.
  • Redundant. This work has been done by others, it doesn’t make sense for you to roll your own from scratch.

So instead of starting from scratch, consider building on a strong foundation…

ExEC: Structured Experiential Curriculum

We’ve spent the last two years developing, and testing, the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) – a comprehensive, and structured, curriculum.

Because ExEC is written by a unified team of modern entrepreneurship teachers who practice what we teach. ExEC provides a consistent structure throughout 15-weeks of exercises:

Structure weekly courses

ExEC’s 25+ detailed lesson plans, exercises, and assessments provide the foundation for your entrepreneurship course, so you can teach real-world intra/entre-preneurial skills like:

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

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

Classroom-Tested

ExEC has been tested with thousands of students at dozens of Universities, including:


The results demonstrate the power of a structured, experiential approach. One student said:

“[ExEC] 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.”

Similarly, one professor reported:

“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.”

But like we teach our students, positive responses don’t mean we’re done. To ensure we continue innovating, we’re constantly on the hunt for new resources to include, and improvements to make, so…

ExEC is Always Up To Date

We collect feedback from students and professors on every exercise in ExEC, about how it felt completing, and teaching it:

We collect feedback on every exercise from professors and students

We use that data to inform what changes we need to make to ExEC for the next semester. With ExEC, you’ll always provide your students with relevant, and engaging, experiences.

Collaborate with Other Professors

When you use ExEC, you’ll also join a community of other modern professors using the curriculum so you can ask questions:

And share best practices and success stories:

Don’t Go It Alone

If you want to teach real-world, entrepreneurship skills in an experiential way…

You are not alone.

There’s a growing group of professors out there like you, and we’re here to help!

ExEC can be the structured, experiential curriculum that forms the foundation of your course. Next semester, spend less time compiling disparate resources, and more time consistently helping your students develop and apply their entrepreneurial mindset.

Try ExEC this Fall

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

Making it Real

Making it Real

How to create a true entrepreneurial experience for your students

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

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

This exercise will get your students feeling:

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

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

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

– Seymour Papert   


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

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

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

Step 1: The Set Up

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Class-time

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

Step 3: Announce the challenge

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

Winner takes all!

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

Step 4: Debrief

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

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

Questions to address can include:

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

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

Results

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

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

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

In addition, the exercise

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

Get the “Making It Real” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


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


Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference is Coming!

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

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

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

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

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

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

Break Through Your Students’ Creative Fear

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

How do we Teach Creative Confidence?

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

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

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

The Set-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attempt #1

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

B: “What are you doing?”

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

B: [mimes the activity A just mentioned]

A: “What are you doing?”

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

A: [mimes the activity B just mentioned]

B: “What are you doing?”

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

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

Prep for Attempt #2

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

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

Play the following clip:

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

Encourage your students to let their impulses guide their words.

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

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

Attempt #2

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

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

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

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

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

Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “In My Mind’s Eye, Horatio” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.


Thank You to Jim Hart

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

 


Teaching Entrepreneurship Digital Conference is Coming!

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

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

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

TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Conference

A Digital Conference Experiment

May 10th. 9:00 – 2:00 pm Pacific Time

Register Here

Register with discount code DigitalConferenceMVP  for a 50% discount!

Get More Exercises

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

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

Takeaways

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

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Idea Generation vs Problem Generation

Idea Generation vs Problem Generation

Click play above for the video version of this post.

Idea generation is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching entrepreneurship. At colleges around the world, you hear the same business ideas over and over again:

  • A dedicated driver service.
  • A way to not you lose your keys or wallet.
  • An alcohol delivery service.

entrepreneurship, ideas, teachingYou’re also hearing ideas that are low impact:

  • Put a logo on a t-shirt.
  • Put a logo on a koozie.

Or you hear ideas that are simply infeasible from a business or realistic perspective.

A Better Way

Below we’ll describe an alternative approach to helping students generate ideas, and provide an experiential lesson plan for you to use in your classes.

Your goal is to help your students identify better business ideas. The higher quality their ideas, the higher quality businesses they’ll build, and the higher quality skills they’ll acquire in your class.

Ideally, student ideas would be simultaneously:

  1. Creative
  2. Impactful and
  3. Feasible

To accomplish the above, we typically start with a variety of idea generation exercises.

The problem is, traditional idea generation isn’t the best way to come up with these ideas.

It is almost impossible for anyone to come up with creative, impactful, and feasible business ideas. The best entrepreneurs in the world struggle to come up with ideas that fulfill these requirements; it’s no surprise that we have a difficult time helping our students come up with them.

Why Idea Generation Doesn’t Work

Before you read past this next image, I want you visualize an entrepreneur coming up with a great business idea. What does that process of coming up with an idea look like to you?

entrepreneurship, idea, teaching

Most of us imagine an entrepreneur having a “light-bulb moment”, where she is inspired to create a genius new product that is impactful and financially successful. In other words,

We think “idea generation” is synonymous with “product idea generation.”

Customers reject products.

After coming up with an impactful, creative product idea, it’s easy to imagine our entrepreneurs introducing their products to customers, who immediately embrace them for their bold thinking and innovative approach.

As you already know, this never happens in reality. Almost universally, customers reject new products whether they’re developed inside, or outside, the classroom. Why?

Because customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, ideaWhen we teach our students to think of business ideas in terms of products, it’s no wonder they struggle. Customers don’t want products!

If we can focus our students’ attention on what customers really care about – their problems – our students can use those problems as inspiration to generate creative, impactful and feasible solutions to those problems.

What if instead of focusing on idea generation we focused on problem generation?

Starting with Problems

If we know customers buy solutions to problems, it makes sense that any entrepreneurial journey should start from a problem, not a product.

When our students focus on solving problems instead of inventing products, the customers they approach will shift from being wary and rejecting to being curious and enthusiastic. Why? Because someone is finally listening to their problems and helping them do something about it.

That’s when this problem-focused approach begins to produce empowering results:

While customers reject products, they will prepay for solutions to their problem.

It’s not up to us as instructors to decide whether business ideas are good or bad. It’s up to our students’ customers and there’s no better metric for our students to know they’ve found a good business idea than if their customers prepay, or sign a Letter of Intent, for it.

Of course, there’s no better way for your students to collect prepayments and LOIs, than for them to convince their customers that they will solve their problems.

Teaching a Lifelong Skill

When we teach problem discovery skills, we teach our students how to make empathetic connections with their customers.

Knowing how to empathetically connect with others is a lifelong skill that will reap rewards throughout their personal and professional lives, like when they’re:

  • Interviewing for jobs
  • Collaborating with co-workers
  • Connecting with their family
  • And of course, when they start their own company.

How to Teach “Problem Generation”

The first step to teaching problem generation is to help students brainstorm problems they are uniquely suited to solve. To do that, you can use this exercise, which is fully documented in the downloadable Lesson Plan below.

Step 1

Invite your students to write down three customer segments they are members of. This can be just about any three groups of people they feel like they belong to.

Some great examples would be:

  • Skateboarders
  • Vegetarians
  • Only children

Step 2

Next, invite your students to write three “passion segments.” Their passion segments will be groups of people, whom are different than their previous three segments, who they are genuinely excited to serve; people for whom they would like to solve problems.

As with Step 1, there are no right/wrong answers. Some examples would be:

  • Members of a specific religion
  • Crossfitters
  • Under-resourced youth

(Note: it’s fine if they are members of their passion segments – in fact, that’s ideal – they just can’t duplicate any of their previous segments.)

Step 3

Of the six segments they’ve brainstormed, students should now pick their top three.

It doesn’t matter whether they pick all three of their passion segments, all three of the segments they are members of, or a combination of the two. As long as they are excited about helping people in those three segments solve their problems, they’re on the right track.

(Note: a nice consequence of this exercise is you’re demonstrating creative brainstorming techniques to your students. By ideating on a number of different potential segments to serve, and then filtering/prioritizing that list of segments, you’re modeling a creative thinking technique they can use in the future.)

Step 4

With their top 3 segments identified, invite your students to hypothesize three problems members of those segments might be trying to solve right now.

For example, if a student chooses skateboarders, the student might hypothesize their customers would express a problem like, “I am having trouble transporting my skateboard on public transit.”

For Crossfitters, maybe they’d hypothesize a problem like, “I don’t how do I make sure I’m getting the right mix of nutrients in my meals.”

It doesn’t matter if the problems the students hypothesize are realistic, the goal is simply to identify several problems the entrepreneurs are uniquely suited to validate. After completing this step, each student will have identified at least nine problems they are uniquely capable of validating, because they either:

  • Experience the problem themselves or
  • They are passionate about helping the people who are experiencing it.

Of these nine problems, they can pick the problem they are most excited to validate during your course. As a bonus, if that idea gets invalidated, you’ll have helped them proactively come up with eight alternative/backup ideas they are excited to validate!

No matter which problems your students choose, their business ideas will be:

  • More feasible than typical student ideas because they’re focusing on serving people they care about.
  • More impactful because they’re paying more attention to problems than they are products.
  • More creative because they’ll get to use those problems as inspiration (as opposed to relying on a “light-bulb moment”/devine intervention).

Get the Complete Problem Generation Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Entrepreneurship Problem Generation Lesson Plan that encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan

Use it as a basis to teach your students to identify problems they are uniquely suited to solve

 

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!


Problems, Not Ideas

You want students to develop creative, impactful and feasible business ideas. Don’t focus their attention on idea generation, because customers don’t buy ideas.

Customers buy solutions to problems.

Creativity plays a critical role in entrepreneurship, but it’s not in coming up with products. Creativity is best used in entrepreneurship to brainstorm solutions to problems.

If you want your students to generate ideas that are more likely to become successful businesses, try this Problem Generation technique in your next course.

If you’d like more lesson plans like this, subscribe here to get the next one, How to get your Students Bought-In to Customer Interviews, in your inbox.

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Teaching Entrepreneurship Idea Generation

Teaching Entrepreneurship Idea Generation

When teaching entrepreneurship, how many times have you heard:

  • “I have an idea for an app that finds a parking space on campus.”
  • “It’s like Uber for . . . “
  • “I am going to design and sell t-shirts at . . . [homecoming, Greek Week, Spring Fling, etc.]”

Entrepreneurship students default to the first two ideas without thinking. The third idea is just…boring. These are all easy for students to conjure up, and offer little potential impact. As my good friend Alex Bruton says,

“Most of your ideas suck (but they don’t have to).”

You need to tell students that, so they spend less time floundering and more time flourishing.

What Is a Quality Entrepreneurship Idea?

You don’t want another coffee shop or restaurant plan. You don’t want to hear an idea about an electronic Pet Rock.

You want ideas that:

  • Solve a real problem for real people,
  • Serve a niche market accessible to the student,
  • (At least a prototype) can be pre-sold within a semester, and
  • Have the potential to scale.

You want to guide students through the struggle to identify a quality idea like:

  • A pop-up salon for female victims of domestic violence
  • An on-demand service driving food overflow from restaurants and grocery stores to families struggling to make ends meet
  • Fertility treatments that are 90% successful
  • Solar cells made exponentially more efficient through cryogenics.

Imagine an entrepreneurship classroom bustling with impactful ideas like these (BTW, current students are actively working on these ideas).

3 Ways to Generate Quality Entrepreneurship Ideas

Quality ideas are not easy to generate, especially for a typical 20-something college student with limited life experience.

Here are some easy steps to help your entrepreneurship students identify quality ideas:

  • Problem List: students list every problem they encounter or observe over the course of one Tuesday and one Saturday.
  • Observation: students identify the type of business they want to start. They spend 30 minutes observing that type of business – if retail, they wander around the store. If online, they get friends together to play with the website. Students jot down all the problems they observe customers experiencing.
  • 1-Question Interviews: students perform mini problem interviews by asking the same question of 5 different people:

    “What’s been the hardest part about work/school over the last week?”

    Require that your students speak with specific types of people so they can get used to interviewing customers (without the anxiety of approaching complete strangers):

    • A friend who attends the college
    • A friend who doesn’t attend the college
    • A friend of a friend they’ve never met before
    • A non-student who works off-campus
    • A family member

    During this exercise, your students will see that the best inspiration for high quality ideas actually comes from customers themselves.

For more details, check out our Idea Generation Lesson Plan below.

3 Questions to Assess the Quality of Entrepreneurship Ideas

How do you know, and help students test, the quality of an idea? That’s often a semester-long process (which we’ll detail in future posts), but for starters, entrepreneurship students should be able to concisely explain the following for any idea:

  • The problem it solves
  • The customer segment(s) who most painfully experiences the problem
  • Why they are the right team/person to solve this problem

Along the way, you can conduct a quick heuristic idea assessment using these questions:

  • Is it easy to understand the problem they are solving (when they explain the problem, do you furrow your brow or do you nod your head)?
  • Do the customers they identify logically experience this problem?
  • Does the student have any relevant experience, knowledge, network and/or passion for solving this problem?

For example, the founders behind Packback, while students at Illinois State University, could impress the most seasoned investors with their answers to these three questions. It is no coincidence they went on to secure a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank.

As the Packback team says, we should all be helping:

“Awaken the fearless, relentless curiosity inside every student.”

Imagine if your students truly experienced butterflies, back sweat and breathlessness during their classroom experiences!

Imagine your students working on ideas they care about.

Imagine your students quickly testing demand through pre-orders.

Students will learn the mindset and skill set it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in this kind of high-impact learning environment.

Of course, just as entrepreneurship students need quality ideas to build impactful businesses…

We need quality ideas to build an engaging learning environment.

Download our Idea Generation Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Entrepreneurship Idea Generation Lesson Plan that encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get your lesson plan

Use it as a basis to teach your students:

  • What a quality business idea is
  • How they come up with lots of them
  • An intro to “customer interviews”

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so 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 talk about how to help your students develop powerful solutions to the problems they identify!

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