“This was by far the best course I have taken at Stanford, absolutely amazing curriculum.”
Rebeca explains the PBP is a way for students to apply the tools learned during their entrepreneurship course to something near and dear to their hearts…themselves!
To make the elements of the business model relevant, faculty force students to think of themselves as a company. Students do this assignment individually, and ultimately must figure out how they offer value to their world.
“The entrepreneurial process is at its core concerned with ‘the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources already under control.’ This process is as applicable to your career as it is to starting a company. The goal of this assignment is to identify where you want to be and how you will get there. Do not worry about your current resources. Think about this with an entrepreneurial mindset.”
Most important of all, the assignment works, and Rebeca’s students love it.
“make sure you spend a lot of time on the personal business plan, it is worth it! I wish I had spent more time on mine, and will in the future because I think it’s very valuable to think about what your plans and possibilities for life are.”
“Through the personal business plan, it really helped reevaluate what I desire and would like to pursue in life.”
Below is an overview of the Personal Business Plan assignment. For full details, check out the complete lesson plan below.
The Personal Business Plan
Students write at most five (5) pages answering questions about their future vision (such as “What are your values?” and “What personal or professional skills would you most like to develop?”) and about their present plans and passions (such as “What opportunities could help you to achieve your future vision?” and “How will you reach, connect with or influence your customers?”). The full question sets are available in the lesson plan.
In addition to answering these questions, students include at least one exhibit within their five (5) page limit, which can be “any combination of graphics or quantitative analysis [they] desire”.
Examples of exhibits professors give students are:
A resume (current and/or future)
A decision tree showing paths to a number of future career options
A specific “short list” of attractive jobs, company names, and key audiences
Segmentation of different organizations’ readiness to accept your value package using Geoffrey Moore’s adopter categories
A chart addressing the risks, mitigation strategies, etc. associated with your Reality Test
Faculty give students required and recommended readings/viewings to help them prepare an effective Personal Business Plan, all of which are available in the full lesson plan.
In using sources, guide students with the following:
“Failure to use at least one concept from one of the readings will lower your grade. We will reward skill and creativity in applying the concepts with higher grades. On the other hand, don’t get carried away with citing too many sources. We are less interested in having you paraphrase what other people think and more interested in seeing how you think.”
Grading the Personal Business Plan
A team of two graders reads each PBP. One grades in detail, the other reads to make sure the first grader is not too difficult or too easy a grader.
Because this assignment is about trust at its core, students choose who grades their assignment.
Students are reminded that the grade is not an evaluation of their choice of career path or current life plan, and that only they can decide if their choices will bring them happiness and success.
Professor Tom Kosnik developed a robust grading rubric for this assignment, which is included at the end of the lesson plan.
Because this assignment is worth 20% of their grade, students take it very seriously. Because this assignment is about them and their future, students invest tremendously in it, and receive incredible value from doing it.
We are grateful to Rebeca Hwang, Tom Kosnik, and the faculty who teach E145 Technology Entrepreneurship at Stanford University for sharing this amazing exercise.
Because students are applying business model components to themselves, they deeply engage in learning these components and have a very clear understanding how to apply them.
Through this assignment, students will learn to see themselves as a company, and that they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for. They will also deeply embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future. They will see that learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context.
Get the “Personal Business Plan” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Personal Business Plan” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.
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Rebeca Hwang works in one of the most competitive teaching environments, with some of the most demanding students in the country. In that context her entrepreneurship class achieves a stunningly high (96%+) positive feedback rating. Her evaluations include quotes like “one of the best classes at Stanford”. Students recommend her course to others by describing the life-long impact she’s had on them.
We wanted to learn how Rebeca creates such a transformative and highly regarded course. My colleague Justin Wilcox reached out for a conversation, and Rebeca graciously agreed to share some of her secrets.
During the conversation, we discovered several things Rebeca does differently in her ENGR 145 Technology Entrepreneurship class than most of us entrepreneurship instructors. Below we lay out four Rebeca-inspired-techniques to create a more engaging, challenging and life-changing learning environment:
Treat your students like customers (WOW! them),
Practice reciprocity culture
Provide in-depth feedback with objective rubrics
Most of us strive to create memorable experiences for our students. Few of us can actually WOW our students. Rebeca is one of those amazing few. She tells her course assistants
“We are not teaching a class, we are serving a customer.”
and that their goal is “to wow our customer, to understand and empathize with them, and how the content of what we are delivering to them is going to affect their lives.”
This principle of WOWing customers is the foundation upon which every other principle she adds to the class is built. Treating her students like she would treat customers creates a significantly higher quality learning experience for her students.
What is so impactful is that Rebeca models for her students how to treat the customers in their lives – namely, future employers, coworkers, friends, family members, partners, etc.
The Wish Game
“the Wish Game was amazing because our professor really went out of her ways to complete them, even though they were completely out of her job criteria.” – ENGR145 Student
“Every week, I was looking forward to the Wish Game. It created a sense of excitement all around.” – ENGR145 Student
One way she WOWs her students is through The Wish Game, which Rebeca uses as a path to teamwork and hyper-collaboration. On the first day, Rebeca asks students to write down three wishes on a piece of paper.
These can be anything at all. They have ranged from the mundane to the fascinating to the unreal. Examples are getting a job at Google, meeting Mark Zuckerberg, or meeting Steve Jobs (a real student request after he passed away!).
Every week Rebeca chooses one person’s paper from a hat and one of their wishes gets fulfilled. The entire class as a whole works to fulfill the wish. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Paying it forward is a critical part of WOWing the students.
The Wish Game isn’t about competition, it’s about hyper-collaboration because if her students help each other, they all benefit.
After picking a wish, students start interviewing the student whose wish was picked. They want to find out what their wish really is, as often it isn’t exactly what is written on the paper. Through this process, students get to know each other, build stronger relationships with each other, and understand the hopes and dreams of each other.
This also helps students practice their interviewing skills, which are a critical skill they work to develop in the course. The Wish Game is fun, but it’s a powerful learning and growth opportunity as well.
The Wish Game pushes students to think about what resources and assets they have, and pushes them to share those with peers. It enables students to build lasting relationships, and to make a positive impact on each other.
Teaching & Modeling Reciprocity Culture
“Before this class, I never thought about how important being able to socialize and make friends is to being an entrepreneur, and mostly just focused on developing my technical skills in the hopes that one day I could use them to start a business. But as we learned in class, in order to get investors, employees, partners, and customers, being able to make friends is one of the most important skills of a successful entrepreneur” – ENGR145 Student
As a veteran of Silicon Valley and of entrepreneurial ecosystems, Rebeca understands that “networking and telling stories are such important components of entrepreneurship.” A big focus of her class is teaching students the fundamentals of what makes a working relationship last.
From day one, students are networking – they have to find team members during the first class session, they learn to talk about their skills and experiences, but also their failures and dreams.
Rebeca shares with her students the tactics to approach someone who is senior to them, and tactics to write an email so people will respond. She focuses intensely on very tactical networking skills that will help student succeed in their Silicon Valley surroundings and beyond.
The most valuable skill Rebeca teaches her students is the principle of reciprocity, which is
“the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another.”
She urges her students to think, before meeting a person, what can they provide that person. In building a relationship it is important to have a strong willingness to learn, but it is equally important to listen well and to desire to give back.
Through a consistent message of reciprocity, Rebeca teaches her students that “those who succeed are valuable to the network.” She has found it is quite contagious in her students once she plants the seeds of this mindset.
“[this course] taught me that successful people are the ones who actually get out and try – and don’t even consider failure.” – ENGR145 Student
“I used to often not got to events or apply for opportunities because I thought I would fail anyway. But not trying is already a failure and if I try and fail, I may learn something in the process.” – ENGR145 Student
When Rebeca and her course assistants introduce themselves to students on day one, they start with “My name is ______, and I’m going to share a failure with you.” From the first moment, Rebeca works to make failure a part of her class’ culture, to normalize it for her students so when it happens they can navigate it as a learning experience.
Through a variety of experiences, Rebeca brings the realities of entrepreneurship into her course, including failure. She brings in a litany of speakers to share stories with her students.
These speakers are not typical entrepreneurs, but have all done amazing things outside entrepreneurship. Things like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. Or running ultramarathons. Rebeca carefully chooses speakers who can teach her students that in anything in life, extremes aren’t necessarily bad in terms of dreaming and aiming high.
She wants her students to hear realistic stories of small failures and struggling to achieve big goals. Rebeca introduces them to the depression and founder suicide problems in Silicon Valley. She wants them to know about grinding it out, about sleepless nights, about not getting the meeting, or not getting the next meeting.
Failure is a major aspect of entrepreneurship, and Rebeca doesn’t shy away from this in her course. She wants her students to embrace failure as a reality and a chance to learn and grow.
In-Depth Feedback With Objective Rubrics
Assessment is something we all struggle with. How can we be effective and efficient? Rebeca found her magic combination in well-defined rubrics that students get ahead of time and personal in-depth feedback.
Rebeca gives her students all the rubrics on the first day of class. They therefore feel comfortable because they know their grade won’t be an arbitrary decision. They can see their pathway to the grade they want or need for graduate school, for a scholarship, or to keep mom and dad happy.
Rebeca spends roughly three (3) hours per day outside class working with students. This includes personal interactions, office hours, and always providing in-depth feedback on student progress and projects.
What Can You Do?
Rebeca Hwang’s formula for success in her course is WOWing customers, modeling reciprocity, normalizing failure, and using a very clear and personal feedback system.
We each approach our courses differently, due to our own backgrounds and experiences, and due to our institutional context and culture. Rebeca shows us that within the walls of our classroom, and within the minds of our students, we can achieve extraordinary results.
We can inspire our students, we can change their career trajectory, we can teach them skills to decipher their world. The list of gifts we can offer our students is endless.
Rebeca found a formula that has proven extremely successful; as one of Rebeca’s students said:
“If you are considering a future as an entrepreneur and don’t know where to start from, take this course. If you have an idea but are looking to explore how it can work in the silicon valley, take this course. If you just want to learn how to be a team player, take THIS Course!”
What is your formula?
The Nitty Gritty of Rebeca’s Class
Rebeca’s students are mostly upperclass undergraduate students, and roughly 1/3 are international students. Most of Rebeca’s these desire to start a company at some point, and they are a solid interdisciplinary mix of designers, creatives, engineers, and business experts.
Because some students have started companies and some have not, Rebeca’s students have different relationships with entrepreneurship; they have some exposure to it and are very interested in learning more about it, but they come to the course with different levels of expertise.
Rebeca doesn’t focus on building expertise in the usual conceptualization. Her students learn about the spirit of entrepreneurship; she approaches her class as giving students tools, methodologies, and strategies they can use in life. Students experience an emphasis on acquiring a skill set to decide what career to pursue and to solve problems in all aspects of their life.
Here is the full interview with Rebeca in case you would like to dive deeper on any aspects.
Who is Rebeca Hwang?
Prior to co-founding Rivet Ventures a venture capital firm that invests in male and female founders that target women-led markets, Rebeca Hwang co-founded YouNoodle, Cleantech Open, and Startup Malaysia. Rebeca was educated at MIT and Stanford and has been recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and as one of the top 35 under 35 Global Innovators by MIT Tech Review.
Rebeca serves on the Global Board of Kauffman’s Global Entrepreneurship Network. She was born in Seoul, raised in Argentina and educated in the US, and has worked closely with several countries on their national startup programs, including Malaysia, South Korea, Spain, Iceland, Chile and Mexico, and was a member of the Board of Advisors of the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council.
Recently listed by Forbes as one of their 20 inspiring young female founders to follow on Twitter, Rebeca is a frequent speaker at global conferences on entrepreneurship. Her TED talk on the power of diversity within yourself has been viewed nearly 1.5 million times.
Want More from Rebeca and Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Program?
We’re running a series of blog posts highlighting Rebeca’s outstanding class, including a number of exercises she runs in her class. Subscribe below to ensure you get those.
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The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)
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
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
Upscale 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.
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.
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:
…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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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.
You’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:
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?
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.”
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.
When 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 – theirproblems – 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.
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:
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
(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.)
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.)
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.
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.