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Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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


Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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


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

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

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

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

First, for anyone unfamiliar: Who is Steve Blank?

Forefather of Lean Startup

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

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

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

Why Teaching Entrepreneurship is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve’s Teaching Tips

Tip #1: Accept You Don’t Know Everything

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #2: Get a Mentor

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

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

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

When in Doubt: Experiences Teach Skills

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

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

Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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

Students Learn Best By Doing

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

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

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

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

The same goes for every topic in entrepreneurship:

  • Idea generation
  • Solution ideation
  • Finance
  • Pitching

Every entrepreneurship skill must be practiced to be internalized.

The Future of Entrepreneurship Education

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

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

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

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


Takeaways

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

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

Don’t Miss Part 2

Subscribe here to get notified of the second part of my interview with Steve where we discuss:

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

Join 10,000+ instructors and get new entrepreneurship lesson plans and exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:


Want More Engaged Students?

Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

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

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

Preview ExEC Now

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

Fall: It’s Not If You Teach Online. It’s When.

Fall: It’s Not If You Teach Online. It’s When.

With Fall fast approaching, this 3-part “Checklist” newsletter series will help you prep for what will likely be an uncertain semester.

The first thing you need to do for Fall, no matter what your administration is saying, is…

Fully commit to teaching online.

In-Person will be Worse than Online

In normal circumstances, in-person classes are unquestionably better learning environments for most students. This Fall, however, the experience won’t be normal:

  • You and your students will all be wearing face masks for the duration of your classes. 
     
  • Your students won’t be able to interact with one another. Separated by 6 feet, student-to-student interactions will need to be eliminated, and you’ll be asked to restrict your movement within the classroom.
     
  • We’re about to enter cold & flu season when anyone, including you, with even a hint of any symptom – sniffles, sneezes, sore throat, etc. – will be asked to stay home. Combine those students with those that are simply uncomfortable attending class and your “in-person” class will quickly turn into a Frankenstein’s monster of half-online / half-in-person classes that’s the worst of both worlds.

These restrictions mean that your normally interactive entrepreneurship classes will be reduced to a series of lectures. This is not only boring for you and your students, but worse than that…

Neglecting the reasons our classes exist in the first place: to teach entrepreneurship skills.

Fortunately, the ineffectiveness of in-person classes won’t last long this Fall because…

It’s not if you go online. It’s when.


When you consider:

  • It’s summer now, school is out, and COVID is still spreading rapidly.
     
  • Come Fall, when students travel from across the country and start socializing on campus, in the dorms, and at inevitable parties, cases will spike at schools.
     
  • As soon as any of your in-person students test positive, you’ll be asked to immediately transition online because you or your other students could already be infected.

Unfortunately, if you’re in the US…

It’s inevitable your classes will move online.

Fortunately, there’s some good news: 

Online Classes Can Be Better than In-Person


The online experience your students had last year wasn’t great because you weren’t given adequate time to prepare. Of course, as we collectively demonstrated during the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Virtual Conference, with a little preparation…

Online learning can be just as good (better?) than in-person.

When you teach online, whether synchronously or asynchronously, with proper planning you can replicate virtually all of the experiences you’d do in-person. 

Key to Success: Start Prepping Now

As we’ve seen instructors embrace the fact that classes are going online in Fall, we’ve seen them simultaneously learn new tools while…

Dramatically simplifying their prep process.

And with the right tools, it turns out, there’s not an overwhelming amount of prep to do.

Step #1: Ask to Teach Completely Online


If you haven’t already, have a conversation with your department chair or dean about why online classes from day 1 will be better for your students than “hybrid” (half in-person / half online) classes that inevitably transition online. Try to communicate that, in addition to being a more safe, less stressful experience for you and your students…

Committing to online teaching now, will enable you to focus your prep and provide a higher quality experience for students.

More important than whether they take classes in-person or online, students want a motivating, engaging learning experience. The best way to provide that is to commit to one class format now, and start prepping for it.

Step #2: Prep Your Online Lessons


To avoid the suboptimal experience students had last Spring, it’s important to start prepping for online lessons now. To do that you can either:

  • Start translating your in-person activities to be “Zoom-able” or
     
  • Use a curriculum like ExEC that has already been translated online.

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

Plus ExEC has full support to instantly create courses for you on:

  • Canvas
  • Brightspace / D2L
  • Moodle
  • Blackboard

Click here to request a preview of ExEC.

Step #3: Start Now

No matter what tools you use to teach this Fall, the most important thing to do is start prepping now.

If you’re able to see the writing on the wall now and prepare to teach online, you’ll not only make your life easier, you’ll create a much more valuable and engaging experience for your students.

Next Week: Sample Online Syllabi


To help with your prep, we want to provide detailed synchronous and asynchronous online syllabi you can use to adapt your schedule.

Stay tuned for that! In the meantime, stay safe, and let us know how we can help you prep!

Drinks are on us at USASBE2020!

Drinks are on us at USASBE2020!

3 reasons you should attend the USASBE conference in New Orleans in January:

  1. Free drinks!
  2. Learn about new methods and tools to engage your students (we are leading 5 sessions)
  3. Attend the Innovator’s Dinner and meet thought leaders

This annual conference is an incredible few days where entrepreneurship educators, scholars, and practitioners plan entrepreneurship programs and share their bold teaching, scholarship, and practice work and ideas.

If you’re going, we’ll see you there!

Happy Hour Is On Us!

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. We will be hosting our third-annual happy hour party. Like last year’s engaging event, we will be paying for drinks for the first 100 people who register!

 

 

Innovator’s Dinner – Meet Thought Leaders

This year, we are experimenting with an “Innovator’s Dinner” on Friday night. This will be a special gathering for 20 innovators where you can connect with like-minded, innovative entrepreneurship educators in an intimate setting. We will be

  • Sharing best practices!
  • Connecting with innovators and possible collaborators
  • Learning ways to better engage our students

We are offering a limited number of Innovator’s Dinner tickets for $75, which includes a full Creole dinner, free drinks, inspiring conversations, and a couple group activities we have in mind 😉

5 Talks + A Competition

We will lead a handful of sessions during the conference:

60 Minute MVP 2.0

This is an intense and exciting exercise that teaches critical aspects of the entrepreneurial mindset and lean start-up methodology, namely the iterative process of hypothesis testing through the creation of minimum viable products (MVPs). In 60 minutes, with no prior technical expertise, students work in teams to design a landing page, create an explainer video, and set up a way to measure pre-launch demand from prospective customers by accepting pre-orders or email addresses. USASBE attendees will get to experience creating an MVP themselves, and will leave with a detailed lesson plan they can use to run this exercise back in their classes.

Customer Interviewing:
Learning the Basics Through Gamification

This is a fun, interactive exercise where educators use a combination of Customer Interviewing Playing Cards which they can print out, and an online collaborative quiz game (Kahoot) to teach core customer interviewing skills. Specifically, it will demonstrate to students:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should be and should not be
  • Based on their interviewing goals, they will learn what questions they should and should not ask during customer interviews

USASBE attendees will leave the session with a PDF of the interview playing cards they can print out when they return to school, access to the interviewing quiz game, a copy of a recommended interview script template and a detailed lesson plan on how to use the interviewing cards, game and script in class.

Entrepreneurs vs. Inventors:
The Lottery Ticket Dilemma

This exercise provides a fun, experiential way for students to conceptualize customer behavior, and identify business opportunities, by demonstrating it’s not actually customer problems that drive behavior, but customer emotions. After this game-based activity, students understand why some products are successful even if they don’t solve an obvious problem, and how to leverage that fact to identify non-problem based opportunities. Attendees to this session will get to experience the lesson themselves, and leave with a lesson plan they can use to integrate this exercise in their classes.

Fears and Curiosities:
Engaging ALL Students on Day 1

Not all of our entrepreneurship students want to start companies. Fortunately, entrepreneurship education isn’t about starting companies; it’s about developing skills and a mindset that will serve our students whether they start a company now, later, or never. This exercise helps students understand the value of their entrepreneurship classes, even if they never envision themselves becoming an entrepreneur, which helps them to engage in the class from the first day. USASBE attendees experience the exercise themselves and then leave with a detailed lesson plan so they can use this exercise in their class.

Normalizing Failing Through the Wish Game

This exercise was borrowed from faculty at Stanford University and developed into the foundation of an MBA Entrepreneurship course to teach entrepreneurship skills by having classmates iteratively deliver wishes for each other. In this exercise, students write down big, specific wishes, such as being able to meet a celebrity, or visiting a certain place. The professor chooses one person to be the wish grantee, and the rest of the class works for a period of time to deliver that wish at a future date of the professor’s choosing.
This exercise is about hyper-collaboration, so all students benefit by working together under considerable constraints. This exercise is a powerful path for students to learn entrepreneurial skills like ideation, customer interviewing, prototyping, selling, and mobilizing resources, all in the context of creating memorable experiences for their fellow classmates.

Defending Our Title!

We are excited to defend our title as the reigning Excellence in Experiential Exercises (3E) champion from USASBE2019. We were honored to receive this recognition for our “A Better Toothbrush: Testing Assumptions via Customer Observations” exercise, which is a vital part of our award-winning Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum. That recognition motivated us to design more engaging exercises for you and your students.

 

 

 

 

We hope to see you there!

Justin, Doan and Federico

 

 

Missed Our Recent Articles?

Whether you are new to our community of entrepreneurship educators, or you’ve been contributing for years, we wanted to give you a list of the posts our community finds most valuable:

  • Improve Student Idea Generation. This lesson plan enables your students to build ideas around the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems they are most excited to help them resolve.
  • Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews. This lesson plan helps your students conduct higher quality interviews with customers by learning exactly what to ask during a customer interview, and how to ask it.
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!

Join 70+ Universities Using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum!

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Request a preview of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) today and make this Spring the most engaging semester of entrepreneurship yet! Our curriculum is full of experiential exercises that will make your students’ learning come alive.