Here is part 2 of our interview with entrepreneurship innovator and educator Steve Blank, where he shares his thoughts on what is essential for an entrepreneurship class and an entrepreneurship curriculum. If you missed part 1, you can catch up here.
Steve Blank is an icon in entrepreneurship education. He is known for developing the customer development method that launched the Lean Startup movement. A serial entrepreneur turned educator, Steve continues to elevate the field of entrepreneurship and greatly influences how we teach entrepreneurship principals.
Steve Blank on What is Essential to Teach in an Entrepreneurship Class
Increasing numbers of universities require students to take entrepreneurship courses. While Steve doesn’t believe these courses should be mandatory, he had very clear ideas on what the goal should be for entrepreneurship courses.
The truth is we will have students in our classes that are not interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Whether it’s because they’re taking the class because it’s required or whether they have a true interest in becoming an entrepreneur, we have a commitment to helping our students actualize their potential.
“How do we make a well-rounded individual in the 21st century?”
Steve shared that, at the core, entrepreneurship courses, build skills in tenacity, resilience, and agility in hypothesis testing. These skills are valid for all students, whether they want to be an entrepreneur or not. And it is his belief that these skills should be the foundation of a liberal arts education in the 21st century.
Particularly since the evolution of society and technology have created a shorter lifespan for most companies. By building up these skills, students will be able to access them as they go about building their careers. In addition, entrepreneurship classes will help identify future entrepreneurs.
However, these skills shouldn’t be limited to college learning. Steve envisions these methods being taught as part of a K-12 curriculum as well. Similar to the Korda Institute for Teaching, entrepreneurship can be integrated into classroom learning to bolster student skills, knowledge, and community impact. By designing educational experiences that utilize entrepreneurship principles, students can start learning early to solve problems that impact or involve their community.
Steve Blank’s 4 Essential Courses for Entrepreneurship Curriculum
We liked the idea of narrowing the focus of an entrepreneurship curriculum, but we also asked Steve if there were courses he deemed essential when designing a curriculum. Here are the four core entrepreneurial classes or concepts Steve believes should be included:
- Creativity: This course includes customer discovery and helps students isolate the problems they want to solve.
- Lean Launchpad Lite: This is a stripped-down version of Lean Launchpad which Steve believes can sometimes be bogged down with jargon. This class includes the framework and practical questions every entrepreneur needs to ask without a large focus on terminology.
- Core Skills (or as Steve likes to put it “Fucking with your head”): This is a skill-building class focused on improving student’s resilience, tenacity, and agility. Lesson plans focus on hypothesis testing and fact-checking. In this class, students become more comfortable with chaos, uncertainty, and even failure.
- Capstone: The capstone centers around the specific domain of expertise. For each university, it will vary with the region and the focus of the institution.
Designing Entrepreneurship Curriculum for the Students You Want to Attract
One of the questions we’re often asked is how to build a comprehensive curriculum. When put to Steve, he recommends keeping students top of mind when designing an entrepreneurship curriculum.
If I was in a university the first question I would ask for an educator is, am I building a curriculum for the students I have, or am I building a curriculum for the students I want to attract?
He shared the example of talking with some educators in Lincoln, Nebraska who work with farmers. The teachers were interested in putting together a class for farmers. The opportunity this presented for the university, in Steve’s words, “is they could become the Lean expert for farm entrepreneurship rather than replicating the other 7,000 versions of a general Lean Startup curriculum”. The question Steve encourages institutions and entrepreneurship professors to ask when designing curriculum are:
- Is there a domain of expertise we can or should focus on?
- Can we create a vertical version of Lean Startup for this area?
Teaching Minimum Viable Product
On the topic of buzzwords and jargon found in Lean Start-up, the idea of an MVP is one of the most often misunderstood concepts taught in entrepreneurship. Particularly, it can be difficult to teach.
One of the mistakes Steve discussed regarding the idea of a Minimum Viable Product or (MVP) is that businesses may understand finding a product to fit a certain market, but they stop there. Students and entrepreneurs alike need to understand that all components of the business model need to be tested and some of them need to be re-tested.
Therefore, when teaching MVP to students, finding customers who want particular features of a product or want the product is just Step 1 of a robust class. For example, we could also design a class around MVP’s for pricing. Students can test whether a product could sell for $20,000 rather than $9.99.
From customer discovery to learning how to pivot, an effective MVP course teaches students to run experiments across all components of commercialization.
Finishing out our discussion, Steve expressed the key takeaway he wants educators and universities alike to realize is that one-size-fits-all does not fit all for an entrepreneurship class. Whether we’re teaching tech, corporate, or social entrepreneurship, he encourages us to take our expertise and adjust our curriculums to get the right impedance match for the right students. In other words, treat our students like customers.
Our classes are our own little start-up.
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- Online Entrepreneurship Syllabus. This online entrepreneurship syllabus is an innovative online experience that is asynchronous with multiple touchpoints, skills-based, and experiential.