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Pitch Days: How to Grow Your Program

Pitch Days: How to Grow Your Program

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

Pitch days can be incredible catalysts for growth.

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

Increasing Entrepreneurship Enrollment

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstrate that students in your program get great jobs.

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

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

1. Identify High Value Employers

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

Ask Students Where They Want to Work

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

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

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

  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Nike
  • Tesla

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

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

Talk to your Career Center

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

Search Job Boards

Look for job postings on:

  • LinkedIn
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor

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

2. Invite the Employers to Pitch Day

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

Find the “Right” People

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

Invite them to Judge

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

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

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

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

Invite Others Employers to Coach

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

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

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

Take every chance to deepen the connection with your students.

Sample Invite Emails

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

3. Make Pitch Day a School-Wide Event

Open Pitch Day to all Enrolled Students

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

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

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

  • CEO
  • DECA
  • Enactus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provide food and drinks for everyone who attends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Sample Emails for Inviting Judges and Coaches

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

Go Forth and Grow Your Program

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

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

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

Teach the Process

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

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

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


What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same skills. Less time.

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

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

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

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

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

Example 8-Week Syllabus

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

  • Summer
  • Graduate and
  • MBA classes

Screenshot of 8-week sample syllabus

Example 10-Week Syllabus

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

Screenshot of sample 10-week syllabus

Example 12-week Syllabus

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

Screenshot of sample 12-week schedule

.

Get the Sample Syllabi

Split it Across Two Classes

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

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

Typically that looks like:

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

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

Semester Experiential entrepreneurship education schedule

Teaching in Summer?

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

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo


What’s Next?

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

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

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Improving Student Pitches

Improving Student Pitches

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

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

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

Shark Tank Pitches vs Process Pitches

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

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

Shark Tank Pitch Pros

  • Pressure
  • Competition
  • External stakeholders

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

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

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

Shark Tank Pitch Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Alternative: The Process Pitch

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

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

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

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

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

Process Pitch Pros and Cons

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

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

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

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

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

Process Pitch Best Practices

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

In process pitches, students should demonstrate:

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

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

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

 

Judging the Process Pitch

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

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

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

Process Pitch Judging Criteria

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

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

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

Judging criteria screenshot. Download score sheet for details

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

  • WHY did you…?
  • HOW did you…?

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

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

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

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

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

Get the Process Pitching Scoresheet

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

Get the Scoresheet

 

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

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



What’s Next?

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

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

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Design Thinking: The Ideal Wallet [Online Version]

Design Thinking: The Ideal Wallet [Online Version]

If you’ve been teaching design thinking, you’re likely familiar with Stanford d.school’s Wallet Project. If you’re not, it’s an awesome exercise for teaching students that anyone can use:

  • Empathy
  • Prototyping
  • Iteration

…to design creative solutions to problems.

Teaching it Online

We have a very popular write-up on the in-person version of the Wallet Project, but with so many of us teaching online now, we thought it would be helpful to draft this…

Online version of the wallet design exercise!

Below are our suggestions for using hand-drawn worksheets, breakout rooms, and supplies found around the house to update the Wallet Project for online synchronous classes.

When to Use This Exercise

Since the Wallet Project is best used as a way to introduce students to design thinking, we recommend running it:

  • Before students conduct customer interviews or
  • Before students start doing solution ideation or
  • At any time during a creativity and innovation course

Design Thinking: Designing an Ideal Wallet

Before Class: Ask Students to Gather Supplies

One of the most fun parts of this exercise is that students will get to build low fidelity prototypes of their new wallet solutions. In preparation, let students know that they should come to class with as many of the following items as they can.

  • Cardboard box, blank paper, and/or Post-It notes
  • Scissors or a utility knife
  • Tape, paper clips, and/or a stapler
  • String and/or rubber bands
  • Markers and/or colored pens
  • Anything else you want to suggest
Example prototyping supplies
Image courtesy of Atomic Object

Note: Not all students will have access to the same supplies, and that this might create some inequity in experiencing this activity. We encourage you to create a large list of the possible supplies your particular student population may have access to.

The goal is for students to have some supplies readily available to create a makeshift prototype.

Step 1: The Wrong Approach

The beginning of this exercise starts begins with a “False Start” where you’ll tell students:

“Instead of just telling you about design thinking, I want to immediately have you jump right in and experience it for yourself. You’re going to do a design project for about the next hour. Ready? Let’s go!”

To help facilitate the experience, in the lesson plan below we have links to worksheets students can print out ahead of time: 

Design thinking exercise from Stanford University d.school

If any of your students don’t have access to a printer, ask them to have 6 sheets of blank (or lined) paper ready so they can sketch out the boxes of each worksheet – they’re all really simple to duplicate by hand.

Tell students their goal is to individually come up with some ideas for the “ideal” wallet, and specifically to draw one idea for a better wallet in 3 minutes.

It’s normal for students to feel stuck and delay putting anything down on paper. Reminding them of the time they have left can push them to start, so remind students after each minute expires.

After the 3 minutes expires, ask students to share how they felt during the experience. Most will have had a negative experience. Tell them they just experienced a typical problem-solving approach, being guided by their own opinions and with a solution in mind.

Let them know they will now learn a better approach, called “human-centered design thinking.”

Step 2: An Empathetic Approach

Direct students to the “Your New Mission” and pair them up in breakout rooms to design something useful for their partner.

Again remind students who do not have a printed worksheet to use a blank sheet of paper to draw two boxes to mimic the worksheet which you can show via screen sharing.

Tell students the most important part of designing for someone is to gain empathy. Students will do this by having a conversation with their partner, which you can facilitate in an online class using breakout rooms.

Before you send students to their breakout rooms, let them know that:

  1. Partner A has 4 minutes to interview Partner B while Partner B meticulously shares the contents of their wallet with Partner A.
  2. Then they switch and Partner B interviews Partner A while Partner A meticulously shares the contents of their wallet with Partner B.
  3. If their partner is having technical difficulties in the breakout room, or simply doesn’t show up after 60 seconds, having them leave their breakout room and join you in the main room where you can assign them to another breakout room (or partner with them yourself if you have an odd number of students).

Encourage partners to ask questions about when their partner carries a wallet, why they have particular things in there, and to make notes of things they find interesting or surprising.

Students make notes in the “Interview” column of their worksheet.

Next Steps

Over the next 30 minutes, students will learn:

  • That what is important for them to discover is what is important to their customer
  • To design solutions specifically related to their customers’ emotional needs
  • To prototype their design with simple household materials and
  • To gather customer feedback on prototypes

As a result, after doing this exercise, students will know how to develop powerful solutions for customers because they can empathize with the person or people for whom they are designing solutions.

The Full Lesson Plan

If you want to bring design thinking into your online class and introduce students to a methodology to engage real people to help them ground their design decisions

Get the “Design the Ideal Wallet [Online Version]” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Design the Ideal Wallet [Online Version]” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan
 

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

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


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share tools to enable efficient communications with students so you don’t have to pull your hair out over LMS discussion boards anymore!

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

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Creativity and Innovation Sample Syllabus

Creativity and Innovation Sample Syllabus

Building an engaging undergraduate Creativity and Innovation course can be challenging. We wanted to share a few tips and tricks we learned from surveying our community of nearly 10,000 entrepreneurship educators:

  • Invite your students to practice the skills necessary to identify and develop with creative ideas – like observation, problem-solving, customer interviewing, and prototyping.
  • Show your students how the concepts apply to their current existence.
  • Bring guest speakers and judges into the conversation so students learn from other perspectives.

This sample syllabus provides a way to help students develop the mindset and skillset to be confidently creative entrepreneurs!

Creativity Skills

Students taking a creativity and innovation course should gain transferable skills they can use to create significant value in any workplace! Students pursuing any career path will benefit from honing these skills – any organization constantly needs new and better ideas. This syllabus lays out a course that helps students recognize, develop, and act upon their creativity and innovative spirit.

Specifically, this course is structured as a journey that enables students to first find a problem worth solving, and then find a solution worth building. During the first phase as they find a problem worth solving, students develop a growth mindset, leverage failure, discover ideas that bring them meaning using the creative process, interview customers and validate problems they identify.

During the second phase of the course, once students identify a problem they find to solve, they turn their attention to finding a solution worth building. In this phase, students develop their creativity and design thinking skills as they develop solutions based on customers’ problems. They also learn to monetize solutions through financial modeling, learn to prototype solutions to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort, and run business model experiments. Finally, students share the story of the process they went through (in)validating their business model. In this end, they demonstrate they have acquired the entrepreneurial skills to find and test new opportunities.

Experiencing Creativity and Innovation

In this course, your students actively experience creating and capturing value. Through a variety of validated experiential learning techniques, students remain engaged and excited from day one until the last day of the course.

One example of our approach to experiential learning is our award-winning Lottery Ticket Dilemma exercise, during which students discover how important emotions are in the decision-making process and the importance of understanding and fulfilling other people’s emotional needs. Learning how to tap into and apply creativity and innovation is a very difficult journey.

We developed this creativity and innovation syllabus to help you enable your students to learn and practice the skills necessary to be a force of creativity and innovation in their chosen career path.


Get the Creativity & Innovation Sample Syllabus

We’ve created a detailed Creativity & Innovation sample syllabus that details the components of a full semester course.

Get the Sample Syllabus

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


Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

We’ve spent years testing and iterating a structured set of comprehensive exercises that we know teach entrepreneurial skills in an engaging way – online or in-person.

Why waste your time trying to tie together a set of unrelated exercises you compile from around the web? Use a set of rigorous, cohesive lessons that will engage your students.

Use the “Best Entrepreneurship Curriculum Available”

Check out ExEC, engage your students, and give them access to the best tools available.

High Functioning Innovation Teams in 10 Steps

High Functioning Innovation Teams in 10 Steps

Student teams formed randomly erode the student (and professor!) experience through internal conflict and apathy.

This lesson plan will help your students form high-performing innovation teams by creating more alignment around interests, and more diversity of skills.

Successful entrepreneurship teams have aligned goals and diverse skills. Students looking to gain entrepreneurial skills need to practice teamwork and collaboration around common goals. 

To help students mitigate some of the biggest drawbacks of group work, during this exercise they form the entrepreneurial teams based on the other people in the class whose goals and motivations most align with theirs. 

Help students execute better, and conflict less, by empowering them to successfully assemble their own teams.

For this post we will be using the Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills worksheet from the Lesson Plan below.

Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills WorksheetThis exercise will enable students to:

  1. Identify their goals for the course.
  2. Self-form teams based on shared goals.

In an entrepreneurship course, students spend time asking people for interviews, conducting interviews, analyzing the interviews, building MVPs, and pitching their solution. They will need to work with teammates to tackle this tremendous workload.

By the time they’re done with this exercise, they will be in teams that give them a greater likelihood of enjoying the course while developing ideas that are meaningful to them.

Aligned Goals

You want to optimize the positive aspects of teamwork for your students, while mitigating the negative aspects. To accomplish this, don’t assign students to teams. Instead, teach them the keys to creating a successful team and let them practice those skills to interview and choose teammates.

The first key is aligned goals. Successful innovation teams, or founder teams, need to be aligned in terms of revenue and impact goals, as well as a number of other criteria (culture, company size, etc.) Ask students to brainstorm some goals that might be helpful for members of their course team to be aligned on. They might mention:

  • Grades
  • Business outcomes (start a company, pass the class, etc)
  • Customers to serve

Let students know this exercise will enable them to identify classmates that align with them along these three goals.

Diverse Skills

The second key to creating a successful team is the diversity of team member skill sets. Imagine a sports team where all the players are excellent at one component, for instance, soccer players all being excellent goalies. This team will fail in their ultimate goal of winning because they are all good at one small portion of the larger plan.

Entrepreneurship team members also need diverse experiences. These teams are smarter at analyzing facts, which applies directly to the students’ need to analyze interview and experiment data.

The Exercise

Step 1Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills Step 1: Minimum successful grade

Students should first write down the lowest grade they could get in the class and still consider their performance in the class a success. Stress to students this is not about their ideal grade.

Step 2

Aligned Goals and Diverse Skills Step 2: minimum successful business outcomeYour students will choose the option that they most want to achieve during this course. If appropriate, they can check multiple boxes.

Steps 3 and 4

Aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet: Step 3, customer uniquely suited to servePrior to this exercise, students should have worked to identify customer segments who they either are a part of or have been a part of in the past. From this list, students choose the top two they want to pursue.

aligned goals and diverse skills step 4: student's majorStudent next fill in their academic major.

Step 5

aligned goals and diverse skills step 5: student kills and experienceStudents will brainstorm the skills and experience they possess that could be helpful in serving customers and/or validating a business model. Here are some ideas to help your students think of their skills:

  • They are a member of the customer segment
  • Any relevant job experience
  • Know someone who is influential within their customer segments
  • Have a large reach within this customer segment (e.g. large social media following, know a bunch of them, etc.)
  • They an artist, designer, software developer, good with tech, good with numbers, good writer, good at creating videos, etc.
  • Experience leading teams before
  • Previous entrepreneurial experience
  • Bi-lingual (i.e. can speak the customers’ native language)

Leave the room so your students feel comfortable sharing their minimum successful grades. Instruct students to form groups based on their minimum successful grades, and within groups, to share their minimum successful business outcomes, the customers they are uniquely suited to serve, their major, and the skills and experiences they have. Read this example:

“Hi, my name is Jennifer. My minimum successful business outcome is to try starting one. I can uniquely serve roboticists and florists. My major is Computer Engineering and I have skills and experience building websites, and launching an app in the Apple App store.”

Step 6

aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet step 6: potential teammate notesStudents now turn to finding teammates by finding students with similar goals, and different skills.

As students interview each other, they take notes of who seems like a good fit with them, and why.

Steps 7 – 8

aligned goals and diverse skills worksheet step 7: team name and team minimum successful grade

Students will next imagine a team name (encourage them to be creative and develop a name that reflects what value they are trying to create, and for whom). They should agree on the minimum successful grade for the general team.

Step 9

Aligned goals and diverse skills step 9: minimum successful business outcomeEach student will bring their own dreams to the group. Give students ~5 minutes to identify shared business outcomes and jot those dow.

Step 10

The last step is for all students, in their individual teams, to narrow down the customers they are uniquely suited to serve, either because they were members of that group, are members of that group or have an intentional purpose to work with that group.

Summary

Your students just identified the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems/emotions they’re most excited to help them resolve. In doing so, your students identified several potential paths that could lead them toward creating a profitable business. By focusing on the people and using them as inspiration for business ideas, your students have an infinite source of potentially successful businesses to choose from now, or in the future.


Get the “Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Aligned Goals + Diverse Skills” lesson plan. This exercise walks 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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Improving Student Idea Generation

Improving Student Idea Generation

This lesson plan will help you increase the quality and creativity of the ideas your students work on.

As we’ve talked about before, we know that most successful entrepreneurs don’t focus on products, they focus on problems. So idea generation should really start with identifying the problems we can solve.

Successful business ideas solve problems by addressing the emotional needs of their customers.

Whether by solving problems, or offering pleasurable experiences, all successful business ideas resolve an emotional desire of customers.

Knowing that, one way to come up with business ideas would be to brainstorm lots of different options, and then hope that one of them will resolve an emotional need of your customers. Of course that means your students spend a lot of time coming up with ideas – most of which will have no substantial emotional impact on their customers. Instead, they will go the other way around.

Your students start by understanding the emotional needs of potential customers, and then use their needs to come up with ideas on ways to resolve them.

For this post we will be using the Your Ideal Customers worksheet from the Lesson Plan below.

Click to download the worksheet.
This exercise will show your students how to develop meaningful ideas that solve problems by helping them…

  1. Identify the customers they are ideally suited to serve.
  2. Hypothesize the emotional needs of those customers.

By the time they’re done with this exercise, they will have a set of potential customers they can serve, and some ideas about problems they can solve for them.

Step 1

Groups of people you belong to filled inYour students will make a list of the groups of people they currently belong to, and all the groups they used to belong to. Each is a group of people whose problems your students understand better than the average person. If they serve members of this group, your students have a competitive advantage because they know them better than other people. The more segments they come up with, the more problems (i.e. ideas) they can come up with.  Tell your students to come up with at least 10.

Step 2

Groups of people you want to serve filled inYour students will list the groups of people they are not part of, but are excited to help.  In this list, the passion your students have for helping these people will be their unique advantage.

Your students don’t have to know these segments intimately, they just have to want to serve them.

Step 3

Groups you are most excited to work for filled inFrom all the groups of people brainstormed in steps 1-2, students pick the three they would be most interested in helping solve a problem they are facing. Next, it’s time to brainstorm what problems, or emotional needs, your students might be able to help them resolve.

Step 4

Biggest challenges for a group filled inStudents will brainstorm the biggest challenges members of the first group face. Once your students have a couple problems written down, imagine “A Day in the Life” of one of these people. What’s it like when they wake up? What do they do after that? Think about how the rest of their day is affected by being a member of this group. Once your students have a rough sense of their average day, ask them to try to identify the hardest part of their day. This process may help your students identify even more challenges they can help them solve.

Steps 5-6

Students will repeat that process for step the second and third potential customers “segments.” In this scenario, we’re using the word “segments” to describe a group of people with a common set of problems that might ultimately become your students’ customers.

Step 7

Customer emotions filled inGo to the second page of the worksheet, and list they three potential segments again. For each segment, use the questions to identify emotional situations that either cause members of the group pain or pleasure. These situations are additional scenarios that your students might be able to build a business around resolving for the particular customers – which they can test in future exercises.

Steps 8-9

Most interesting customer emotions selectedLooking at all of the challenges on the first page of the exercise, and the emotional situations on the second page of the exercise, students should identify:

  • The situations they hypothesize are the most emotionally intense for their potential customers. Circle the two most intense situations.
  • The problems or emotions they are most excited to resolve for their customers. Put stars next to two of those.

Step 10

Looking at the problems or emotional situations circled and starred, students should choose three combinations of customers and problems/emotional situations they would like to explore going forward. These will serve as their first “Customer” and “Value Proposition” hypotheses, and they will use them as the basis for their first set of business model experiments! If their assumptions are right, they may have just identified their ideal customers, and how they’re going to serve them!

Summary

Your students just identified the customers they are most passionate about helping, and the problems/emotions they’re most excited to help them resolve. In doing so, your students identified several potentials paths that could lead them toward creating a profitable business. By focusing on the people and them as inspiration for business ideas, your students have an infinite source of potentially successful businesses to choose from now, or in the future.


Get the “Your Ideal Customers” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Your Ideal Customers” lesson plan. This exercise walks 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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How to Teach MVPs

How to Teach MVPs

MVP is arguably the worst buzzword in entrepreneurship today.

  • It is not a “product”.
  • Nobody can explain what “viable” means.
  • Nobody can explain what “minimum” means.

We hear it every semester – students jumping right to an idea of a completely functional app, or video game, or restaurant / bar. To one day achieve that dream, students need to first understand what is the first Minimum Viable Product (MVP) they should build.

In this exercise, students will design their first MVP by identifying their riskiest business model assumption. They’ll then design the simplest experiment they can to test that riskiest assumption.

Specifically, students will learn:

  • What is an MVP?
  • What is the Riskiest (Business Model) Assumption?
  • How to identify their Riskiest Assumption
  • How to design a test using their first MVP

Before they sink the resources necessary to build that app, or that video game, or open that restaurant / bar, they will understand how to iterate through quick tests to make sure they build a product customers actually want.

MVP Designer Worksheet

What are MVPs?

Provide students this definition of an MVP:

A version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers, with the least effort. – Frank Robinson

The goal here is to emphasize the 4 major components of the definition:

  • Collect the maximum amount
  • Of validated learning
  • About customers
  • With the least effort

Walk students through the components one-by-one:

  • #2 (validated learning) means to run an experiment to validate a hypothesis
  • #3 (about customers) means that when they run experiments, students need to focus those experiments on their customer/business model (not solely on product)
  • For #4 (with the least effort), ask students “Why would it be important for entrepreneurs to run experiments with the least effort possible?”

Answer: to save resources (e.g. time/money), in the event their hypotheses are wrong. That way they can maximize the number of business model iterations they can make.

After this discussion, re-phrase the definition of MVP as:

The easiest way to test your most important business model hypothesis.

Once your students understand the concept of an MVP, the next step is to identify the most important business model hypothesis!

Riskiest Assumption

Ask your students to fill in the blank:

A chain is only as strong as its ___________ link.

In that way, the “weakest” link of a chain is the most important in the chain; it will determine whether or not the chain fails.

Ask students to consider each of the components of the Business Model Canvas as links in a chain. How would they decide which component, or link, is the most important to test?

The component they should test is the one that is most likely to lead to their business model’s failure.

Tell students that there’s a special name for the component of their business model that is most likely to lead to its failure. We call this the “Riskiest Assumption.”

The riskiest assumption is always the most important to test with an MVP.

Students often ask about testing multiple hypotheses (assumptions) at once. Make a strong point that if they tested multiple hypotheses at once, they would find it very difficult to discern which hypothesis they invalidated if a particular experiment fails. In other words, by focusing one one hypothesis at a time, they can be certain whether

For example, if a company were to test their pricing, channel and value proposition assumptions at the same time and the experiment failed to generate the number of sales they expected, it wouldn’t be clear which of the three assumptions was to blame (e.g. wrong channel, wrong value proposition, or wrong price). In this scenario, they would be no closer to building product customers want!

Given the necessity of focusing on the riskiest assumption, if we go back to the definition of an MVP once again, we get the following:

The Minimum Viable Product is the easiest way to test your riskiest business model assumption.

The next step, is for your students to identify their riskiest assumptions.

Finding the Riskiest Assumption

In order to identify their riskiest assumption, students need to rate all of their Business Model Canvas (BMC) components in terms of risk.

To do that, they’ll need to consider two characteristics for each component:

  1. How critical is that hypothesis to the success of their business model?
  2. How confident is the students that hypothesis is valid?

Students can evaluate the components using the Riskiest Assumption Matrix.

riskiest assumption matrix

Students will map each BMC component into one of the four quadrants of the matrix:

  • Lower-Left: Less Critical + Low Confidence. Assumptions that students have little data on but will not drastically affect the success of their business model.
  • Lower-Right: Less Critical + High Confidence. Assumptions that have plenty of supporting data but will not greatly impact their business model.
  • Top-Right: Highly Critical + High Confidence. Business model assumptions that could significantly impact the business model that have been validated.
  • Top-Left: Highly Critical + Low Confidence. Business model assumptions that could significantly impact the business model that have yet to be validated.

The assumptions in this top-left quadrant are the riskiest to the overall business model and students should test first with their MVPs. The closer to the top-left corner of the chart, the more risky the assumption.

Walk students through scoring, and plotting, the components from their BMC by using Customer Segments as an example. Ask students to rate their “Customer Segments” (CS) assumptions based on two criteria, both on a scale from 0 to 10:

  • How critical is this assumption to the success of their BMC? (0 = not at all critical. 10 = extremely critical)

“Critical” here is defined as, “If these hypotheses were proven false, how likely would that lead to the collapse of the overall business model?”

As they think about their score, tell students that while the customer segments component of their business model will always be critical to their business model’s success, meaning it should get a relatively high score, for some business models the CS component is more critical than others.

For example, if a student has several distinct, but highly related customer segments with similar problems (e.g. they can serve dog owners, cat owners, ferret owners, etc.), they might be able to quickly pivot their CS hypothesis if their current assumption gets invalidated. In that way, they may score their CS component as slightly less critical (e.g. 7 – 8) than a business model with a single unique CS (e.g. CIOs for federal agencies) that is more difficult to pivot without changing the entire business model.

Note: the actual scores don’t matter at all so you can tell students to just give them a “gut feel” number. What matters most is how they score the components relative to one another.

Once students have written in their critical score, ask them to score…

  • How confident are they that their CS assumptions are valid? (0 = not at all confident. 10 = extremely confident).

Their Confidence levels should correspond with how much evidence students have that their hypothesis is valid.

As students conduct customer interviews they should develop a moderate to high level of confidence this is the right customer segment for them to solve a problem for.

Ask students to write in their confidence scores for their CS component.

Once they write down their scores, students should plot the Customer Segments component on their Riskiest Assumption Matrix by putting a dot at the appropriate point on the chart, and labeling it with the letters “CS” above the point.

Students need to map all their BMC hypotheses onto the Riskiest Assumption Matrix. Provide them the following guidance to help students calibrate their risks:

  • Value Proposition: highly critical, medium confidence. Arguably the most important set of assumptions in the BMC (i.e. highly critical).
  • Customer Relationships: less critical, any confidence. Relationship models can often be altered as necessary to meet the demands of customers.
  • Channels: highly critical, low confidence. Students won’t be able to sell a solution to customer problems unless they have a means of reaching their customers.
  • Revenue Streams: highly critical, low confidence. Students won’t be able to build sustainable businesses without revenue streams.
  • Cost Structure: moderately critical, medium confidence. Costs are important because they have a direct impact on the financial sustainability of a business model, but costs can often be optimized and reduced over time, moderating the critical nature of these assumptions. Students should be able to collect at least a little validating data on the costs they will incur solving the problem they want to solve.
  • Key Resources: less critical, medium confidence. Key resources are typically assets the student already has access to, or will need to get access to in order to fulfill their value proposition. These are often less risky assumptions because the same activities can be delivered with different resources, if the originally assumed resources are not available. These assumptions typically have medium confidence because the student already knows if they have some of the resources they require.
  • Key Activities: moderately critical, low to medium confidence. Key activities, while pivotal to fulfilling the value proposition, are often flexible as there are a number of ways to solve any given problem, making these assumptions less critical. These assumptions may be well known, but can also be significantly influenced by the revenue streams (high revenue streams can often lead to more quality-oriented key activities).
  • Key Partners: low to moderately critical, low confidence. Key partners represent the external organizations that help deliver on the value proposition. Sometimes they are required, often alternatives can be utilized to deliver their portion of the value proposition if some key partner assumptions are incorrect.

Once students plot their BMC components on their matrix, ask them to identify their riskiest assumptions by locating the dot that is closest to the top-left corner of the canvas.

Students should identify either their Channel or Revenue Stream hypotheses as their most risky. If they don’t, discuss with them and the rest of the class why they should re-evaluate the risk.

Many students will identify that their Value Proposition assumption is their riskiest. Convey that they, like all humans, are incredible problem solvers and that if there’s enough demand to solve a problem (as demonstrated by revenue), you’re convinced they will find a solution to the problem by learning a new skill, or using all the money they get from customers to hire the right people to solve the problem. This confidence should cause the Value Proposition assumption to be less risky than the Channel or Revenue Stream hypotheses, for which they should have very low confidence.

Tell students it’s almost always harder to get people to pay to solve a problem than it is to solve it. Even with a cure for cancer, they would have to navigate the channels and revenue streams required to monetize pharmaceutical treatments.

MVP Storming

Next, your students will learn how to develop MVPs to test their riskiest hypothesis. To start, they’ll brainstorm potential MVPs for a hypothetical riskiest assumption that you give them. It is helpful to show students a few real example MVPs:

  • Dropbox’s “Demo” video was a combination of working code and video editing magic of features they would eventually implement if they validated their riskiest assumption – that enough people cared about the problem to make it worth solving.
  • Airbnb launched an MVP to test demand for rooms to stay at during conferences. One of their earliest MVPs was testing demand for their site at SXSW.

Channel Testing MVPs

Give your students the following scenario:

Let’s say you’ve spoken with working parents and the biggest problem they are trying to solve is that when their kids get sick, it’s stressful because getting their children care takes too long, and the parent loses their entire work day.

You’ve identified that channels are your riskiest assumptions. In particular you’re not sure if you can get enough people to click on your Facebook ads to meet your financial projections (annual reach of 45,000-people with a 5% click through rate (CTR)).

Then ask your students: What MVPs could you create to test these channel assumptions?

Remind students that an MVP is, “The easiest way to test their riskiest business model assumption.”

Discuss students’ answers, eventually letting them know that the easiest way to test this assumption would be to create a simple Facebook text ad targeted at working parents to measure how many people click on the ad.

Revenue Stream MVPs

Alternatively, propose to your students that:

You’ve identified that your riskiest assumption is your revenue stream. In particular that working parents will pay $199/month for access to 3 in-home pediatrician visits each year.

Ask your students what MVP could be created in this case?

Potential Answers:

Pre-Orders: Create a site that collects pre-orders from prospective working parents. The site should mention the price and ideally require a credit card to play the pre-order, but the credit card shouldn’t be charged until the founders are confident they can deliver on their value proposition.

Letters of Intent (LOIs): Collect Letters of Intent (LOIs) – signed, non-binding, documents indicating that the prospective customers will agree to using this service at a given price point.

While LOIs are typically used in business-to-business (B2B) scenarios, you can use this example as a way to introduce LOIs by explaining that they are non-legally binding documents that state a person/organization “intends” to take an action (e.g. buy your product once you build it). While LOIs don’t provide as much validation (i.e. increased confidence) as much as actual sales, an LOI still requires signatures and approval from stakeholders within an organization, which provides much more validation than a simple verbal agreement.

Tell students that asking their customers to sign LOIs is a great way to test their Revenue Stream assumptions if they are selling to other businesses.

Students’ MVP

With these examples in mind, and having previously identified their riskiest assumption, ask students to brainstorm their first MVP. Once they have an idea, ask a few students to present:

  • Their riskiest assumption, and
  • The MVP they’ll create to test it

Lead a discussion so the class can give them feedback to help them hone their MVP ideas.

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:


Get the “How to Teach MVPs” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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Design Thinking 101: Design the Ideal Wallet

Design Thinking 101: Design the Ideal Wallet

Inject Design Thinking In Your Class

Whether starting a business, or working within a business to develop new products or services, understanding the design thinking process is a powerful tool to deliver and capture value in the marketplace.

design thinking process

The Wallet Project, from Stanford University’s d.school, is a fast-paced way to introduce your students to design thinking. This is a group activity (from 2 to 100+ participants) in which students rapidly do a full cycle through the design process. The project is broken down into specific steps (of a few minutes each), and students have worksheet packets that guide them. In addition, one or two facilitators (not participating in the project) prompt each step, and add verbal color and instruction. Students pair up, show and tell each other about their wallets, ideate, and make a new solution that is “useful and meaningful” to their partner.

This exercise is great because every student has an artifact (their wallet or purse) that contains so much meaning in it. You can get some really interesting information about someone just by asking about their wallet. This project also tends to yield final solution ideas that are physical, and more easily prototyped.

Online Version

What follows are instructions for running this exercise in-person. If you’d like to run it online, we’ve drafted a modified version here.

What Students Learn

Students get the feel of a design approach, gain some shared vocabulary, and get a taste of each design “mode” (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test). Specifically, students learn:

  • the value of engaging with real people to help them ground their design decisions,
  • that low-resolution prototypes are useful to learn from (take an iterative approach)
  • to bias toward action (you can make a lot of progress in a little bit of time if you start doing).

Step 1: The Wrong Approach

Tell students:

“Instead of just telling you about design thinking, we want to immediately have you jump right in and experience it for yourself. We are going to do a design project for about the next hour. Ready? Let’s go!”

Give students the “Design the IDEAL Wallet” worksheet and use this timer to count down the 3 minutes.

design the ideal wallet worksheet

Don’t give students any instructions here – just tell them to draw an idea for their ideal wallet. It’s important to remind them that you are not a good artist (whether you are or are not), and that they are not going to be judged at all by their artistic ability.

The intention here is to contrast an abstract problem-centric approach to a human-centered design thinking approach.

Remind students after each minute expires. After the 3 minutes expires, ask students:

“How did that feel?”

They will likely offer some emotions that are not that positive. Highlight those, and tell them “that was a typical problem-solving approach, taking on a given problem, working using your own opinions and experience to guide you, and with a solution in mind to be designed. Let’s try something else – a human-centered design thinking approach.”

Step 2: A Better Approach

Give students the “Your New Mission” worksheet and have them pair up.

your new mission worksheet

Their job is to design something useful for their partner. Tell students the most important part of designing for someone is to gain empathy. Students will do this by having a conversation with their partner.

Tell students that Partner A will have 4 minutes to interview Partner B, then they will switch. Have Partner A walk Partner B through the contents of their wallet. Encourage Partner A to ask questions about when they carry a wallet, why they have particular things in there, and to make notes of things they find interesting or surprising.

Start playing upbeat music (I like Motown) and start the 4 minutes. Partner A asks Partner B to go through Partner B’s wallet. Then they switch and spend 4 minutes in reversed roles.

Step 3: Dig Deeper

After this first set of interviews, encourage students to follow up on things they found interesting or surprising. They should dig for stories, feelings, and emotions (around pictures, artifacts, etc.) Encourage students to ask “Why?” often and to let their partner talk.

Students need to understand that the wallet is a distraction, that what is important for them to discover is what is important to their partner. Remind students to make note of any unexpected discoveries and to capture quotes.

Step 4: Reframe the Problem

Give students the “Reframe the Problem” worksheet.

Reframe the problem worksheet

Have each student individually reflect for three minutes on what they learned about their partner. Tell students to synthesize their learning into two groups:

  1. Their partner’s goals and wishes. Students should use verbs to express these. Remind students that these should be needs related to the wallet and life, that they should think about physical and emotional needs. Give them an example of maybe their partner needing to minimize the number of things he carries, or he needs to feel like he is supporting the local community and economy.
  2. Any insights they discovered. Tell them they can leverage insights when creating solutions. Give them an example that they might discover their partner values purchases more when using cash to make it. Another example could be that the partner sees the wallet as a reminder and organizing system, not a carrying device.

Step 5: Take a Stand

This is where students articulate their point-of-view around which they will build solutions. Tell them to select the most compelling need and most interesting insight they gained from their partner. This statement is going to be the foundation for their design work, so encourage them to make it actionable, and exciting. Give them an example like these:

“Janice needs a way to feel she has access to all her stuff and is ready to act. Surprisingly, carrying her purse makes her feel less ready to act, not more.”

or

“Arthur needs a way to socialize with his friends while eating healthy, but he feels he isn’t participating if he isn’t holding a drink.”

Step 6: Sketch to Ideate

Give students the “Ideate” worksheet.

Ideate worksheet

At the top, they write their problem statement. Tell them they are now creating solutions to the challenge they’ve identified. Push them that quantity is better than quality here, that they should go for volume of sketches of ideas. Remind them the goal here is idea generation, not evaluation; challenge them by saying “see if you can come up with at least 7 ideas!”

Keep telling them as each minute passes, and remind them to be visual, to not use words but to use pictures.

It is important to remind them here that they may not be designing a wallet, but that they should create solutions to the problem statement they just created.

Step 7: Share Solutions and Capture Feedback

During this step, partners share their sketches with each other for 4 minutes each. As each partner gives reactions to the sketches, the other partner should take note of any likes and dislikes, and also listen for any new insights. Remind students the goal here is not to validate their ideas, and not to explain or defend their idea. This is an opportunity to learn more about their partner’s feelings and motivations. After four minutes, students switch.

Step 8: Reflect & Generate New Solutions

Give students the “Iterate based on feedback” worksheet.

iterate worksheet

Tell students to take a moment to consider what they learned about their partner and about the solutions they generated. Using all they’ve learned, ask students to sketch a new idea. This idea can be a variation on an idea from before or could be something entirely new. It is OK if they need to adjust their problem statement to incorporate new insights and needs they discovered in Step 7.

Encourage students to provide as much detail and color around their idea as they can. They should think about how the solution fits into their partner’s life, when, and how they might handle or encounter the new solution.

**NOTE: While students are working, grab the prototyping materials.**

Picture of prototyping supplies: post-it notes, pens, scissors, stickers, yarn, tape, etc.
Image courtesy of Atomic Object

Step 9: Build!

Give students the “Build and test” worksheet.

build and test worksheet

Tell students the next step is to create a physical prototype of their solution. Explain they should not just make a scale model of their idea.

They should create an experience that their partner can react to.

They need to actually make something their partner can engage and interact with. Students who want to create a service will ask how they can create that. Talk about creating a scenario that allows the partner to experience it – they can use space, act it out, etc.

Push students to be quick, remind them they have only a few minutes.

Step 10: Share Your Solution & Get Feedback

Now one partner will share their prototype and collect feedback, then partners will switch roles. Tell students they are not interested in validating the prototype, but instead are interested in a targeted conversation around the experience, specifically focused on feelings and emotions. Remind students their prototype is not precious, that they cannot cherish it and should let go of it. What is valuable here is the feedback and new insights they will gain from their partner’s interaction with the prototype. Students need to watch how their partner uses and misuses the prototype. They should take note of what their partner liked and didn’t like, what questions and ideas emerged.

Step 11: Group Gather & Debrief

Create a space that all students can gather around – move tables together, clear chairs, etc.

Have everyone put their prototypes in the middle of the gathering space. Ask students

This step is important! A well-facilitated reflection has the power to turn this exercise from simply a fun activity to a meaningful experience that could impact the way participants approach innovation in the future. Quickly pull together a few tables that everyone can gather around. Ask students:

  • “Who had a partner who created something that you really like?”
  • “Who sees something they are curious to learn more about?”

When a student is curious about a prototype, ask for the person who created the prototype and engage them in the conversation:

  • “How did talking to your partner inform your design?”
  • “How did testing and getting feedback impact your final design?”
  • “What was the most challenging part of the process for you?”

The key to leading this conversation is to relate the activity to the following takeaways:

  • Human-centered design: Empathy for the person or people you are designing for, and feedback from users, is fundamental to good design.
  • Experimentation and prototyping: Prototyping is an integral part of your innovation process. A bias towards action, toward doing and making over thinking and meeting.
  • Show don’t tell: Communicate your vision in an impactful and meaningful way by creating experiences and interactive visuals.
  • Power of iteration: Learn, try, fail, learn more, try again, fail again, learn more, and so the cycle goes. A person’s fluency with design thinking is a function of cycles, so we challenge participants to go through as many cycles as possible—interview twice, sketch twice, and test with your partner twice. Additionally, iterating solutions many times within a project is key to successful outcomes.

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Pivoting the Wish Game: The Reality of Entrepreneurship

Pivoting the Wish Game: The Reality of Entrepreneurship

“Can I take this class again?”

The student wasn’t asking because she enjoyed the class so much. She was asking because she realized she missed the opportunity. This is confirmation that I am creating a powerful experience for my students. And confirmation that I need to do a better job introducing it.

As we near the end of the semester, I see changes in my Wish Game course experiment. It began as a grand vision, with a ton of anxious excitement from me and my students.

It is morphing into a transformational experience for students.

Let’s catch up on the wishes and experience over the past month. I learned a few valuable lessons over these weeks:

  • I can give student too much agency (I need to provide closer guidance)
  • Singular focus on granting wishes all semester is probably too much; balance is better
  • Students prefer safety
  • Maybe wishes for others would be a better learning experience than personal wishes

Granting Wishes

A few weeks back, as is our pattern, we were granting two wishes per week. This particular week the two wishes were:

  • Take the money that would be spent on a wish to a casino and let it ride on blackjack.
  • Be on stage with Skrillex and Marshmello at Ultra Music Festival in Miami.

The first was extremely straightforward. As students interviewed the grantee for this one, they tried to encourage her to pick a more challenging wish, but she stood her ground. She loves the energy and excitement of the casino. The group granting her wish handed her $150 cash the night of class and she and two classmates headed to the casino. She reported back that she taught her classmates about blackjack and roulette, and ended up winning a few bucks along the way.

Image result for blackjack creative commons

This wish presented no problem in terms of execution. It did, however, present problems within the group. There was some conflict about whether to grant the wish the grantee asked for, or to go bigger and get creative. I have been encouraging the students to think big, to take a risk. But in this case, because the grantee so adamantly stated she just wanted cash to go to the casino, the group delivered the wish. Through customer interviewing, the students understood the grantee’s desire for the emotional experience of a casino trip, and they granted it.

The other wish that week was for a student to be on stage with Skrillex and Marshmello at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. This wish was technically possible because that festival was happening in the future from the week they were granting this wish. The students got right to work interviewing the grantee to understand why he wanted this wish.

As I always do, I encouraged students to use their network to actually accomplish this wish.

I pointed out that one John Carroll alum, who was just on campus speaking not long ago, was a very successful DJ – Mick Batyske. I gave the students his cell number and encouraged them to reach out as he would likely have some connections to the festival organizers and/or Skrillex and Marshmello. They did not reach out!

The group decided pretty quickly it was too expensive – airfare, lodging, festival tickets, etc. As far as I could tell from conversations I overheard and from reflections I read, they did not consider or act on the possibility of asking for donations or hustling up some alternative solutions. They quickly moved from the big plan (deliver the actual wish) to a skeleton of the wish. This group ended up putting on a Marshmello “show” at one student’s house – they created some ambiance with music, lights, had pizza to eat. They also got the grantee a Marshmello hat.

Image result for marshmello creative commons

What Went Wrong

I pound at students that their network is much larger and easier to activate than they think. Coworkers, John Carroll alum, high school friends, family connections, hometown connections, and the list goes on. I get disappointed watching students spend 30 minutes in class brainstorming how to execute delivering a wish. They don’t spend much time strategizing how to activate their network.

This week I realized (duh!!) I should model that for them.

I committed that during the last group of wishes I would pick one wish and grant it myself, showing them how it could be done. I hope this lights a fire as they realize what could have been, and encourages them to take the risk, to dive in the next time an opportunity presents itself.

Next Wishes

The next wishes proved some interesting lessons for myself and the students.

  • Travel to Ireland.
  • Have Chipotle for life.

For the trip to Ireland, the group quickly learned that the grantee doesn’t have a passport, and is very anxious about flying (having never flown before). They quickly ruled out actually sending him to Ireland that week 🙂

Related image

Through their interviews, they learned about his connection to Ireland, his dreams of what a trip there would entail, and highlights that would be meaningful to him. After a week of planning, they did their best to recreate the feel of Ireland in a room through decorations, music, and scenery. They also provided the grantee some gifts to commemorate his “trip” – a wool blanket, some Guinness, an Irish stone. The grantee was beaming as they showed a Photoshopped slideshow in class of his “trip” to the magical Irish destinations he dreamed of going.

The next wish was considerably more difficult – the student wanted Chipotle for life! Some students discussed what “for life” means – I can’t blame them for looking for the easy path. Eventually, the group coalesced around trying to actually grant the wish. They asked me about approaching the President of John Carroll to send a letter to the CEO of Chipotle. I advised them that would not be very realistic, especially within a week.

The students did reach out to another member of the leadership team at John Carroll to send a note to the Chipotle CEO. The response was a fantastic learning lesson for us all:

Thanks for reaching out.  I am not inclined to get involved in this activity as I don’t see any realistic role that I could play.  I don’t know the full context of your assignment but I would offer the following observations.
  1. The Ignatian characteristic of men and women with and for others, is meant to be directed at the poor and marginalized in our society, so not applicable in this context.
  2. Asking Chipotle executives for free food for an MBA student doesn’t appear to be a very compelling rationale on the face of it.  What is in it for them or their company?  If you are going to make this pitch, you’d better be creating value for them.  Would you make this a viral video, etc.?
During debrief, we had a rich discussion about Jesuit values, about privilege and philanthropy, about right and wrong, and many other related topics. It opened my eyes to the potential danger in this exercise, in terms of encouraging students to be very selfish and to expend resources on seemingly frivolous gifts.
We as a class decided after much discussion that the exercise was not about the selfishness of wishes, but about the generosity of granting wishes.

Related image

I encouraged students to think small to go big with this wish. I often hold myself back from offering suggestions. As my frustration with their inability to go big grew, I couldn’t hold back this time.

I encouraged them to figure out the Chipotle meal the grantee likes (let’s say it costs $6), and how many weeks he will be alive (let’s say 2,500). I then suggested each member of the group ask 10 people to each buy one $6 Chipotle gift card, and to ask those people to each ask 10 people to buy one, and so on. If they each started with 10, that would immediately be 140, and if each of those got 10 more people, that would be 1,400, and so on. Ultimately, they reported it didn’t work because their friends didn’t want to contribute money. Ultimately, they didn’t sell it. Instead, they bought him a $150 Chipotle gift card.

This wish provided a great learning opportunity on a much deeper level, but also a reminder that the students are still struggling to get uncomfortable and really push their boundaries of what is possible.

Adjusting the Pace

Students brought up that if they had two weeks to do wishes, they could deliver more impactful experiences. In their minds, time was the most valuable resource, which they were lacking. After some very rich discussion about evaluating and leveraging resources, we decided that each of the two groups (14 students in each) would deliver wishes every other week. The caveat was that each group had to deliver two wishes every other week so that each student got a wish during the semester.

Fun Note: Students argues that since wishes were due every other week, they should only have to turn in reflection papers every other week. When I told them those papers every other week would be worth double (so the total course points stayed the same) they balked. I explained that everyone benefited under this because they had to write 1/2 as much for the same grade and I had to grade 1/2 as much. But they chose to keep writing the reflection papers each week.

A New Pace of Wishes

We jumped into this new pace of granting four wishes every other week. The next wishes were:

  • Dive with great white sharks
  • Meet Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns quarterback and 1st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft)
  • Play a round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club with Tiger Woods
  • Drive a Jaguar F-Type 2016

These wishes seemed to me to be quite challenging. The students seemed invigorated because they had more time to plan and execute – I hoped that meant they would be able to deliver a more impactful wish experience.

Each group of ~14 split into two groups of ~7 and started interviewing grantees and planning for wish granting. For the shark diving wish, the group found out that the grantee had a trip planned with her husband to Thailand in the summer. They found a company near where they would be in Thailand that offered swim-with-the-sharks package, although not with Great Whites.

Related image

The group gave the grantee enough cash for her and her husband to purchase a package, and gave it to her in a bag that included suntan lotion, a snorkeling mask, and an underwater disposable camera. It was a very thoughtful presentation, and the grantee expressed sincere gratitude about their thoughtfulness to enhance her trip with her husband. She promised to send pictures with the sharks!

Meeting Baker Mayfield was going to be tough, because since it is the football off-season, he is not in Cleveland at the time. However, two students had connections to Baker through friends, so I was excited that they may be able to pull something off.

Image result for baker mayfield

I’m always doing what I can to create a safe space for them to go big. In this case, I would wander by the group brainstorming and say things like “he could use a private jet to come back” or “maybe the Browns will fly [the wish grantee] out as a PR stunt”. Ultimately, the students didn’t reach out to Baker, but just handed the grantee an authentic Baker Mayfield jersey. I was disappointed that they seemingly mailed it in.

During the debrief we discussed how they could have been more persistent with their network, and how it’s OK to do that as long as it’s respectful and transparent.

The next wish to be granted was to play round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club with Tiger Woods. This wish approached the realm of impossible more than any other, and the students quickly knew it. This is one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, and this is the most exclusive golf course in the world. And the Master’s was fast approaching.

Image result for amen corner augusta

The students quickly decided it wasn’t going to happen, so they set about with Plan B. In interviewing the grantee, they discovered his passion for playing golf, and for learning from people he plays with, from watching videos and live golf. They realized the two elements of this desire were to play an exclusive golf course and to play with someone who was really, really, really good.

Their Plan B wasn’t half bad. They purchased a framed picture of a famous hole at Augusta National Golf Club, and gave the grantee a t-shirt with Tiger Woods’ mugshot printed on it. They used their connections to get him and a friend a round of golf at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

The last wish from this batch was to drive a Jaguar F-Type 2016. The team tried contacting rental agencies, but could not find any in the area that had this particular car.

They next contacted Jaguar dealerships, but they won’t allow test drives of this car without a hefty fee. One student found this car for rent about an hour away on Turo.com (I never heard of this site, but it’s an incredible marketplace!). After much discussion with the owner, they realized he required at least a 2-day rental, and with all the fees it would have been close to $700. Additionally, they discovered the driver needed to be 25 (for insurance purposes) which the grantee wasn’t. One student offered to drive to rent it and chauffeur the grantee around, but the expense was just too high. When it came time to present the grantee’s wish in class, the group had nothing. They explained their process and apologized for failing. It was awkward, and a shame the grantee left without anything.

This experience enabled a deep discussion about failing. The students didn’t feel good about being the only group to not deliver some form of the wish. The grantee was gracious, but I could tell he was disappointed. We discussed how failure happens all the time, and is a learning opportunity. The group learned that part of their failure was waiting until the last minute; they iterated through many plans, but because they waited until the last minute, they ran out of time and were unable to do anything.

Another Batch of Wishes

The next batch of four wishes were

  • Visit the Amalfi coast in Italy
  • Get $3,000 for a Jeep for job in Uganda (this grantee had raised $6,000 already and needed $3,000 more to purchase the Jeep)
  • Play a round of golf with Charles Howell III
  • To learn to ski and own a cafè

The groups attacked the wishes with their usual gusto. They sat down to interview the grantees to understand the motivation for the wish. The class seemed energized – perhaps it was better to give them longer to grant the wish!

For the Amalfi coast the group discovered the grantee was going to be in Italy this summer with family. Taking a creative approach, they planned out a few days in the Amalfi coast region for the grantee and a guest and presented her with a detailed agenda and enough cash to cover the cost of all the activities.

They planned all the details based on the information they gathered from interviewing the grantee – job well done!

The group granting the wish to get $3,000 for a Jeep for the grantee’s job in Uganda faced an uphill battle. $3,000 in two weeks isn’t easy. They immediately decided on doing a GoFundMe campaign – check it out here. They interviewed the grantee, but realized as they started building the campaign that they needed more information and a video. The group struggled with communication issues – they couldn’t get all the information they needed, and had difficulty producing a high quality video. Eventually they launched the campaign, but not until right before the class when they were to present it. They explained that they started the GoFundMe, and would keep it open through the semester, hoping to generate $3,000.

I did not hear much about promotion. The group focused on execution and getting the campaign live, but neglected planning promotion efforts to drive interest in and traffic to the campaign. They could have utilized campus media to spread the opportunity to students, faculty and staff. Social media provides another valuable outlet to share the goal with their network, as well as with JCU alum and other parties who might be interested in supporting. The group shared how surprised they were at how complicated this effort was. We discussed how people see the “skin” of an effort – the website, the landing page, etc. but we don’t realize the work it takes to create that “skin”. The students now understand how much effort goes into designing, launching, and promoting a crowdfunding campaign. Lesson learned!

The next wish was to play a round of golf with golf professional Charles Howell III. Another golf wish! One student in the group working on this wish had a few contacts that he thought could help make introductions to Charles. I did not hear much in the way of interviewing this grantee, as I think this group focused almost immediately on executing actually getting a round of golf set up with Charles.

Image result for charles howell iiiUnfortunately, the group didn’t pull this off – instead, they gave the grantee two rounds of golf at a local exclusive club. I was disappointed in this effort, or lack thereof, and at this group honing in on one idea almost instantly and not being willing to budge from that idea, or developing alternative plans.

I need to do a better job of motivating students to challenge themselves.

For the last wish of this bunch, the group granting the wish wanted to try to grant two. The first was the grantee (who is from the Middle East) wanted to learn to ski. Since the weather turned to spring, this wish wasn’t physically possible at the time, so the group wanted to add a second wish to the docket. The group purchased two passes to ski lessons at a local ski resort for next season and checked off that wish. The second wish was the grantee wanted to own a cafè. The day they granted the wish, in a room next to our classroom, they set up a mock cafe for the grantee to provide coffee and pastries to the students in class. In this way, the grantee got to “run” a cafe for an evening. The grantee was overwhelmed at the generosity of receiving two wishes – this feeling is what the experience is all about!

Last Batch of Wishes

As we near the end of the semester, we have one last batch of wishes to be granted:

  • Visit New York City
  • Do goat yoga
  • Get a Brooks Brothers custom suit
  • Be a billionaire

I am personally taking the wish of visiting New York City, and have challenged the class to outdo me this time! I want to show them how I, as one person who is nobody special, can use creativity and my network to actually grant the reality of a wish.

Image result for new york city

I acknowledge that traveling to New York City from Cleveland is easier to manage than traveling to Ireland or the Amalfi coast of Italy. But the lesson here is the process of ideation, leveraging resources, and iterating. I’m already off and running with activating my network to make this dream come true – this student is from Tanzania and has some very personal and deep reasons for wanting to visit some places in New York City. While interviewing this grantee, I became so motivated to create this impact for her – I can’t wait to report back on how it all went. And on whether the class took my challenge!

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will run one last blog post wrapping up Doan’s journey through his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

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