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Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

“Your posts help me keep my students engaged – they and I thank you!” – ExEC Curriculum Professor

Based on the popularity of our 2018 Top 5 Lesson Plans article, we’ve updated our list based on feedback from our fast-growing community of now 4,600-strong entrepreneurship instructors.

The following are all lesson plans we’ve designed to transform your students’ experience as they learn how to generate ideas, interview customers, prototype and validate solutions.

5. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

Many of our students believe an idea is the heart of entrepreneurship. In this lesson, we shatter that assumption and replace it with an appropriate focus on customer problems.

We want your students to develop ideas that are more feasible, impactful, and creative.

This is the toughest challenges entrepreneurship professors face. Student ideas tend to be a repetition of low-impact or infeasible mediocrity. You want more from them. We can help! We focus your students on problems in this lesson because the best business ideas come from problems.entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea

After this lesson, your students’ ideas will be:

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

View Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation Lesson Plan

4. Personal Business Plan

In this exercise, shared with us by Rebeca Hwang from Stanford University, students create a business plan about themselves. Students approach themselves as a company and apply the tools they learned during their entrepreneurship course to understand how they add value to the world.

Students answer questions about their future vision and about their present plans and passions. One of our professor’s favorite components of this exercise is that students choose who grades their personal business plan (and that our colleagues at Stanford provide a very robust rubric)!

teaching entrepreneurship personal business plan

Through this exercise, students:

  • Learn to see themselves as a company,
  • Learn they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for their future,
  • Embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future,
  • Understand learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Teaching Customer Interviewing

We consistently hear from faculty that teaching customer interviewing is their biggest challenge. In this lesson plan students use a combination of ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards, with an online collaborative quiz game (Kahoot), to learn:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should be and should not be
  • What questions they should and should not ask

customer interviewing teaching entrepreneurship

Students then get an interview script template they can use as the basis for their problem discovery interviews.

This exercise teaches your students:

  • What objectives they should and should not attempt to accomplish during a problem discovery interview and why,
  • What questions they should and shouldn’t ask during a customer discovery interview and why,
  • What a comprehensive interview script book looks like

View Customer Interviewing Cards Lesson Plan

2. 60 Minute MVP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View 60 Minute MVP Lesson Plan

1. Teaching Customer Observations

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

In addition to our community thinking this is a powerful experience in the classroom, this exercise also won first place in the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Awards at the USASBE 2019 Annual Conference!

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

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

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

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

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

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

We’ve done the work for you.

Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

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

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2020 Top Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans & Tools

2020 Top Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans & Tools

“Your posts help me keep my students engaged – they and I thank you!” – ExEC Professor

Based on the popularity of our 2019 Top 5 Lesson Plans article, here is the list of our 2020 top entrepreneurship lesson plans based on feedback from our fast-growing community of thousands of entrepreneurship instructors.

We designed the following exercises and lesson plans to transform your students’ experience as they learn how to stay engaged online, interview customers, and form teams.

5. Gamify Your Lectures

We all struggled during this year of online learning to keep our students engaged. One surefire way to inject excitement into your class is to gamify your lectures. In this lesson, we explain how to use our favorite gamification tools (Slido and Kahoot!) to minimize Zoom zombie syndrome in your students.

These tools allow you to convert concepts you need to cover into questions your students explore one at a time. With this formative assessment approach, you discover what your students already know and what they need help with. Additionally, this approach activates passive students and invites students to teach each other.

Be careful using gamification; don’t overdo it. This gamification technique is great, but if you use it too often its benefits will wear off. Instead, mix this approach up with a number of experiential exercises (like those in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum).

View Directions to Gamify Your Class with Slido and Kahoot!

4. Skills Scavenger Hunt

Students in high-performance teams learn better and perform better. But how do we move students beyond forming teams with friends and teammates? Students matched on aligned goals and diverse skills give them their best chance at boosting their learning capability.

We developed our Skills Scavenger Hunt to facilitate that process and thus mitigate the biggest drawbacks of student team projects. In this exercise, students go on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills.

skills scavenger hunt online ice breaker team building animation

With this unique exercise, students form high-performing teams by going on a scavenger hunt to find other students with complementary skills in the following categories:

  1. Graphics
  2. Technology
  3. Social Media
  4. Design
  5. Sales
  6. Marketing

If your students are in teams that are dysfunctional, or just sleepy, their learning can come to a screeching halt as they disengage. Empower them to successfully assemble their own high-performing teams so they execute better and conflict less.

View The Skills Scavenger Hunt Exercise

3. Steve Blank Discusses How to Teach Entrepreneurship

At the USASBE 2020 annual conference, we had the privilege of interviewing entrepreneurship education guru Steve Blank. In the first of two posts, he shared his perspective on how to teach entrepreneurship. Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

In a post loaded with great advice for any novice or expert entrepreneurship educator, Steve opened up about his many decades of experience as an entrepreneur, educator, and mentor. Read the full post for a wealth of invaluable information, but the quick takeaways are:

  1. Educators need a mentor. Effective entrepreneurship educators need expertise in the domains of education and entrepreneurship. Steve advises us to find a mentor in the domain in which we lack experience and expertise.
  2. Educators should train entrepreneurs like artists. Steve encourages us to forget about teaching answers, and instead design learning experiences so students can practice skill-building.
  3. Students learn skills by practicing them. Steve encourages us to learn to design effective learning experiences, as those are the best way to teach our students skills.

Read An Overview of the 1st Half of Our Interview Here

(and Read the 2nd Half Here)

2. 10 Free Tools to Increase Student Engagement

During the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Virtual Conference, we presented 10 tools to increase online student engagement. Learn about these free quiz, video, digital whiteboard, and presentation tools like Gimkit, Note.ly, Mural, and Loom.

You can sprinkle these tools throughout your entrepreneurship syllabus, or stack them like building blocks, to create a deeper face-to-face or online student engagement. Below is a video recap of the conference presentation.

We consistently experiment with a wide variety of tools to help our community of entrepreneurship educators provide engaging experiences for their students. For this post, we curated the 10 tools we feel provide the greatest chance of deeply engaging learning experiences for your students, whether you’re teaching face-to-face or online.

View 10 Free Tools to Increase Student Engagement

1. Lottery Ticket Dilemma

We urge our faculty to focus students on their customers’ emotional needs, which leads to more valuable customer interviews. During this exercise, students discover how important emotions are in the decision-making process and the importance of understanding and fulfilling other people’s emotional needs.

If your students focus more on their products than their customers’ problems, this lesson plan is for you! In this exercise, students learn:

  • Why the majority of startups end in failure, & how to avoid those failures
  • That customer decisions are driven by their emotions
  • To create products customers want to buy we need to understand the emotional journey they want to take

View Lottery Ticket Dilemma Lesson Plan
In addition to our community thinking this is a powerful experience in the classroom, this exercise also won first place in the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Awards at the USASBE 2020 Annual Conference!

Entrepreneurship Education

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

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

We’ve done the work for you.

Entrepreneurship Class Essentials with Steve Blank

Entrepreneurship Class Essentials with Steve Blank

Here is part 2 of our interview with entrepreneurship innovator and educator Steve Blank, where he shares his thoughts on what is essential for an entrepreneurship class and an entrepreneurship curriculum. If you missed part 1, you can catch up here.

Steve Blank is an icon in entrepreneurship education. He is known for developing the customer development method that launched the Lean Startup movement.  A serial entrepreneur turned educator, Steve continues to elevate the field of entrepreneurship and greatly influences how we teach entrepreneurship principals. 

Steve Blank on What is Essential to Teach in an Entrepreneurship Class

Increasing numbers of universities require students to take entrepreneurship courses. While Steve doesn’t believe these courses should be mandatory, he had very clear ideas on what the goal should be for entrepreneurship courses.

The truth is we will have students in our classes that are not interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Whether it’s because they’re taking the class because it’s required or whether they have a true interest in becoming an entrepreneur, we have a commitment to helping our students actualize their potential. 

“How do we make a well-rounded individual in the 21st century?”

Steve shared that, at the core, entrepreneurship courses, build skills in tenacity, resilience, and agility in hypothesis testing. These skills are valid for all students, whether they want to be an entrepreneur or not. And it is his belief that these skills should be the foundation of a liberal arts education in the 21st century. 

Particularly since the evolution of society and technology have created a shorter lifespan for most companies. By building up these skills, students will be able to access them as they go about building their careers. In addition, entrepreneurship classes will help identify future entrepreneurs.

However, these skills shouldn’t be limited to college learning.  Steve envisions these methods being taught as part of a K-12 curriculum as well. Similar to the Korda Institute for Teaching, entrepreneurship can be integrated into classroom learning to bolster student skills, knowledge, and community impact. By designing educational experiences that utilize entrepreneurship principles, students can start learning early to solve problems that impact or involve their community. 

Steve Blank’s 4 Essential Courses for Entrepreneurship Curriculum

We liked the idea of narrowing the focus of an entrepreneurship curriculum, but we also asked Steve if there were courses he deemed essential when designing a curriculum. Here are the four core entrepreneurial classes or concepts Steve believes should be included:

  1. Creativity: This course includes customer discovery and helps students isolate the problems they want to solve.
  2. Lean Launchpad Lite: This is a stripped-down version of Lean Launchpad which Steve believes can sometimes be bogged down with jargon. This class includes the framework and practical questions every entrepreneur needs to ask without a large focus on terminology.
  3. Core Skills (or as Steve likes to put it “Fucking with your head”): This is a skill-building class focused on improving student’s resilience, tenacity, and agility. Lesson plans focus on hypothesis testing and fact-checking. In this class, students become more comfortable with chaos, uncertainty, and even failure.
  4. Capstone: The capstone centers around the specific domain of expertise. For each university, it will vary with the region and the focus of the institution.

Designing Entrepreneurship Curriculum for the Students You Want to Attract

One of the questions we’re often asked is how to build a comprehensive curriculum. When put to Steve, he recommends keeping students top of mind when designing an entrepreneurship curriculum. 

If I was in a university the first question I would ask for an educator is, am I building a curriculum for the students I have, or am I building a curriculum for the students I want to attract? 

He shared the example of talking with some educators in Lincoln, Nebraska who work with farmers. The teachers were interested in putting together a class for farmers. The opportunity this presented for the university, in Steve’s words, “is they could become the Lean expert for farm entrepreneurship rather than replicating the other 7,000 versions of a general Lean Startup curriculum”. The question Steve encourages institutions and entrepreneurship professors to ask when designing curriculum are:

  • Is there a domain of expertise we can or should focus on?
  • Can we create a vertical version of Lean Startup for this area?

Teaching Minimum Viable Product 

On the topic of buzzwords and jargon found in Lean Start-up, the idea of an MVP is one of the most often misunderstood concepts taught in entrepreneurship. Particularly, it can be difficult to teach. 

One of the mistakes Steve discussed regarding the idea of a Minimum Viable Product or (MVP) is that businesses may understand finding a product to fit a certain market, but they stop there. Students and entrepreneurs alike need to understand that all components of the business model need to be tested and some of them need to be re-tested. 

Therefore, when teaching MVP to students, finding customers who want particular features of a product or want the product is just Step 1 of a robust class. For example, we could also design a class around MVP’s for pricing. Students can test whether a product could sell for $20,000 rather than $9.99.  

From customer discovery to learning how to pivot, an effective MVP course teaches students to run experiments across all components of commercialization.

Key Takeaway

Finishing out our discussion, Steve expressed the key takeaway he wants educators and universities alike to realize is that one-size-fits-all does not fit all for an entrepreneurship class. Whether we’re teaching tech, corporate, or social entrepreneurship, he encourages us to take our expertise and adjust our curriculums to get the right impedance match for the right students. In other words, treat our students like customers. 

Our classes are our own little start-up.


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Want More Engagement?

Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

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

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

Preview ExEC Now

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


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:

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

Steve Blank on How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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


Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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


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

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

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

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

First, for anyone unfamiliar: Who is Steve Blank?

Forefather of Lean Startup

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

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

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

Why Teaching Entrepreneurship is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve’s Teaching Tips

Tip #1: Accept You Don’t Know Everything

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #2: Get a Mentor

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

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

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

When in Doubt: Experiences Teach Skills

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

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

Steve Blank Talking about How to Teach Entrepreneurship

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

Students Learn Best By Doing

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

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

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

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

The same goes for every topic in entrepreneurship:

  • Idea generation
  • Solution ideation
  • Finance
  • Pitching

Every entrepreneurship skill must be practiced to be internalized.

The Future of Entrepreneurship Education

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

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

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

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


Takeaways

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

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

Check Out Part 2

Click here for the second part of our conversation where we discuss:

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

And subscribe here for more interviews with entrepreneurship education thought leaders:

Join 15,000+ instructors. Get new exercises via email!


Missed Our Recent Articles?

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


Want More Engaged Students?

Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum Logo

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

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

Preview ExEC Now

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

Creating Rigorous But Accessible Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Creating Rigorous But Accessible Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Whether teaching Intro to Entrepreneurship at a community college, or Tech Entrepreneurship at Stanford, we know…

Experiential exercises are the key to engaging students.
teaching entrepreneurship stanford

In our continuing collaboration with Rebeca Hwang from Stanford, who introduced us to her Wish Game, we were excited by her invitation to share two of our lesson plans with her students.

Teaching at Stanford

Knowing that experiences are both the best to teach skills, we decided to introduce students to the difference between Inventors and Entrepreneurs with our award-winning Lottery Ticket Dilemma lesson plan. With our second lesson, we shifted our focus to customer interviews. We wanted students to walk away with a clear understanding of what questions they should, and more importantly, what questions they shouldn’t ask, during customer interviews.

Inventors Vs. Entrepreneurs

We chose to present this exercise because it creates a fun, experiential way for students to conceptualize customer behavior. They can also identify business opportunities, by demonstrating it’s not actually customer problems that drive behavior, but customer emotions. 

entrepreneurship lesson plans online

After this game-based activity, students understand why some products are successful even if they don’t solve an obvious problem. This inspires them to identify non-problem based opportunities to leverage. 

Customer Interviewing: Learning the Basics Through Gamification

We followed with another fun and interactive exercise designed to improve your students’ interviewing skills in just one lesson. During this class, students will identify what their problem interviewing goals should be and should not be. Those goals will point them to what questions they should and should not ask during customer interviews.

entrepreneurial lesson plans online

After the card game, we provided an interview script template to the students. They can use this script as the basis for any problem discovery interview they conduct. This robust script will increase the quality of their interviews, and their confidence in conducting them. 

Students Love Engaging Entrepreneurship Classes

After our two lesson plans were concluded, one thing was very clear: students love to be engaged in the classroom. Here is a snapshot of some of our feedback:

entrepreneurship lesson plans
entrepreneurship lesson plan

We were delighted to get this real-time feedback from Stanford students. We believe in practicing what we preach and the opportunity to teach at Stanford allowed us to perform our own customer discovery interviews. The overall response was two-fold. The students:

  • Loved how engaging the lessons were
  • Appreciated learning a new, practical skill

Rigorous and Accessible Entrepreneurship Curriculum

But what excites us most about the work we do at TeachingEntrepreneurship.org is that these same exercises are accessible and loved by a wide range of students and university professors like. You can find our curriculum in:

college entrepreneurship lessons

Don’t Take Our Word for it

teaching entrepreneurship lessons

No Matter Where You’re Teaching

Our goal continues to be to move the art and science of teaching entrepreneurship forward. Customer Interviewing Cards and the Inventors vs. Entrepreneurs presentation are just a few the experiential exercises we’ve created. If you’d like to see how the Inventor vs. Entrepreneur lesson can work in your classroom, click to learn more. We hope you give them a shot, and if you, and your students enjoy, check out the full Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

 

Click Here for Our Stanford Presentation

 

 

 

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

 

 

Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

    Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

    Improve Your Students’ Customer Interviews

    If your students are struggling conducting high-quality interviews with customers, or you’re not sure how to get them started, this lesson plan is for you.

    With this lesson plan, your students will learn exactly what to ask during a customer interview, and how to ask it.

    When students first see they will be interviewing customers, they feel nervous, overwhelmed, and worried. Why?

    • They’re nervous about talking to strangers.
    • They don’t learn this technique somewhere else.
    • They’ve never seen or heard sample interviews.
    • It feels like too much work.
    • They’re worried about looking and feeling stupid.

    In this lesson plan, students will practice customer interviewing with their classmates to expose to interviewing techniques, and to deepen connections between them.

    Specifically, in this lesson plan, students will learn:

    • Basics of customer interviewing techniques
    • What questions to ask during customer interviews
    • How to create rapport with interviewees
    • What it’s like to be interviewed
    • Differences between interviewing and surveying customers

    Customer interviewing scriptBefore Class

    Print out at least one Interview Script Template, for each student. Generate a B2C script where the:

    • Interview Type = B2C
    • Role = student
    • Problem = having too much work to do and too little time
    • Context = during midterms

    During Class

    Use this exercise when students are preparing to start validating their first Business Model Canvas assumptions. They will validate these assumptions by interviewing Early Adopters – see the Finding your Early Adopters module in the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) for explicit instructions to prepare students to interview their Early Adopters.

    teaching entrepreneurship

    Let students know there are techniques that can help them interview customers in a way that helps them test their assumptions, but it takes some practice to get good at, and comfortable with, these techniques.

    Let them know it’s normal to feel awkward or nervous interviewing at first, everyone does, but that after a while, it becomes as natural as having a conversation with a close friend.

    Tell them they’re going to get their first chance to interview today, and they’re going to start off, by interviewing their teammate(s).

    Step 1

    Tell students their one and only goal with customer interviewing is to understand the problems their customer is actively trying to solve.

    Show students this intro video on interviewing customers to give them a broad sense of the objectives:

     Step 2: Warm Up

    Start out with a few warm-up, rapport-building questions. These are questions that make your students and their interviewees feel comfortable so that your students can get into a flow of conversation before diving into problems or difficulties.

    What to ask warmup questions

    Here are some examples:

    • Ask about the weather – students might even do a quick web search to find out what it’s been like where they are: “How’ve you been faring with all the rain recently?”
    • Comment on sports – again, a web search is helpful: “49ers are the team no one wants to play again this year.”
    • Simply ask how their week has been.

    Step 3: Understand the Role

    B2B (business-to-business) Script: Your students want to understand the challenges their early adopters are facing, so they should focus on that person’s role, be it a student, or a hiring manager, etc. They want to focus on how that person defines their role, what success looks like for them, and, ultimately, the challenges they face in achieving that success.

    By focusing on their role, as opposed to the entire company, you students have a much more sincere and open conversation.

    With that in mind, your first question here is:

    How would you describe your role as a __________?

    what to ask: role definition

    This is a nice, easy first question to get the person starting to talk about the ins and outs of their job. Let the interviewee describe in their own words what it’s like to have her job.

    It is really important that your students understand how this person views their roles and responsibilities. They will be referring to their words over and over during the rest of the conversation. This will also help them to create a mental framework of what their job is like.

    As the interviewee responds, be sure to write down the words and jargon they use.

    If it’s the first time your students have heard the word or something described in a specific way, they need to ask about it. Don’t be shy! This is their chance to hear the definition of a term directly from their customer – it’s also a chance for their customer to demonstrate their expertise (a good thing).

    Going forward, the best way to build rapport is to…

    Use their words to talk about their job and problems.

    Using their words and phrasings will help your students build trust as they get into the more vulnerable part of the conversation around problems and difficulties.

    Step 4: Define Success

    Now that your students understand their potential early adopter’s job description, the next step is to understand how they define success. The question here is

    What does success look like for you?

    This question is meant to be aspirational. What are they looking to achieve? How does their performance get measured? What expectations does this person’s boss have of them? What expectations do their customers have? What expectations do they have of themselves?

    what to ask: define success

    The answer to this question will help guide your students’ conversation. At the end of the day, they will be helping your students solve their problems so, ultimately, they can achieve the success that they have just named for your students!

    Their success is your students’ success.

    Your students will be successful when they help their customer be successful – this question will help them figure out how to do that.

    One tip is to circle here, saying something like, “If I understand you correctly, if we were to solve this problem, we can help you achieve [your success].”

    Reflecting back their success will also help build rapport. It’s a way for your students to remind them that they are here to help them solve a problem and achieve their goals.

    Step 5: Identify the Problem

    Your students now dive into the problems their interviewee is facing.

    what to ask: b2b problem

    For B2B interviewees, by asking about their customer’s role and goals, your students have created a sufficiently safe context to ask about their challenges:

    What is the hardest part about achieving that success?

    what to ask: b2c problem

    For B2C interviewees, this is your students’ starting point. Their customer doesn’t have a job description or larger company vision, so they can start with the personal challenges. After their initial warm up questions, ask:

    What is the biggest challenge you are facing as a [customer role]?

    Both: In this question, your students are listening for the challenges that are preventing the customer from achieving their success or living their life as they would like.

    Again, students should listen for the words they use to describe their difficulties. Ask a lot of questions to clarify and fully understand what they are telling them.

    The answer to this question will get to the heart of what their customer is looking for.

    Below this question your students will notice there are 3 columns. That’s because parts of this script are designed to be repeated so they can discover all of the problems your customer is trying to solve. More on that below.

    Empathize, empathize, empathize.

    At this point in the script is a reminder that your students should be empathizing with their interviewee throughout the conversation. They don’t need to go into their own stories, but do acknowledge if they’ve experienced a similar difficulty or if they can understand where they are coming from.

    Phrases such as the following can be helpful for students letting someone know they’re on their team.

    • I’ve been there.
    • That makes complete sense.
    • I can see how that would be frustrating.

    When empathizing, be genuine. If your students can’t put themselves in their shoes, ask for more information. They want to understand their customer as thoroughly as possible.

    Many of us are used to putting forth a front of having “it all figured out”.

    If someone is sharing their problems, they are taking a risk to be vulnerable.

    This is especially true for B2B, where your students are asking someone to admit that they are having difficulties in their role with the company. Validating their experience will help them feel safe and comfortable so they will continue to open up.

    Step 6: The Last Time

    Your students now want to know whether their customer is actively “paying” to solve the problem they just mentioned. To do that, they should ask

    When was the last time you tried to solve this problem?

    what to ask: last time

    This question is key.

    The answer will tell your students if they are an Early Adopter or an Early Majority. They are looking for Early Adopters – customers who are already “paying” to solve the problem.

    For B2B, listen for evidence they’ve “paid” to solve the problem within the last 12 months – the typical business budget cycle.

    For B2C, listen for evidence they’ve “paid” to solve this problem within the last 6 months.

    The answer is easy to interpret:

    If they’ve “paid” to solve this problem recently, with a currency that will lead to your students’ victory, they’re an Early Adopter for a solution. If they haven’t, they’re not.

    If they’re an Early Adopter, continue with the questions below. If they are not, start again from the previous question:

    “What else is hard about achieving your success?” for B2B

    or

    “What else is challenging about [customer role]?” for B2C.

    This is why there are multiple columns for notes under this question. Most of the time your students will have to go through the series of questions a few times before striking gold. Use the second and third columns of the script to dive into alternative problems.

    Step 7: Specific Problem Scenario

    Once your students know they have an Early Adopter, they can start to gather information specifically about their customer’s attempts at solutions. Ask:

    Can you tell me about the last time that problem occurred?

    what to ask: problem scenario

    Here, your students are looking for a more detailed description of the actual problem. They are hoping to get beyond generalizations or broad descriptions of their customer’s struggles, and dial down into a specific instance where they had this problem and tried to find a solution.

    This strategy is important for both B2B and B2C.

    Why is this important? In this response, your students are listening for more specific words, jargon and emotions that help to understand the problem. This will help them understand how their customers describe the heart of the issue.

    Again, ask a lot of questions. There are no stupid questions – the more information your students can get, the better.

    Take special note of the words they use, the jargon they use, and the emotions they describe. This will form the foundation of the marketing strategy.

    The scenario the customer describes can also serve as a case study later on. If they give your students a very concrete example, they can use it to help develop a solution when they’re back inside the building, brainstorming.

    Step 8: Marketing Copy

    This question will answer all of your students’ marketing copy questions for both B2B and B2C. Ask:

    Why is it a problem for you?

    Warning: this question may feel awkward to ask – but your students must ask it.

    what to ask: marketing copy

    It will probably feel obvious why it is a problem and your students will be tempted to skip this question. However, the way they describe why it’s a problem is likely to be different than how your students would describe it.

    Your students are not psychic, so they shouldn’t pretend to be. Let the customers speak for themselves.

    Above all else, your students want to know the words their customer uses to describe their experience, and the emotions they feel when encountering this problem.

    In the marketing copy, when your students can use a customer’s exact phrasings and identify the exact emotions they are feeling when faced with a problem, they will resonate with the customer on a profound level.

    The better your students understand their customer, without making any assumptions of their own, the better they will be able to serve them, and the better – and more successful – your students’ solution will be.

    If your students don’t hear any emotions mentioned the first time they ask this question, keep trying. Say something like, “Interesting. And why is that a problem?”

    Keep going, asking why up to five times, until they get to the emotional core of their customer’s experience of the problem.

    Step 9: Current Solutions

    Now it’s time to for your students to figure out where they should do their marketing. To do that, ask:

    How did you find your current solution?

    what to ask: current solution

    The answer to this question is key because it will help your students figure out how to find more people like the interviewee, with similar problems. This is just as true for B2B as B2C.

    Eventually, the answers your students collect to this question will drive their marketing channel definitions. If one customer has gone there to find a solution, it’s likely others have gone there as well.

    Step 10: What Isn’t Ideal About Their Solution?

    Presumably, the current solution for this customer isn’t working – that’s why they mentioned it as a problem earlier in the interview. At this point, your students are in a perfect position to ask:

    What’s not ideal about this solution?

    what to ask: what is wrong with the solution

    Here, your students will discover how they’re going to differentiate their solution from their competition.

    Your student’s solution will be superior, because their understanding of the problem is superior.

    The information your students gather from this question will feed into their solution ideation process – ensuring they solve the problem better than their competitors.

    Step 11: Rinse and Repeat

    Even if your students hit on something good the first time around, there may be more value available in this interview. At this point, your students should go back to the Hardest Part question to find out what other problems are at the top of the customer’s list.

    Remember: use the additional columns of the script to take notes for additional question iterations.

    After that, validate they are an Early Adopter for the new problem they mention by asking when was the last time they tried to solve it. If they are, continue with the rest of the interview questions, including a possible third iteration.

    Alternate Questions

    If your students make it through the second round of questions and there’s still no mention of the problem they’ve hypothesized, here is another question they can ask to both businesses and consumers:

    What is the biggest challenge you’re facing as a [customer’s role] with respect to [problem scenario]?

    what to ask: alternate questions

    In this question, your students will spoon feed the customer a situation where they are likely to experience the problem that they’ve hypothesized. This will focus your students in on the specific area of their customer’s job or life context that aligns with their own interests.

    From there, circle back to the “when was the last time you tried to solve this problem?” question and continue the exercise as before. In this scenario, your students need to pay extra close attention to their interviewee’s answer.

    Important: If your students spoon feed their customers a scenario where they are confident they will feel the problem your students hypothesize and either they don’t cite the problem you hypothesized or they aren’t actively looking for a solution – they aren’t Early Adopters!

    If this happens, it’s clear something has to change:

    • If this happens just a few times, no big deal. Not everyone in your students’ interview channels is going to be an Early Adopter.
    • If this is happening frequently, but your students are discovering a different problem the customers are Early Adopters for, no big deal – they can pivot to solve the new problem they’re reporting.
    • If it’s happening frequently, and your students are not discovering problems customers are Early Adopters for, no big deal – they can pivot their interviewing channels or their entire target customer segment (refer to your the ExEC curriculum for exercises for alternative segments to interview.)

    Step 12: Wrap It Up

    When your students wrap up an interview, they want to be sure they are leaving the door open for future conversations, even if this person is not an Early Adopter. To do that, say:

    I’m actively exploring a solution to [their problem]. Can I contact you if I find a viable solution?

    what to ask - wrap it up

    Regardless of your students’ hypothesized problem, they should use their customer’s words to describe their problem in this closing…even if it’s not the problem your students are currently focused on solving!

    Use their words to describe a problem your students hope to solve.

    It is true your students may not pursue a solution to their problem now, but if enough other customers present the same difficulties, they’ve discovered a viable place to pivot. In fact, their interview may end up being one of the data points that convinces your students to pivot!

    By your students asking them if they can contact them if they discover a solution to their problem, they’ve left the door open for further communication should they fall into their Early Adopter category now, or ever.

    what to ask: wrapping it up

    For B2B, your students will also want to ask:

    If we wanted to put a solution to this problem into place, who else would we need buy-in from?

    In a B2B situation, there are often multiple stakeholders in the adoption of a new solution. This question will prime your students’ interviewee to give them permission, and an intro, or just let them know who else they would need to contact to get buy-in for a solution.

    Step 13: Ask for Other Interviewees

    So your students can quickly talk to other similar customers, ask the interviewee if they know other people trying to solve this problem. Say something like:

    I’m trying to understand this problem from a wide range of perspectives. Do you know one or two other people within your organization who are struggling with [the problem they are actively trying to solve in their words]?

    what to ask: Wrap it up

    This will help your students knock out their interviews even faster, and from a group of highly related customers!

    Step 14: Say Thank You!

    Finally, no matter who your students are interviewing, they should thank them for their generosity and their time. Tell them that the interview has been helpful – because, I guarantee, it will have been. Your students may also share that their will bring their information back to their team to help inform the development of their solution.

    People enjoy being helpful. Make sure you let them know they have been!

    Congratulations, your students now know exactly what to ask during their customer interviews – and what to listen for!


    Get the “How to Interview Customers” Lesson Plan

    We’ve created a detailed “How to Interview 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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    Customer Interviewing Prep Card Game

    Customer Interviewing Prep Card Game

    Every business model validation instructor knows two things about customer interviews:

    1. Interviews are a critical entrepreneurial skill, and…
    2. Students, by and large, hate doing them 🙂

    Customer interviews are intimidating, in large part, because students don’t know what to ask. With that in mind, we’ve been iterating ways to teach interviewing skills, and have found that students are loving:

    A competitive game.

    Our updated method of teaching customer interviews use’s ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards with an online collaborative quiz game to show students:

    • What their problem interviewing goals should and should not be, and
    • What questions they should and should not ask

    Fully Engaged Class

    When you run this exercise, your students will be fully immersed in the lesson as they hurriedly sort cards into different piles and compete with one another using their phones to see who can correctly answer the most questions, the fastest.

    Here’s what it looked like when we presented it at USASBE:

    And here’s what one of the professors who tested this lesson part of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) reported back:

    Big hit tonight! Lots of competition!

    Really got through on true purpose of problem discovery and what questions to ask / not ask. They are in much better shape going into interviews than my prior students.

    – Jen Daniels, Georgia State University
    Give the Customer Interview Cards lesson plan a shot. It’ll add a boost of energy to your course and your students will love it.

    Step 1: Prep Work

    To set students up for success, they need to do a little prework. Have your students watch this video on what to ask during customer interviews.

    You need to do a little prework yourself:

    • Print and cut one set of Customer Discovery Interview Cards for every two students.
    • Get familiar with Kahoot; watch this Kahoot demo video, and review the Kahoot questions here.
    • Review the answers to the Interview and the Objective cards here and print a copy for your reference.
    • Print out one copy of the final interviewing script for each student.

    Step 2: The Setup

    Prior to this class session, familiarize your students with the purpose and the value of customer interviewing.

    Pair students up, give each pair a set of the gray “Problem Interviews Objective” cards and give them a few minutes to find the six objectives they should achieve during customer discovery interviews from the 12 objective cards.

    Customer interview cards

    You also need to set up Kahoot and project that on the screen. Turn all the game options off except for the following, which should be turned on:

    • Enable Answer Streak Bonus
    • Podium
    • Display Game PIN throughout

    customer interview

    Find detailed instructions for setting up Kahoot in the full lesson plan.

    Step 3: Play the Warm-Up Game

    Project Kahoot on the screen and read the first objective question aloud. Students use their phones to indicate if it’s a good or bad objective for a customer discovery interview based on how they categorized their cards.

    After all students record their answers, you have an opportunity to discuss why a particular objective is good or bad for a customer discovery interview. Students will generally have different opinions for each of the 12 objectives.

    This warm-up game is an opportunity for rich dialogue to help students deeply understand the purpose of customer interviews.

    Progress through all 12 objectives, discussing each one as you go. Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through 12 objectives, but let everyone know this was just a warm-up game. The real game is next – to determine what are good and bad interviewing questions.

    Step 4: Play the Real Game

    Students now know what their customer interviewing objectives should be. Hand out the 24 Customer Interviewing Question cards, and students should identify which 9 questions are ideal to ask.

    customer interview cards

    Now start the Questions Kahoot game and have students join. Lead students through the same process you did with the Objectives Kahoot.

    Students record their answer in Kahoot about what are good and bad Problem Interview questions. This is another powerful opportunity to discuss why a particular question is good or bad for a customer discovery interview. Here after an example: “How often would you use a product like [describe your solution]?“, is that a good or bad question to ask during customer discovery interview?

    Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through all the questions.

    Crown the Customer Interviewing Champions! Reward them with some prize. Make a big deal of this to let students know how important customer interviewing is to entrepreneurs.

    Step 5: The Interview Template

    Your students now have a strong understanding of customer problem interviewing objectives and good questions to ask. It is time to give them an interview template they can use to connects all of the dots.

    If you use this exercise as a part of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we provide an interview template for your students to use. Otherwise, you can create your own.

    After playing the warm-up and the real game, students understand why they should ask the “good” questions.

    Students also understand why they should not ask many of the questions they would intuitively think to ask.

    Review each question to ensure they understand:

    • How to ask the question, and
    • Why they should ask the question

    Now is your chance to answer any questions or fears your students have before sending them out into the field to interview actual customers! But have no fear, your students are well-prepared with solid questions that will help guide their ideation.

    If you want to help your students deeply understand why and how to interview customers, get the full lesson plan by clicking below!


    Get the “Customer Interviewing Cards” Lesson Plan

    We’ve created a detailed “Customer Interviewing Cards” 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.

     


    What’s Next?

    In an upcoming post, we will share a companion exercise to the “60 Minute MVP” exercise. This will help students understand why it is critical to engage customers prior to launching!

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

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    Surveys Have No Place in Entrepreneurship Classes

    Surveys Have No Place in Entrepreneurship Classes

    Gathering information from customers is the most valuable skill an entrepreneur can practice.

    Two common methods for collecting that information are surveys and customer interviews. Customer interviews are, hands down, more valuable for entrepreneurs than surveys because they:

    • Provide the depth of insight to validate problem hypotheses
    • Provide emotionally driven marketing copy from the customer’s perspective
    • Identify high potential marketing channels
    • Identify realistic competitors, and competitive advantages
    • Provide potential pivot opportunities, by eliciting alternative problems to solve if hypothesized problem is not one customers are seeking a solution to

    The qualitative nature of interview-based research gives entrepreneurs the chance to dive deeply into the problems and emotions a potential customer is feeling. It’s those feelings that the entrepreneur will ultimately resolve that will lead to their success.

    Surveys in entrepreneurship classes, on the other hand, largely avoid addressing customers’ underlying emotional needs, because few, if any, potential customers will complete a survey about their feelings. Instead, customer surveys in entrepreneurship classes often use leading questions in an attempt to do the impossible – predict future customer behavior:

    • Would you use a product that does ______________?
    • How often would you use a product that does ________________?
    • How much would you pay for a product that does ______________?

    The result of these surveys is that students either confirm their bias that there’s high demand for their product without discovering the emotional ways customers describe their problems, or they conclude there isn’t sufficient demand, leaving them without any actionable next steps either way.

    Validation surveys provide no actionable marketing strategy if demand is “confirmed”, and no potential pivots if demand is “invalidated.”

    While surveys have the allure of producing statistically significant data, statistically significant data on people’s predictions of their own behavior aren’t worth anything – especially in terms of business model validation. If we really want to answer questions like how much customer will pay for a product, there are far more effective ways of doing that than surveys, for example, selling pre-orders.

    If we believe interviews are a far more powerful tool than surveys for business model validation, the question becomes:

    How do we show students interviews are more powerful than surveys?

    In our Surveys vs. Interviews Lesson Plan, we provide an experience that will demonstrate to your students just how much more effective interviews are than surveys, by having them complete both experiences, and compare them.

    As a part of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we recommend that before this lesson, students complete the following lessons:

    • Emotionally Intelligent Innovation. Here they learn that customer problems are the most effective place to look for value propositions, and
    • Idea Generation. Here they hypothesize the customers for whom they are uniquely suited to solve problems, and they hypothesize the problems they are uniquely suited to solve

    With this background, they begin figuring out how to test those hypotheses.

    Step 1: Problem Survey

    Before class, ask your students to complete a Challenges Survey (find a sample in the lesson plan). Your students will be asked questions about the problems they face and how they have tried solving those problems.

    In ExEC, we provide results from thousands of students at the universities using the curriculum so you can highlight how difficult it is to validate hypotheses about problems students face using a survey. What we find, and what your students will likely produce, are:

    • Low volume of responses
    • Short answers, with little emotional depth
    • Some responses aren’t even comprehendible

    Step 2: Surveys vs. Interviews

    Start class discussing with students the pros and cons of asking customers about their problems using surveys and using interviews. Each method of validation has pros and cons, as highlighted below. After the discussion, show this table and highlight any relevant points. Let students know they will now experience these differences.

    Surveys Pros Surveys Cons Customer Interview Pros Customer Interview Cons
    Fast Difficult to get responses to open-ended questions Higher quality information Takes longer to facilitate than surveys
    Can produce statistically significant results Don’t provide insights on an emotional level Significant emotional depth Results aren’t statistically significant
    Difficult to probe/ask follow-up questions Probe as deeply as necessary by asking follow-up questions
    Often expensive (in time and money) to collect enough quantitative data to be statistically significant Can explore multiple problems

     

    Step 3: Discuss Their Survey Experience

    In the lesson plan, we guide you through a conversation with your students about this surveying experience. First, discuss why some students did not complete it. Then transfer those reasons to customers from whom they want to gather information. Next discuss what it felt like completing the survey, and how much emotional depth they provided.

    Step 4: Interview Experience

    We then guide you through introducing your students to customer interviewing. In groups, students will experience being interviewed, interviewing, and taking notes/observing. In these groups, students will ask and answer the same exact same questions from the survey, but in a format that’s much more conducive to problem validation.

    Step 5: Compare their Survey vs Interview Experiences

    The lesson ends with a discussion, focused on two key points:

    • Comparing the quality and depth of information gathered through each method, and
    • Comparing the ability to validate problem hypotheses using the information gathered through teach method

    This is where the magic happens, as you reveal that in both their survey and interviews, they answered the exact same questions. As professor Emma Fleck told us after this lesson:

    “I genuinely feel that this was a light bulb moment in my class. Students were frustrated and angry about this survey and didn’t see the point. However, 2 days later, when we did this as customer interviews, I was able to illustrate to them how much I could learn from using a different format with customers. They really started to understand as many of them had taken marketing research classes and were convinced that all of their customer learning would come from surveys!! Great exercise.”

    Key Takeaways

    This is a powerful lesson for students as they begin their entrepreneurial journey. It engages them in two important methods for gathering information to validate aspects of their business model. But more importantly, it offers two benefits:

    • Students feel the benefit of interviewing as a hypothesis validation tool.
    • Students practice customer interviewing. They learn how to be able to talk to anyone about their problems, so they can put themselves in a position to solve them.

     

    Below is the complete lesson plan of the Surveys vs. Interviews exercise.


    Get the “Surveys vs. Interviews” Lesson Plan

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

    Get the Lesson Plan

     

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

     


    Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

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    4 Steps to Assessment in an Experiential Class

    4 Steps to Assessment in an Experiential Class

    Experiential teaching is arguably the best way to engage entrepreneurship students. At the same time, classes without textbooks are notoriously difficult when it comes to assessment:

    • No multiple choice tests means objective grades are hard to come by
    • Team & project based-grades cause stress and conflict between students
    • Grading written reflections is subjective, and doesn’t provide the “grade defensibility” more traditional assignments do
    • Grade distributions can be difficult to achieve when the focus is on skills as opposed to scores

    We’ve spent the last year developing a robust assessment strategy for our textbook-replacing Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC).

    With the new academic year upon us, we wanted to share our strategies in time for you to incorporate them.

    ExEC’s Assessment Philosophy

    Assess Process. Not Progress.

    What that Means

    • Ensuring students understand how to create businesses that fulfill customers’ emotional needs (e.g. solve problems, achieve desires, etc.) via an iterative process consisting of devising and executing experiments to validate assumptions.
    • As teachers, we have very limited time with students – one, maybe two terms. The businesses they build during their time in school are not going to be their best/last chance at success. Students’ time with us is best spent developing a mindset that prepares them for creating future ventures.

    Why We Believe it

    A focus on process encourages:

    • Skill development (not syllabus gaming)
    • Meaningful learning about the market, customers, problems, etc. (not inflating/falsifying numbers/results)
    • An experimental entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial mindset they can leverage regardless of where their career takes them

    How We Achieve it

    Evaluating students’ understanding and implementation of the business model validation process through:

    • Out-of-class exercises
    • Written reflections
    • Presentations
    • Small-group meetings with instructors

    What Not To Assess:

    • Achieving “Product-Market Fit” or “Problem Validation.” Often times the best outcomes for business model experiments is determining the model isn’t worth pursuing in its current design. Students should be rewarded, not penalized, for invalidating their assumptions, even if it means they don’t validate a problem during their interviews, or generate revenue during their demand tests.
    • Number of interviews conducted. While students conducting very few interviews (e.g. < 5) aren’t demonstrating an understanding of the business model validation process, a high number of interviews doesn’t correlate to high comprehension of the process. In fact, in many cases, not being able to find customers to interview is a great way to invalidate assumptions. Avoid assessing students on the number of interviews they conduct, and instead, focus on the process they used to try to acquire their interviews, what they learned during their interviews, and how that informed their future hypotheses.
    • Number of paying customers or revenue generated. Putting emphasis here will incentivize students to alter the results of their experiments. Instead, we want to encourage students to run objective experiments, and report out on their actual results, even, and especially, if that means their experiments “fail.” Emphasizing their process, over their progress, will decrease students’ fear of failure, and encourage a more risk-tolerant and innovative mindset.
    • The originality or innovativeness of the idea. Assessing originality and innovativeness can be extremely subjective. Moreover, the focus of ExEC is to show students a process they can use to create successful businesses that solve problems. The solutions do not necessarily have to be original or innovative to solve a problem or teach students a process.

    What To Assess:

    Student’s ability to:

    • Effectively recruit prospective customers for business model validation experiments.
    • Design and execute business model validation experiments like demand testing, customer interviewing, etc.
    • Conduct interviews to understand the emotional perspective of their customers.
    • Use information from business validation experiments to devise and iterate possible solutions to their customer’s problems.
    • Assess the financial viability of their solution.
    • Describe their validation journey and understanding of the process.

    An overview on how we implement our philosophy is below.

    Assignments and Rubrics Assessment

    There are four steps to the ExEC assessment model, all of which are graded on the following scale:

    • Full Credit: means the student demonstrates a consistent and complete understanding of, and ability to apply, the validation principles underlying the assignment.
    • Partial Credit: is given when students demonstrate an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of the underlying principles, or difficulty applying the principles.
    • No Credit: is given when students demonstrate a lack of willingness to learn, or apply, the underlying principles of the exercise.

    Instructors are given the freedom to implement this scale as they see fit (e.g. a points system, A-F grades, etc.). Details on the specific steps of ExEC’s assessment model below:

    Step 1: Exercises

    Written assignments students complete outside of class that help them design and execute their business model validation experiments.

    There are 29 exercises students do outside of class during a typical 15-week ExEC course. So as to not overwhelm our instructors, we recommend they assess most exercises with a simple complete/incomplete scale, based on good faith effort. We do however call out four exercises that are worth assessing thoroughly:

    1. Business Plans vs Business Experiments: A written, or recorded, reflection on their Tower Building Challenge, where students educate a fictitious friend about the dangers of hidden assumptions and the power of experimentation and iteration.  Why we grade this thoroughly:
      1. The first exercise of the class.
      2. Demonstrates students’ understanding of the pros and cons of business planning versus business model validation.
      3. Underscores the importance of experimentation, which they will be assessed on repeatedly throughout the class.
    2. Your Early Adopters: This exercise demonstrates the difference between Early Adopters, Early Majority, et al., and helps students identify who they should conduct problem interviews to increase the efficacy of their outreach. Why grade this thoroughly:
      1. The basis for student interviews. If they don’t get this right, much of the rest of their exercises will falter.
      2. Will highlight the importance of empathizing with customers, which they will be assessed over and over throughout the course.
      3. Key principles of entrepreneurship.
    3. Customer Interview Analysis & Interview Transcripts: In these exercises, students record and transcribe (via automated transcription tools) each of their customer interviews, and build affinity maps to highlight the patterns in their qualitative data. Why we grade this thoroughly:
      1. Demonstrates students’ ability to conduct customer interviews.
      2. Demonstrates students’ ability to empathize with customers.
      3. Demonstrates students’ ability to do qualitative analysis.
      4. Will determine future experiments.
    4. Experiment Design Template: This exercise asks students to design an experiment to test their Business Model’s riskiest assumption, including how they’ll execute the experiment, how long it will take to execute, what the success and failure metrics are, and what their next steps are based on the potential outcomes of the experiment. Why we grade this thoroughly:
      1. Demonstrates students’ ability to identify the riskiest assumptions of their business model.
      2. Demonstrates students’ understanding of effective success metric definition.
      3. Demonstrates students’ ability to design and execute experiments that test falsifiable hypotheses.

    Step 2: Validation Check-Ins

    Short, 10 minute meetings between our instructors and individual teams where instructors assess a team’s understanding and application of the validation process and help them overcome specific challenges they’re facing designing/executing their experiments.

    Each check-in’s assessment focuses on four elements:

    Criteria
    Preparedness: students completed and brought all the required materials.
    Empathy: students were able to understand the emotions driving their customers’ pains/gains, and utilize that understanding to effectively resolve their customers’ needs.
    Experimentation: students effectively hypothesized falsifiable assumption and design, and implement experiments to test those assumptions.
    Overall Process Execution: students effectively demonstrates an awareness of why they are taking a given step in the validation process, understand how it will lead to their next validation step, and execute those steps effectively

    Step 3: Business Model Journal

    A collection of Business Model Canvas iterations, and written reflections, detailing each student’s business model assumptions, experiments, and learnings throughout the course.

    Unlike courses that produce a single Business Model Canvas at the end, ExEC students iterate their canvas upwards of 10 times throughout a course based on the experiments they run. Each iteration of their canvas is accompanied by a short reflection describing:

    1. What hypothesis the students tested this week
    2. The experiment they ran to test the hypothesis
    3. The results of that experiment
    4. How those results influence the experiment they’ll run next

    Instructors can use this written history of each student’s validation journey, to assess how well the student understands and applies the validation process individually – independently of the contributions of their teammates.

    Step 4: Process Pitch

    A presentation of each team’s validation journey during the course, including all of their (in)validated assumptions, emphasizing their ability to execute the validation process, more than the final outcome of the business.

    Students wrap up the ExEC course with a pitch, but not a traditional product-centric, Shark Tank-style pitch; this pitch is process-centric.

    More important than the outcome of any single experiment, or grade on any one assignment, is helping students learn an entrepreneurial mindset – a process they can use to repeatedly use to solve problems of the people they want to serve.

    This pitch not only helps instructors assess how well students understand the validation process, it will reinforcement one more time, the most important principles of that process:

    1. Empathy
    2. Experimentation

    Exams and Assessment

    ExEC does not include any exams, choosing instead to focus student efforts on out-of-class projects. ExEC is however compatible with exams when appropriate or required by an institution.

    For midterm or final exams, we recommend presenting students with a scenario and asking them to describe what should be done next. For example:

    • Illustrate the focal venture’s business model using the BMC. Students can also be asked to create different version of the BMC based on changes in a key aspect of the business model (e.g., customer segment).
    • Creating an interview guide (who to interview, where to find them, what to ask)
    • Identify the riskiest assumption of the focal venture’s business model and design an experiment to test it (what assumption to test, specifics of the experiment design, metric to track success)

    For possible scenarios/cases that can be used for an exam, consider the following:

    • EcoWash: A business opportunity worth pursuing?
    • An episode of the podcast “The Pitch.” In each episode of this podcast, real entrepreneurs are pitching their ventures to real investors.
    • A news article about a newly-opened venture started by a local entrepreneur. (As an illustration, here is an article about an entrepreneur who started a shoe cleaning service). The business page of the local newspaper is a great source for possible scenarios.

    Thoughts? Feedback?

    That is the overview of the ExEC experiential assessment model. If you have any feedback, or suggestions on how to improve it, we’re all ears. Please leave a comment below.

    We’d love to hear how you structure assessment in your experiential class.

    On the other hand, if you…

    Want Structured Assessment in your Class?

    If you like engaging the power of experiential teaching and are looking for a structured approach to assessment, request your preview of ExEC today.

    It only takes a couple of days to get a feel for the material and get your course set up to use it. If you’d like to try ExEC for your upcoming term, take a look today.

     

    Observe Customers Where They Are

    Observe Customers Where They Are

    Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

    Do your students struggle to collect information about problems from customer interviews?

    Observing customers is another great way to gather customer information. In some important ways, it can provide even more and different information than an interview.

    This Fly On The Wall exercise:

    • Introduces your students to a powerful tool to gather information on customers’ experience in real-life situations. This allows them to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it. Because actions speak louder than words.
    • Allows students to practice listening with their eyes, to understand what people value and what they don’t. Because behavior doesn’t always match what people think they will do.

    Observing customers in natural settings is a powerful experience for students. They discover new business opportunities. They increase their customer empathy. They hone their behavioral analysis skills. All critical entrepreneurial competencies!

    Students going through this exercise learn a technique to gain insight into the small details of a customer’s interaction with their environment that a customer may not think to express in interviews.

    This exercise will span two class periods. For more details, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

    Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

    Most students will enter your class with no clue how to effectively observe customers in their natural environment.  Before teaching them how to do so, we want them to understand why it is such a valuable skill. So we kick off the customer observation class with the Toothbrush Exercise, which teaches students that:

    Entrepreneurs can’t trust numbers alone. In order to improve the world, we must see, feel and experience it for ourselves!

    Quick steps for this exercise:

    • Organize students into groups of 4-5
    • Show this picture on the screen
    • Tell students (& write on board/slide) the average adult male hand, is 7.44″ long (measured from tip of the middle finger to the wrist) and 3.30” wide (measured across the palm). The average adult female hand size is 6.77″ long and 2.91 inches wide. The average child hand size is 5.5” long and 2.75” wide. (You can also give each group cutouts if you are feeling adventurous!)
    • Give each team an adult toothbrush and tell them they have 5 minutes to design the best-selling child’s toothbrush (they must include the dimensions in their design)

    After their 5 minutes elapse, ask how many groups made a smaller toothbrush? Now play this video:

    After trying to design a toothbrush for kids the wrong way, this video will drive home the point that the goal isn’t to make toothbrushes smaller for kids, but to actually make them bigger!

    For more details on this exercise, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

    Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

    The homework consists of two steps. Step 1 is to watch the video below (click the image to launch the video) about the product development process, and read through Examples 1-3 here about how to make things people want.

    Step 2 is for students, in groups, to observe customers for 20 minutes in a campus location where people are active. For instance, dining hall/food court, gym/rec center, makerspace, athletic facilities, etc. The point of this homework assignment is for students to observe students actively interacting with some products (gym, makerspace) or business (food court). In other words, you don’t want them observing students in the library, where they are likely to be sedentary.

    Direct your students to take note, individually, of anything they observe about their subjects, without interacting with them. Each student needs to individually write down the following based on their own observation:

    1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
    2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

    Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

    Start the next class with groups reporting what they observed. You will find students’ observations will likely focus on:

    1. Surface-level activity, such as “students were talking to each other” or “students were exercising
    2. The perspective of the product or business, such as “there were not enough seats in the food court” or “many treadmills were not in use

    We want these observations, because it’s the perfect way to illustrate how to conduct useful observations. For a debrief of their homework, ask students how they can use the information they gathered during observations to develop products/ideas they could bring to market.

    Students will not write down questions they will try to answer prior to the observation, or define major themes to look for. They will observe without planning a framework.

    The aha moment we want them to realize is that they need a plan to effectively observe customers.

    During the debrief, stress:

    1. Focus observations on the subjects’ problems (empathize)
    2. Identifying patterns where subjects struggle to do something
    3. Capturing images and/or video during observations

    For more details on this debrief, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

    Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

    The final step is for students to plan an observation they will conduct as homework in the same campus location they observed as homework after Class 1. Remind students to create a framework that includes:

    1. Questions they want to answer, and
    2. Themes they can look for

    For homework, students should conduct that observation, again writing down the following based on their own observation:

    1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
    2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

    They should notice a significant difference between their observations after Class 1 and Class 2.

    This extended series of exercises gives students valuable skills to add to their entrepreneurial toolkit: customer observations and behavioral analysis.

    Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

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

    Get the Lesson Plan

     

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


    What’s Next?

    In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about approaching and mitigating risk, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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