Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

Rebeca Hwang recently introduced us to The Wish Game – an exercise she uses in her E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class at Stanford University. We all want to increase the intensity and success of teamwork in our courses. Through this exercise, Rebeca accomplished just that.

After hearing Rebeca share about this exercise, our co-founder Doan Winkel realized it could be so much more. He saw it as a transformative entrepreneurship training ground. Doan transformed his upcoming MBA class into one semester-long Wish Game. He will be sharing his journey throughout the Spring semester – follow the journey to see how it goes.

The Wish Game As An Exercise

“Every week, I was looking forward to the Wish Game. It created a sense of excitement all around.” – ENGR145 Student

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

On the first day of class, Rebeca asks students to write down three wishes on one piece of paper. She encourages no boundaries here; examples Rebeca shared include meeting Mark Zuckerberg, or getting a job at Google.

Throughout her E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class, Rebeca chooses one person’s paper from a hat and the rest of the class, working as one, fulfills that wish. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Paying it forward is a critical part of the Wish Game and an overall goal Rebeca has to WOW her students.

In Rebeca’s class, The Wish Game is about hyper-collaboration; if her students work together under considerable constraints, they all benefit. 

Step 2: Planning the Wish

When a wish is picked, students interview the student whose wish was picked. Their goal is to dig beneath the surface of the chosen student’s wish. Rebeca reported that often what the chosen student wants isn’t exactly what they wrote on the paper.

Through this process, students build stronger relationships with each other, and understand the hopes and dreams of each other.

Students practice their interviewing skills each week as they work to better understand how to deliver a truly amazing experience for the chosen student. 

Through planning and executing wishes, The Wish Game:

  • pushes students to think about what resources and assets they have,
  • pushes them to share those with peers
  • enables students to build lasting relationships, and
  • enables students to positively impact on each other.

The Wish Game as a Course

“When I heard Rebeca describe The Wish Game, I sat up straight in my chair and began scribbling ideas on my notebook. I immediately understood the potential this exercise had to be the perfect playground for my entrepreneurship students.” – Doan Winkel

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

The first thing Doan will do in Day 1 of his MBA class (held for 3 hours once per week) is to ask students to imagine their three biggest wishes. He will encourage his students to write down the ones that scare them or make them a little giddy when they imagine that reality. To model this, he will share his three big wishes:

  • Have a conversation with his sister Laura, who died more than 20 years ago
  • Step foot on Saturn
  • Hit the winning shot in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game

Step 2: Planning the Wish

Doan will invite students to talk through how they would plan his wish to step foot on Saturn.

wish game example

He will push them to think creatively about how they would create that scenario. Doan will challenge them to get into an uncomfortable place in terms of what they think they can accomplish and what they think is possible. His main tool here would be “What if . . .” prompts to push the students to think bigger, or to believe they can execute their ideas.

At the end of this discussion, he will lay out the course structure, as follows, for each subsequent week:

  1. Doan will pick a piece of paper at the beginning of Week 2.
  2. Students will select a leader – a student in charge of strategy and execution.
  3. Students interview the chosen student to better understand the desire for the wish, because often what people share about their hopes and dreams is only surface-level. Doan wants his students to practice digging deep beneath that surface to understand the impetus for the wish. By perfecting their interviewing skills, the students will be more capable of delivering value to their “customer” (the student getting the wish granted in this case).
  4. Once students feel they have a good understanding of the true wish, Doan will excuse the chosen student for the week so the remaining students can plan the wish.
  5. Students plan the wish and deliver it at the beginning of the next class (one week later).
  6. Rinse and repeat; Doan chooses another student and the process begins again.
  7. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Otherwise, Doan will choose another piece of paper for the subsequent week.

Doan will encourage students to mobilize their resources each week. This could take the form of money (he will set the expectation that each student should contribute $10 to each wish). He will help students understand how to use their network. Perhaps people in their network could contribute advice, or materials, or participation.

Step 3: Assessing the Wish

Doan will assess students in two ways.

  1. Each chosen student will write a reflection one-pager, sharing his/her perspective of the experience, and grading the accuracy and the impact of the delivered wish.
  2. Each student who delivered the wish will write a reflection one-pager, sharing his/her perspective of the experience and grading their effort in that wish delivery.

The Wish Game as Entrepreneurship

What excited Doan so much about Rebeca’s Wish Game exercise was the possibility of his students practicing entrepreneurship skills while doing something impactful for others. Each week, students will practice, at minimum, the following skills that are critical elements of entrepreneurship education:

  • develop and evaluate ideas
  • interview customers
  • iteratively prototype under time constraints
  • mobilize and deploy limited resources
  • presentation
  • reflection

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will run a series of blog posts highlighting Doan’s journey throughout his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

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Personal Business Plan

Personal Business Plan

Rebeca Hwang recently told us about an exercise she uses at Stanford University where students create a business plan about themselves. The Personal Business Plan (PBP) is an exercise created by Tom Kosnik that has helped turn Rebeca’s E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class into:

“This was by far the best course I have taken at Stanford, absolutely amazing curriculum.”

Rebeca explains the PBP is a way for students to apply the tools learned during their entrepreneurship course to something near and dear to their hearts…themselves!

To make the elements of the business model relevant, faculty force students to think of themselves as a company. Students do this assignment individually, and ultimately must figure out how they offer value to their world.

“The entrepreneurial process is at its core concerned with ‘the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources already under control.’ This process is as applicable to your career as it is to starting a company. The goal of this assignment is to identify where you want to be and how you will get there. Do not worry about your current resources. Think about this with an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Most important of all, the assignment works, and Rebeca’s students love it.

“make sure you spend a lot of time on the personal business plan, it is worth it! I wish I had spent more time on mine, and will in the future because I think it’s very valuable to think about what your plans and possibilities for life are.”

“Through the personal business plan, it really helped reevaluate what I desire and would like to pursue in life.”

Below is an overview of the Personal Business Plan assignment. For full details, check out the complete lesson plan below.

The Personal Business Plan

Students write at most five (5) pages answering questions about their future vision (such as “What are your values?” and “What personal or professional skills would you most like to develop?”) and about their present plans and passions (such as “What opportunities could help you to achieve your future vision?” and “How will you reach, connect with or influence your customers?”). The full question sets are available in the lesson plan.

In addition to answering these questions, students include at least one exhibit within their five (5) page limit, which can be “any combination of graphics or quantitative analysis [they] desire”.

Examples of exhibits professors give students are:

  • A resume (current and/or future)
  • A decision tree showing paths to a number of future career options
  • A specific “short list” of attractive jobs, company names, and key audiences
  • Segmentation of different organizations’ readiness to accept your value package using Geoffrey Moore’s adopter categories
  • A chart addressing the risks, mitigation strategies, etc. associated with your Reality Test

Faculty give students required and recommended readings/viewings to help them prepare an effective Personal Business Plan, all of which are available in the full lesson plan.

In using sources, guide students with the following:

“Failure to use at least one concept from one of the readings will lower your grade. We will reward skill and creativity in applying the concepts with higher grades. On the other hand, don’t get carried away with citing too many sources. We are less interested in having you paraphrase what other people think and more interested in seeing how you think.”

Grading the Personal Business Plan

A team of two graders reads each PBP. One grades in detail, the other reads to make sure the first grader is not too difficult or too easy a grader.

Because this assignment is about trust at its core, students choose who grades their assignment.

Students are reminded that the grade is not an evaluation of their choice of career path or current life plan, and that only they can decide if their choices will bring them happiness and success.

Professor Tom Kosnik developed a robust grading rubric for this assignment, which is included at the end of the lesson plan.

Because this assignment is worth 20% of their grade, students take it very seriously. Because this assignment is about them and their future, students invest tremendously in it, and receive incredible value from doing it.

We are grateful to Rebeca Hwang, Tom Kosnik, and the faculty who teach E145 Technology Entrepreneurship at Stanford University for sharing this amazing exercise.

Key Takeaways

Because students are applying business model components to themselves, they deeply engage in learning these components and have a very clear understanding how to apply them.

Through this assignment, students will learn to see themselves as a company, and that they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for. They will also deeply embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future. They will see that learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context.


Get the “Personal Business Plan” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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

 


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Changing your Students’ Lives

Changing your Students’ Lives

Rebeca Hwang
Entrepreneurship Lecturer
Stanford University

“Take it. It’s a life changer.”

Rebeca Hwang works in one of the most competitive teaching environments, with some of the most demanding students in the country. In that context her entrepreneurship class achieves a stunningly high (96%+) positive feedback rating. Her evaluations include quotes like “one of the best classes at Stanford”. Students recommend her course to others by describing the life-long impact she’s had on them.

We wanted to learn how Rebeca creates such a transformative and highly regarded course. My colleague Justin Wilcox reached out for a conversation, and Rebeca graciously agreed to share some of her secrets.

During the conversation, we discovered several things Rebeca does differently in her ENGR 145 Technology Entrepreneurship class than most of us entrepreneurship instructors. Below we lay out four Rebeca-inspired-techniques to create a more engaging, challenging and life-changing learning environment:

    1. Treat your students like customers (WOW! them),
    2. Practice reciprocity culture
    3. Normalize failure
    4. Provide in-depth feedback with objective rubrics

WOW’ing Student-Customers

Most of us strive to create memorable experiences for our students. Few of us can actually WOW our students. Rebeca is one of those amazing few. She tells her course assistants

“We are not teaching a class, we are serving a customer.”

and that their goal is “to wow our customer, to understand and empathize with them, and how the content of what we are delivering to them is going to affect their lives.”

This principle of WOWing customers is the foundation upon which every other principle she adds to the class is built. Treating her students like she would treat customers creates a significantly higher quality learning experience for her students.

What is so impactful is that Rebeca models for her students how to treat the customers in their lives – namely, future employers, coworkers, friends, family members, partners, etc.  

The Wish Game

“the Wish Game was amazing because our professor really went out of her ways to complete them, even though they were completely out of her job criteria.” – ENGR145 Student

“Every week, I was looking forward to the Wish Game. It created a sense of excitement all around.” – ENGR145 Student

One way she WOWs her students is through The Wish Game, which Rebeca uses as a path to teamwork and hyper-collaboration. On the first day, Rebeca asks students to write down three wishes on a piece of paper.

These can be anything at all. They have ranged from the mundane to the fascinating to the unreal. Examples are getting a job at Google, meeting Mark Zuckerberg, or meeting Steve Jobs (a real student request after he passed away!).

Every week Rebeca chooses one person’s paper from a hat and one of their wishes gets fulfilled. The entire class as a whole works to fulfill the wish. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Paying it forward is a critical part of WOWing the students.

The Wish Game isn’t about competition, it’s about hyper-collaboration because if her students help each other, they all benefit.

After picking a wish, students start interviewing the student whose wish was picked. They want to find out what their wish really is, as often it isn’t exactly what is written on the paper. Through this process, students get to know each other, build stronger relationships with each other, and understand the hopes and dreams of each other.

This also helps students practice their interviewing skills, which are a critical skill they work to develop in the course. The Wish Game is fun, but it’s a powerful learning and growth opportunity as well.

The Wish Game pushes students to think about what resources and assets they have, and pushes them to share those with peers. It enables students to build lasting relationships, and to make a positive impact on each other.

Teaching & Modeling Reciprocity Culture

“Before this class, I never thought about how important being able to socialize and make friends is to being an entrepreneur, and mostly just focused on developing my technical skills in the hopes that one day I could use them to start a business. But as we learned in class, in order to get investors, employees, partners, and customers, being able to make friends is one of the most important skills of a successful entrepreneur” – ENGR145 Student

As a veteran of Silicon Valley and of entrepreneurial ecosystems, Rebeca understands that “networking and telling stories are such important components of entrepreneurship.” A big focus of her class is teaching students the fundamentals of what makes a working relationship last.

From day one, students are networking – they have to find team members during the first class session, they learn to talk about their skills and experiences, but also their failures and dreams.

Rebeca shares with her students the tactics to approach someone who is senior to them, and tactics to write an email so people will respond. She focuses intensely on very tactical networking skills that will help student succeed in their Silicon Valley surroundings and beyond.

The most valuable skill Rebeca teaches her students is the principle of reciprocity, which is

“the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another.”

She urges her students to think, before meeting a person, what can they provide that person. In building a relationship it is important to have a strong willingness to learn, but it is equally important to listen well and to desire to give back.

Through a consistent message of reciprocity, Rebeca teaches her students that “those who succeed are valuable to the network.” She has found it is quite contagious in her students once she plants the seeds of this mindset.

Normalizing Failure

“[this course] taught me that successful people are the ones who actually get out and try – and don’t even consider failure.” – ENGR145 Student

“I used to often not got to events or apply for opportunities because I thought I would fail anyway. But not trying is already a failure and if I try and fail, I may learn something in the process.” – ENGR145 Student

When Rebeca and her course assistants introduce themselves to students on day one, they start with “My name is ______, and I’m going to share a failure with you.” From the first moment, Rebeca works to make failure a part of her class’ culture, to normalize it for her students so when it happens they can navigate it as a learning experience.

Through a variety of experiences, Rebeca brings the realities of entrepreneurship into her course, including failure. She brings in a litany of speakers to share stories with her students.

These speakers are not typical entrepreneurs, but have all done amazing things outside entrepreneurship. Things like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. Or running ultramarathons. Rebeca carefully chooses speakers who can teach her students that in anything in life, extremes aren’t necessarily bad in terms of dreaming and aiming high.

She wants her students to hear realistic stories of small failures and struggling to achieve big goals. Rebeca introduces them to the depression and founder suicide problems in Silicon Valley. She wants them to know about grinding it out, about sleepless nights, about not getting the meeting, or not getting the next meeting.

Failure is a major aspect of entrepreneurship, and Rebeca doesn’t shy away from this in her course. She wants her students to embrace failure as a reality and a chance to learn and grow.

In-Depth Feedback With Objective Rubrics

Assessment is something we all struggle with. How can we be effective and efficient? Rebeca found her magic combination in well-defined rubrics that students get ahead of time and personal in-depth feedback.

Rebeca gives her students all the rubrics on the first day of class. They therefore feel comfortable because they know their grade won’t be an arbitrary decision. They can see their pathway to the grade they want or need for graduate school, for a scholarship, or to keep mom and dad happy.

Rebeca spends roughly three (3) hours per day outside class working with students. This includes personal interactions, office hours, and always providing in-depth feedback on student progress and projects.

What Can You Do?

Rebeca Hwang’s formula for success in her course is WOWing customers, modeling reciprocity, normalizing failure, and using a very clear and personal feedback system.

We each approach our courses differently, due to our own backgrounds and experiences, and due to our institutional context and culture. Rebeca shows us that within the walls of our classroom, and within the minds of our students, we can achieve extraordinary results.

We can inspire our students, we can change their career trajectory, we can teach them skills to decipher their world. The list of gifts we can offer our students is endless.

Rebeca found a formula that has proven extremely successful; as one of Rebeca’s students said:

“If you are considering a future as an entrepreneur and don’t know where to start from, take this course. If you have an idea but are looking to explore how it can work in the silicon valley, take this course. If you just want to learn how to be a team player, take THIS Course!”

What is your formula?

The Nitty Gritty of Rebeca’s Class

Rebeca’s students are mostly upperclass undergraduate students, and roughly 1/3 are international students. Most of Rebeca’s these desire to start a company at some point, and they are a solid interdisciplinary mix of designers, creatives, engineers, and business experts.

Because some students have started companies and some have not, Rebeca’s students have different relationships with entrepreneurship; they have some exposure to it and are very interested in learning more about it, but they come to the course with different levels of expertise.

Rebeca doesn’t focus on building expertise in the usual conceptualization. Her students learn about the spirit of entrepreneurship; she approaches her class as giving students tools, methodologies, and strategies they can use in life. Students experience an emphasis on acquiring a skill set to decide what career to pursue and to solve problems in all aspects of their life.

Here is the full interview with Rebeca in case you would like to dive deeper on any aspects.

Who is Rebeca Hwang?

Prior to co-founding Rivet Ventures a venture capital firm that invests in male and female founders that target women-led markets, Rebeca Hwang co-founded YouNoodle, Cleantech Open, and Startup Malaysia. Rebeca was educated at MIT and Stanford and has been recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and as one of the top 35 under 35 Global Innovators by MIT Tech Review.

Rebeca serves on the Global Board of Kauffman’s Global Entrepreneurship Network. She was born in Seoul, raised in Argentina and educated in the US, and has worked closely with several countries on their national startup programs, including Malaysia, South Korea, Spain, Iceland, Chile and Mexico, and was a member of the Board of Advisors of the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council.

Recently listed by Forbes as one of their 20 inspiring young female founders to follow on Twitter, Rebeca is a frequent speaker at global conferences on entrepreneurship. Her TED talk on the power of diversity within yourself has been viewed nearly 1.5 million times.

Want More from Rebeca and Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Program?

We’re running a series of blog posts highlighting Rebeca’s outstanding class, including a number of exercises she runs in her class. Subscribe below to ensure you get those.

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The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

We’re building the entrepreneurship curriculum you dream of teaching.

At least that’s what we’re trying to do. The feedback from our pilot professors tells us we are doing pretty well. There have been hiccups, and learning moments, but our agile team and processes have allowed us to respond promptly and create an engaging user experience for both professors and students.

Now in Over 40 Universities

ExEC entrepreneurship curriculum at over 40 Universities including Penn State and the University of Nebraska

At this point last year, our the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) was in roughly 20 schools. Strong demand for a structured, experiential, 15-week entrepreneurship curriculum has doubled the number of universities we’re in.

Of course, being a new venture determined to help students learn how to create new ventures, we’re adamant that we…

Practice what we preach!

We gather feedback from professors and students after each lesson. Through this, we focus on how they felt teaching the lesson (professors) or completing the lesson (students):

We interview professors multiple times during the semester. Our team invites students to talk with us so we can learn more about how they feel living the curriculum, what we are missing, and what we are doing well.

We work tremendously hard to gather, analyze, and constantly make updates for next semester, not “next revisions” like traditional textbooks. The ExEC you see today is a result of our vision and assumptions, continuously tested with students and professors around the world.

While we gather a ton of feedback from our professors, but perhaps the best way to sum up their perspective is what Dr. Chris Welter had to say:

“It’s the software I’ve been looking for for 3 or 4 years . . . I really appreciate the ability for students to get their hands dirty”

New Professor Platform

After practicing what we preach and talking extensively with our professors, it was clear we needed to make some changes to our Professor Portal. We practice what we preach in building our product.

Our original professor-facing version was Google Docs, Slides, and PDFs:

It worked as an MVP and allowed us to test a variety of our assumptions, but ultimately our professors told us Google Docs was too cumbersome to use, and to print from.

So we built a brand new professor platform for our entrepreneurship curriculum! We are currently beta-testing this platform and will roll it out in Fall 2019:

We deliver each of our 31 lessons in a standard format, that includes six core elements for easy navigation and execution for our professors:

1. The Goals and objectives of that lesson. We frame each lesson in practical terms for our professors so they quickly understand why the lesson is important, and what their students will learn.

2. An overview showing where that lesson fits into the scheme and flow of the overall curriculum. We understand it is useful to always understand the big picture – where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. We also map our entrepreneurship curriculum flow onto the Business Model Canvas to highlight what lessons are applicable for particular boxes on the Canvas.

3. An overview video explaining the lesson, and Google Slides for classroom use. Our goal is for our professors to succeed, and that means providing information and tools. Some use slides and some do not, but we offer them just in case. We know some prefer videos to long text, so we offer both, just in case.

4. Instructions for how to prepare before class, including all the necessary resources. Experiential education is really difficult to execute. We provide our professors with a ton of direction to prepare for each lesson. We want them to succeed, and we want their students to remember each and every learning experience throughout the entrepreneurship curriculum.

5. A minute-by-minute exhaustive outline for delivering the lesson during class. What can we say, we are a but obsessive at times. But we figured more detail was better than less detail.

6. Instructions for what students could and should be doing after class. Let’s be honest – what happens after the class is just as important to a student’s learning experience as what happens within the confines of the particular class period.

Assessment Guide

While testing our first version, one need we heard consistently from professors was guidance on how to assess their students. They loved the experiential nature of the exercises, but they were not always clear on how they could help students understand their progression through the understanding and application of that content. So we built an Assessment Guide into our updated entrepreneurship curriculum to help our professors provide quality feedback to students throughout the process.

During the semester, students progress through 5 Validation Check-Ins. These are basically progressive pitches that act as the main opportunity for assessment. We give our professors rubrics and detailed guidance on how to assess the students’ documents and pitches.

Our goal with assessment is not just to help professors provide a grade, but to help professors provide meaningful and timely feedback to students.

For more on our approach to assessment, read our post 4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class.

More Background Reading Material

One of the other pieces of feedback we got early on was that professors wanted to use us as the sole resource for their class. To do that though, we needed to add some breadth, in addition to our depth.

We feel confident we cover idea generation, customer interviewing, business modeling, and prototyping comprehensively, but what about finance, legal issues, branding, etc.?

So we conducted an extensive analysis of entrepreneurship curriculum, textbooks and syllabi, and interviewed dozens of the most respected entrepreneurship professors and entrepreneurs. Our goal was to understand what information would be most useful for students beyond our core offering. From that research, we developed an extensive Resource Guide that currently includes 17 modules.

These modules are by no means an complete exploration of the particular topic. Instead we offer an overview of the topic, a deep dive into some of the basics and the critical components of the topic, and then recommend an extensive list of curated resources and readings of that particular topic.

We want our professors to feel comfortable knowing if they recommend their students go through one of our Resource Guides, they will emerge with a solid understanding of the topic and how to apply that content to their context.

We are not the experts all of these topics, but have done considerable research to better inform our professors around these topics of interest. What we offer within each resource guide is an evolving list of additional resources (articles, books, videos, etc.) for students to continue their learning of a particular topic, or for professors to use as additional resources.

This Resource Guide is an evolving offering. As we hear from professors using our ExEC curriculum, or the community of 3,200+ professors reading our blog, that a certain topic is critical in entrepreneurship education, we will build a Resource Guide ourselves, or invite subject-matter experts to help us build one.

LMS integration

Our last major update is integrating with Canvas, D2L, Moodle and Blackboard. In our first version, students and professors had to download and upload documents, assignments, slides, and other materials. We heard loud and clear that this was not a great user experience.

We now offer the capability of uploading all our content neatly into the four learning management systems mentioned above. This will greatly reduce the setup time for our professors, and will provide a more comfortable learning process for the students.

As you can see, we have been hard at work learning what works and what doesn’t with ExEC. We constantly gather feedback from students and from professors. With this feedback, we strive to provide the ultimate experiential learning opportunity to entrepreneurship educators.

Now’s Your Chance!

We’ve been updating our curriculum and platform based on feedback from hundreds of professors and thousands of students. If you are looking for a fully structured, experiential entrepreneurship curriculum, with 15 weeks of lesson plans that students love, an in-depth complementary Resource Guide, and a comprehensive Assessment Guide, you should check out ExEC.

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Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

Over the last year we learned what you and the rest of our community of over 3,000 entrepreneurship teachers want to make your classroom environment more engaging and rigorous for your students.

Here, we share our entrepreneurship professor’s 5 favorite lesson plans. These transform students’ experience through experiential lessons around ideation, customer interaction, and prototyping.

5. Syllabus Co-Creation

In our Syllabus Co-creation lesson plan, we provide an interactive experience to engage your students by turning their problems into your syllabus. This is a powerful way to launch a semester by creating for students an authentic feeling of what it’s like to be the customer.

Creating problem Post-It clouds

Our goal with this lesson plan is to give you a way to make entrepreneurship relevant to all your students. We provide a roadmap to show how what you’ll teach will be relevant to them right now. Specifically, through this exercise, you’ll show students:

  • You care about their problems and fears
  • They will learn the skills to solve their problems

Students will see exactly how and when they will acquire the skills to address their biggest problems and fears during your course.

Your students will be engaged, because you will be engaging them.

View Syllabus Co-Creation Lesson Plan

4. Why Business Plans Fail

A great way to follow up the Syllabus Co-Creation is our Why Business Plans Fail lesson. During this day, students experience the marshmallow challenge to understand why business model experimentation can be more effective than business planning.

While variations of the Marshmallow Challenge have been around for a while, we found the vast majority of students have still never done it.

Students will experience the pitfalls of hidden assumptions first-hand so they can more easily validate their business model assumptions later in your course.

Marshmallow challenge failure
The perfect failure 🙂
Xavier University an ExEC Pilot

This class will be fun and high energy for you, and your students. Our lesson plan guides you through two iterations of an 18 minute, fast-paced construction challenge where students learn that invalidated assumptions lead to failure. Your classroom will be loud, it will be full of anxiety and excitement, and ultimately full of failing and the glorious learning that comes from it.

Our goal with this lesson is to introduce a high-intensity activity that teaches students:

  • The pitfalls of business plans
  • Why assumption identification, and assumption validation, are critical to creating success companies
  • Why iterations and experiments are the key to validating their business assumptions

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

Most people think the heart of entrepreneurship is the idea. In this lesson we shatter that assumption, and replace it with an appropriate focus on customer problems.

We want your students to develop ideas that are more feasible, impactful, and creative. This is one of the toughest challenges entrepreneurship professors face. Student ideas tend to be a repetition of low-impact or infeasible mediocrity. You want more from them. We can help!

We focus your students on problems in this lesson, because the best business ideas come from problems.

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

2. 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 learn the value of seeing how their customers experience problems, as opposed to imagining their customers’ problems.

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

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

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

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

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

1. 60 Minute MVP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve done the work for you. Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

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4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class

4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class

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

  • 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

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. 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. 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 principle 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 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

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

It only takes a couple 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.