Browsed by
Tag: Prototyping

Teach the Business Model Canvas: Part 3 – Test

Teach the Business Model Canvas: Part 3 – Test

Dr. Alex Osterwalder, one of the creators of the Business Model Canvas (BMC), uses a 3-step process to teach it to students. This article outlines his third step:

How to test a business model canvas.

In the first step of his process, Alex introduces students to the different components of the BMC by having them match the business model hypotheses to the appropriate boxes of the canvas. In the second step, Alex helps students learn to write their hypotheses by asking students to complete partially finished BMCs.

In this third step, Alex helps students learn how to use the Business Model Canvas as a tool to prioritize their business models’ riskiest assumptions so they can design tests to validate them.

Prioritization Exercise

It’s critical to teach this prioritization step because it’s one of the major benefits of teaching the BMC over traditional business plans. Once entrepreneurs have a prioritized list of their riskiest assumptions, they can design experiments to test each of those assumptions in order of their prioritized risk.

To introduce prioritization, Alex presents an example from one of Steve Blank‘s classes that you’re welcome to use as well. Steve’s students were working on a company called Ceres, where they wanted to fly drones over farmland to capture images and generate data to help farmers fight drought, disease, and pests.
To help your students visualize what that means in practical terms, you can show them this video:

Step 1: Technical Hypotheses

Show your students the following BMC for Ceres and ask them to brainstorm what technological challenges have to be addressed for the business model to work.
Ceres drone business model canvas
Your students might share similar thoughts as Steve’s students had, such as:
  • Demonstrate they can build drones
  • Develop software to extract data from images the drones collect
  • Present data to farmers in a way they could use it

As with the previous exercises in this series, we recommend using the Think. Pair. Share. technique where students first reflect on the question individually, then share their thoughts with a partner, and finally, you facilitate a discussion with the entire class. This approach enables a lot more interaction and discussion than immediately starting with a class-wide discussion.

Step 2: Business Hypotheses

Next up, have your students brainstorm the non-technical challenges Ceres will have to tackle for their business model to be successful.

Your students may come up with challenges like:

  • Farmers want data to treat their fields
  • Farmers want to forecast their production
  • Farmers have a budget for our value proposition
  • Farmers are willing to pay for data
  • Farmers struggle with diseases and drought
  • Local water utilities and fertilizer/pesticide producers are interested in partnering

Step 3: Prioritizing Hypotheses

Now ask “which of these hypotheses should Ceres test first?” In other words, when there are so many assumptions about a business model, how do you prioritize which ones to test first?

Ask your students which 3 of the 9 hypotheses listed above would they test first.  This is another great opportunity to utilize the Think. Pair. Share. technique.

After sharing, tell students that when we talk about the riskiest hypothesis of a business model, we say…

The riskiest assumption of a business model is the one that is most likely to kill the business.

With that in mind, it might make sense that the Ceres students chose the following as their riskiest assumptions:
  1. Demonstrate they can build drones
  2. Develop software to extract data from images the drones collect
  3. Present data to farmers in a way they could use it

Ceres business model hypotheses

You could imagine the Ceres students saying, “Without drones and the data they collect, we have no business!” What they and most entrepreneurs don’t realize is, as Alex puts it, “Desirability” hypotheses are almost universally riskier than “Feasibility” hypotheses.

Desirability, feasibility, and viability hypotheses of a business model canvas

It turns out that “Feasibility” hypotheses (i.e., “Can we build it?”) are nowhere near as difficult to validate as “Desirability” hypotheses. That’s because…

A problem without a solution is a matter of time. A solution without a problem is a waste of time.

Put another way, if you find out someone has a problem, there are a myriad of ways you can try and solve that problem. But, if you have a solution to a problem, but no one actually has or cares about solving that problem, the solution is useless and all the time spent building it was wasted.

So Ceres’ riskiest assumption isn’t that they can build a drone; their riskiest assumption is that farmers have problems that can be solved with drones.

Their actual riskiest assumptions all fall under the “Desirability” category:

  1. Farmers struggle with diseases and drought
  2. Farmers are willing to pay for data
  3. Local water utilities and fertilizer/pesticide producers are interested in partnering

Once the desirability and viability hypotheses have been validated, the riskiest assumptions fall within the feasibility category.

To demonstrate this point, tell your students about the…

Step 4: Ceres Case Study Update

What happened, in reality, is that Ceres students started interviewing farmers, and farmers asked:

Why would you build drones to take pictures when we already fly planes over our fields to spray for fertilizers and pesticides?

Farmers told students they could just attach a camera to the planes that are already flying over the fields to capture images. If students had built their drones first and talked to customers second, they would have invested millions of dollars building unnecessary technology.

Instead, because the Ceres team validated their desirability hypotheses before their feasibility hypotheses, they were able to simplify their business model and lower costs for themselves and their customers by eliminating the need for developing drones entirely.

As a result, the Ceres team was able to scale its business model to secure significant funding and recognition for its innovativeness.

The lesson for your students:

Always test desirability before feasibility.

Step 5: Homework

At this point, students have experience with the Business Model Canvas that they’re ready to apply what they’ve learned.

For homework, assign students to fill in the BMC for a venture they’d like to validate, as well as identify the 3 riskiest hypotheses of their business model.


The Business Model Canvas and variations of it (e.g. Lean Canvas, Mission Model Canvas, etc.) are some of the most popular and ubiquitous tools in use. Dr. Alex Osterwalder’s use of matching, fill-in-the-blank, and prioritization exercises is intentional, and helps educators avoid some of the common pitfalls when teaching the BMC, namely: 

  • disengaging learners with lectured-based instruction, 
  • overwhelming learners with insufficient structure, and 
  • not adequately addressing how to use the BMC as a hypothesis prioritization and validation tool

In this 3-article series, we shared the steps Alex uses to teach this important tool for entrepreneurship educators.

  • In the first step, Alex introduces students to the different components of the BMC by having them match the business model hypotheses to the appropriate boxes of the canvas.
  • In the second step, Alex helps students learn to write their hypotheses by asking students to complete partially finished BMCs.
  • In this third step, Alex helps students learn how to use the BMC to prioritize the riskiest assumptions so they can design tests to validate them.

Want More from Dr. Osterwalder?

If you like this exercise, Alex also has two new books that are great resources for the classroom:

Find more about Alex’s work at Strategyzer.com.

Watch Alex Teach

If you’d like to see Alex teach the Business Model Canvas himself, just enter your email below to watch his full workshop on Teaching the BMC:

Get the Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 3 Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 3” 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 share it with another instructor you know.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share more exercises to engage your students and more tips and tricks to improve your evaluations.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

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:

  • Prototyping and Pitching. Storytelling is an important entrepreneurship skill. In this experiential exercise, students learn they must inspire others to take action.
  • Financial Modeling Showdown. If your students get overwhelmed by financial modeling, try this exercise that combines a competitive game with real-world financial modeling tools.
  • Improve Student Evaluations and Outcomes. Journaling can transform your students’ experience in your classroom. And can be a great way to get quality feedback on whether you’re an effective educator.
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 2 – Apply

Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 2 – Apply

Dr. Alex Osterwalder, one of the creators of the Business Model Canvas (BMC) uses a 3-step process to teach it to students. The article outlines his second step:

Fill-in-the-blank exercises to help students develop their own hypotheses.

In the first step of his process, Alex introduces students to the different components of the BMC by having them match the business model hypotheses to the appropriate boxes of the canvas. In this second step, Alex helps students learn to write their hypotheses by asking students to complete partially finished BMCs.

Fill-in-the-Blank BMCs

In this exercise, you’ll give students some of the business model components for well-known companies and ask them to fill in the rest.

Business Model Canvas Osterwalder

Alex uses fill-in-the-blank exercises intentionally. By providing students with some components of the BMC and asking them to write in the rest, students are able to start practicing using the BMC without the risk of them getting overwhelmed.

He repeats this process several times for different companies, each time providing students fewer components filled in until ultimately, students are completing the canvas entirely on their own.

Like in the first exercise, we recommend using a Think. Pair. Share. model with this lesson to make this activity more interactive and engaging. Details on how to complete all of the above are below.

Step 1: Think

Show students this Dollar Shave Club commercial:

Next, you’ll ask your students to fill in a BMC for the Dollar Shave Club, but you’ll want to give them a couple of hints first. Tell your students that Dollar Shave Club:

  1. Started selling online, with no physical stores
  2. They acquired customers through viral videos
  3. And that these two approaches were novel at the time and instrumental to their success

Give your students this partially filled out BMC for Dollar Shave Club’s business model (link to the worksheets are in the lesson plan below). Give students a few minutes to individually fill in their assumptions for the following boxes:

  • Channel
  • Revenue Streams

Business Model Canvas Osterwalder

Step 2: Pair

Next, ask students to pair up (or create breakout rooms for virtual students), and compare their answers. If there’s anything they disagree on, ask them to try to discuss and come to a consensus.

Note: this is an important part of the Think. Pair. Share. process. Talking with a peer helps them organize their thoughts better and practice vocalizing them. If your students are reluctant to speak in class, pairing students up like this before asking for a class-wide discussion can help inspire more interaction.

Step 3: Share

Finally, reconvene the class and ask students to share the assumptions they filled in. Progress around the room asking for students’ assumptions for the Channel, Revenue Streams boxes, and discuss any discrepancies or disagreements.

Start filling in the boxes:

  • The first Channel you gave them – online store. The second Channel is viral videos (Youtube).
  • The Revenue Stream is a customized subscription.

Step 4: Second Think-Pair-Share

This is a good opportunity to point out to students that they cannot utilize the channel that provided lots of visibility (YouTube) without incurring significant costs. In the case of Dollar Shave Club, replacing traditional marketing with viral videos requires costly activities & resources. Give students a few minutes to individually fill in their assumptions for the following boxes:

  • Cost Structure
  • Key Activities
  • Key Resources
  • Key Partners

Next, ask students to pair up and compare their answers. If there’s anything they disagree on, ask them to try to discuss and come to a consensus. Finally, reconvene the class and ask students to share the assumptions they filled in. Progress around the room asking for students’ assumptions for the Key Activities, Key Resources, and Cost Structure boxes, and discuss any discrepancies or disagreements.

Start filling in the boxes:

  • Key Activities are viral videos.
  • Key Resources are an e-commerce store and a brand.
  • Costs are for viral videos and marketing.
  • Key Partners are manufacturers and e-commerce platform providers.

Using viral videos is Dollar Shave Club’s way to keep the online store flowing with customers.

Business Model Canvas Osterwalder

Fill-in-the-Blank Exercise: B2B

For a B2B business model canvas, we suggest using Salesforce. Provide students the following context:

Salesforce was founded with the goal of “making enterprise software as easy to use as a website like amazon.com.” They pioneered the software-as-a-service (Saas) model for customer relationship management (CRM) tools, and was visionary in predicting the potential of online software.

Step 5: Revenue & Relationships

Repeat the Think. Pair. Share. process from above, this time with a partially-completed BMC worksheet (links to worksheets are in the lesson plan below) asking students to fill in the following boxes for Salesforce:

  • Revenue Streams
  • Customer Relationship

Business Model Canvas Osterwalder

Step 6: Complete the Canvas

Repeating the same process as before, ask students to complete the rest of Salesforce’s BMC:

Business Model Canvas Osterwalder

Step 7: Design Your Own Canvas

By this point, your students will have completed several BMCs and they’ll be ready to start creating their own. Using the included BMC template in the worksheets (linked in the lesson plan), ask your students to individually start designing the business model for the company they want to create.

Step 8: Get Feedback

After filling in their canvas, ask students to share their business model’s design with one other student in the class and see if that person has any feedback (i.e., did the designer use each of the boxes appropriately?). Then switch roles so both students get a chance to present and get feedback.


Next Exercise: Prioritization

The BMC is great for helping students develop their business model hypotheses, but that’s only half the value of the tool. The other half is…

Using the Business Model Canvas to test your hypotheses.

In our next article, we will outline a lesson plan for Alex uses to demonstrate how the BMC helps entrepreneurs prioritize their business models’ riskiest assumptions.

It’s critical to teach this step because it’s one of the major benefits of teaching the BMC over traditional business plans. Once entrepreneurs have a prioritized list of riskiest assumptions, they can design experiments to test each of those assumptions and validate their business model!


Want More from Dr. Osterwalder?

If you like this exercise, Alex also has two new books that are great resources for the classroom:

Find more about Alex’s work at Strategyzer.com.

Watch Alex Teach

If you’d like to see Alex teach the Business Model Canvas himself, just enter your email below to watch his full workshop on Teaching the BMC:

Get the Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 2 Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 2” 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 share it with another instructor you know.


What’s Next?

In our next post, we will share the last step in the process Dr. Osterwalder uses to teach the business model canvas.

Subscribe here to be the first to get this in your inbox.

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:

  • Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 1. Check out the first post in this series, where we learn Dr. Osterwalder’s process of using matching to help students understand the Business Model Canvas.
  • How to Improve Student Outcomes & Evaluations. Journaling can transform your students’ experience in your classroom. And can be a great way to get quality feedback on whether you’re an effective educator
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
  • Teaching Customer Interviewing. This card and the online game is a powerful way to teach students the importance of customer interviewing, and the right questions to ask.
Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 1 – Intro

Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 1 – Intro

When we ran a workshop with Dr. Alex Osterwalder about how he teaches his Business Model Canvas, attendees were so excited about what he was sharing, 98% of them voted to change our schedule on the fly and extend his session from 60 to 90 minutes.

The exercises he was sharing were too engaging to let him stop.

In this article, the first in a 3-part series, we’ll structure Osterwalder’s exercises into easy-to-implement lesson plans you can use with your students.


Exercise #1: Business Model Matching

To introduce students to the 9 components of the BMC, Dr. Osterwalder starts by giving students a set of business model hypotheses and asking them to place each one in the appropriate box of the BMC.

Prepping Before Class

To make the most efficient use of class time, assign students to watch these videos before class:

Then you’ll want to print out the worksheets linked in the lesson plan below. Digital worksheets are also in the lesson plan if you’re teaching remotely.


Step 1: Fill the Boxes

Alex uses Airbnb in his first exercise because:

  1. Students are familiar with Airbnb
  2. As a two-sided marketplace, Airbnb is a great example of how one business model may need to fulfill the needs of multiple customer segments to be successful

Starting with the “Airbnb BMC: Travelers” worksheet, ask students to write each of the provided business model hypotheses in their appropriate boxes:

Copies of this worksheet are available in the lesson plan below.

We recommend each student complete this individually. While students will work in pairs for the next step, to help increase engagement and discussion, we like using Think. Pair. Share. with this type of exercise, which starts by having students work on their own.


Step 2: Pair

Next, ask students to pair up (if necessary, create breakout rooms for virtual students), and compare their answers. If there’s anything they disagree on, ask them to try to discuss and come to a consensus.

Note: this is an important part of the Think. Pair. Share. process. Talking with a peer helps them organize their thoughts better and practice vocalizing them. If your students are reluctant to speak in class, pairing students up like this before asking for a class-wide discussion can help inspire more interaction.


Step 3: Share

Reconvene the class. Go one by one through the boxes and ask a pair to share what they wrote for a particular box. Go through each of the boxes in this order:

  1. Customer Segments
  2. Value Proposition
  3. Channels
  4. Customer Relationship
  5. Revenue Streams
  6. Cost Structure
  7. Key Activities
  8. Key Resources
  9. Key Partners

Ask a new pair to report out what they wrote for each box and then ask the rest of the class if they had anything else different for that box. If student pairs disagree on what should be in a particular box, use that as an opportunity to increase discussion and, before you reveal the correct answer, have your students vote on which answer they think will be right.

Business Model Canvas for Airbnb Travelers

Slides with the correct answers, like the one above, are available in the lesson plan below.


Step 4: Repeat with Airbnb Hosts

Now ask students to fill out the AirBnB BMC: Hosts worksheet using the same Think-Pair-Share technique. 

Take time to explain that many businesses don’t have just one business model as a part of their success. Instead, many businesses, like Airbnb, are a multi-sided market. In this business model, the needs of two parties must be met.

You can highlight the popularity of this business model by pointing out that Uber, Doordash, Amazon all have this multi-sided market where the business has to keep multiple customers happy.

Business Model Canvas for Airbnb Hosts


Summary & Next Steps

Alex prefers simple matching exercises like these as a quick way to introduce the BMC. For more details on how to use it, including worksheets and slides, check out the free lesson plan below.

Next up, Alex provides students with BMCs that are partially filled out and asks students to fill in the rest – which we’ll detail in the next article in this series! We’ll share two more steps in the process Dr. Osterwalder uses to teach the business model canvas:

  • How to use fill in the blank exercises to help students create their own canvases
  • How to use prioritization exercises to teach how to use the BMC to test business model assumptions

Want More from Dr. Osterwalder?

If you like this exercise, Alex also has two new books that are great resources for the classroom:

Find more about Alex’s work at Strategyzer.com.

Watch Alex Teach

If you’d like to see Alex teach the Business Model Canvas himself, just enter your email below to watch his full workshop on Teaching the BMC:

Get the Teaching the Business Model Canvas Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Teaching the Business Model Canvas: Part 1” 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 share it with another instructor you know.


Read Part 2 In This Series of Teaching the Business Model Canvas

Check out the second post in this series, focused on using a fill-in-the-blank exercise to help students develop their own hypotheses.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share two more steps in the process Dr. Osterwalder uses to teach the business model canvas.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

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:

  • Improving Your (Inherited) Course. Inheriting an entrepreneurship course presents many challenges. Re-design the course and provide engaging experiences with this curriculum.
  • How to Improve Student Outcomes & Evaluations. Journaling can transform your students’ experience in your classroom. And can be a great way to get quality feedback on whether you’re an effective educator
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
  • Teaching Customer Interviewing. This card and the online game is a powerful way to teach students the importance of customer interviewing, and the right questions to ask.
Paper Airplane Storytelling

Paper Airplane Storytelling

Storytelling is an important entrepreneurship skill. Whether pitching to investors, writing marketing copy, or leading teams…

Entrepreneurs must inspire others to take action.

In this exercise, students get to learn the importance of storytelling as they design and build one-of-a-kind paper aircraft and try to convince the rest of the class that their design will fly the best.

This exercise is based on the Kitty Hawk in the Classroom exercise originally published by Reginald Litz and colleagues in the International Review of Entrepreneurship and from the Airplane Contest Exercise published by Bradley George in Teaching Entrepreneurship: A Practice-Based Approach by Heidi Neck, Patricia Greene, and Candida Brush.

Overview

In this exercise students teams complete to see who can build, and pitch, the best performing paper airplane. Specifically, students will:

  1. Form teams
  2. Build the best paper airplanes they can
  3. Pitch their planes’ designs
  4. Votes on which team’s planes they think will perform the best
  5. Fly the planes
  6. Tally the scores for best planes and best pitches
  7. Reflective Discussion: What mattered more, the planes or the pitches?

Learning Objectives

  • Pitches are as important as the product. Students learn that they can create the greatest products in the world, but it won’t do any good unless people know about them. In this exercise, the same points are available for great pitches as there are for great planes, but students inevitably spend more time perfecting their planes than their pitches.
  • Pitches are prototypes too. Students will experiment with different plane designs throughout the exercise, but they’ll often neglect to iterate their pitch. Whether speaking to customers, investors, or team members, entrepreneurs should treat pitches like products – they need to be practiced, iterated, and improved upon to produce the best results.

Run this Exercise When…

…your students are just about to do their final pitch session of the class or in preparation for a pitch competition. Doing so will emphasize that your students should put more time energy into practicing and improve their pitches.

Want to try it?

Details are below.


Materials List

Provide students with the following supplies:

  • Paper for their aircraft – if you want to add an additional element of creativity to the exercise, you can provide a variety of colors, paper sizes and paper weights, i.e., notecards, card stock, paper plates, etc.
  • One dollar in your country’s coins for each group (provide a variety if possible)
  • Scotch tape
  • Rubber bands
  • Staples (and staplers)
  • Binder clips
  • Paper clips

Step 1: Identify a Leader

With students assembled in groups of 4-5, instruct each group to select a leader. Project the following image and tell them they have 2 minutes to identify a leader:

Step 2: The Task

Print out the following instructions and provide one copy to each group.

NOTE: Do not go over the instructions, and do not answer any clarifying questions students have. Answer any question with “You have your instructions.”

You are to design and create a paper aircraft capable of keeping one dollar of coins (or other local currency) aloft for as long (time) as possible while simultaneously transporting the coins as far (distance) as possible. The assignment is as follows:

  • Your final aircraft design must use the same number of pieces of paper as the number of people in your group (for example, a group of four must create an aircraft that uses four pieces of paper in its design)
  • Your plane must be designed to transport one U.S. dollar of coinage (or other local currency). You may choose the number and denomination of coins used; your only constant is that their total value must be exactly one dollar. 
  • You may not simply crumble paper into a ball; you must design an aerodynamically sensitive aircraft-based design, not a projectile
  • The only permissible additions are tape, paper clips, staples, rubber bands, and binder clips.
  • Your aircraft must leave the thrower’s hand and move 100% under its own power during the entire flight without touching another person
  • You will have two minutes to pitch your design to your classmates and convince them that your design will fly the furthest (distance) and will stay aloft the longest (time).
  • Your group’s performance is based on your aircraft’s performance (time and distance) and the number of votes your design gets from your classmates in each category (time and distance).

Step 3: The Exercise

Begin by explaining the voting rules. Each group is allowed one vote for only one team (not their own) on each dimension (time aloft and distance flown). Students can vote for different aircraft for each dimension.

Give students time to design their aircraft – roughly 10-15 minutes. Allow enough time for each group to pitch their aircraft for 1-2 minutes, for about 10 minutes for each group to fly their aircraft, and for about 15-20 minutes of debriefing).

Students will want to ask lots of questions, including where they will be throwing the aircraft, what you’re expecting in the pitch, the order of pitching, etc. Do not answer any questions – let the students know that you have provided all the instructions already and that they should get to work.

The Pitches and Voting

Have each team pitch their aircraft for 2 minutes max. Record each group’s vote on a chart on the board for the aircraft they think will perform best in each dimension (time and distance). Remind students that they cannot vote for their own design. 

The Flight

Take students to a predetermined location. This can be anywhere (we recommend somewhere close to your classroom to limit time on this step) – outdoors, a hallway, a gymnasium, in the classroom, etc. Each team gets one throw. Have a line delineated somehow that the thrower cannot cross, and record the time each aircraft stays aloft on a stopwatch. Have one or two trustworthy students mark and record where each aircraft first touches the ground.

The Results

Record the actual performance on the chart on the classroom board.

  • 1 point if the group voted for the aircraft that flew the furthest distance
  • 1 point if the group voted for the aircraft that stayed aloft the longest (time)
  • Rank aircraft based on distance flown (furthest distance gets the highest number)
  • Rank aircraft based on time aloft (longest time aloft gets the highest number)

The highest score wins. Let students know that nobody will lose points, that you added that element to increase the perceived risk and the intensity of the exercise. Reward each winning group member extra credit, and reward the winning group leader additional extra credit.

Debrief

There are several ways to debrief this activity, but one of the most powerful ones is for students to compare how they approached the iteration of their planes versus the iteration of their pitches.

Some interesting questions to reflect with students are:

  • How many points were available for the best performing product? How does that compare to the number of points available for the best pitch?
  • How many times do you think you tested and tweaked your plane’s designed? How does that compare to how the number of times you tested and tweaked your pitch?
  • If you wanted to test and iterate your pitch more, how could you have done it?
  • What was compelling about the pitches?
  • How did your group decide to vote? How important was the aircraft itself, and how important was the pitcher’s confidence and way of presenting the aircraft?
  • Why do you think others did or did not vote for your design?
  • How would you change your pitch if you had a chance to present your design again?
  • If your plane represents your product, and your pitch represents the way you market your product, communicate with your customers, talk with investors and collaborate with your teammates, how can you apply what you learned today to entrepreneurship at large?

As mentioned previously, students will often spend far more time on building their product than they will honing the stories they tell about it, which negatively affects their performance in this exercise as it does in the real world.

Other great debriefing questions include:

  • How did you view the coins? Did you see it as a negative constraint, or an opportunity to improve performance? Why?
  • How did you view the optional supplies? Did you see them as a negative constraint, or an opportunity to improve performance? Why?
  • How did you decide who your “thrower” would be.

These are great discussion questions because they offer a chance to talk about how successful entrepreneurs turn seemingly negative constraints into opportunities. Additionally, most teams will not experiment with different team members as the thrower. Instead, most tend to identify a student who is “good at throwing”, such as a baseball or softball player. This is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of prototyping everything related to execution.


Get the Paper Airplane Storytelling Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Paper Airplane Storytelling” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

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


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we will share more exercises to engage your students and more tips and tricks to improve your evaluations.

Subscribe here to be the first to get these in your inbox.

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:

  • Improving Your (Inherited) Course. Inheriting an entrepreneurship course presents many challenges. Re-design the course and provide engaging experiences with this curriculum.
  • How to Improve Student Outcomes & Evaluations. Journaling can transform your students’ experience in your classroom. And can be a great way to get quality feedback on whether you’re an effective educator
  • “The best class I’ve taken!”  We all want a Dead Poets Society moment in our entrepreneurship class. One professor using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum got hers!
  • Teaching Customer Interviewing. This card and the online game is a powerful way to teach students the importance of customer interviewing, and the right questions to ask.
Improving Student Idea Generation

Improving Student Idea Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1

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

Step 2

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

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

Step 3

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

Step 4

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

Steps 5-6

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

Step 7

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

Steps 8-9

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

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

Step 10

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

Summary

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


Get the “Your Ideal Customers” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Your Ideal Customers” lesson plan. This exercise walks you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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

 


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!

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:

How to Teach MVPs

How to Teach MVPs

MVP is arguably the worst buzzword in entrepreneurship today.

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

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

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

Specifically, students will learn:

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

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

MVP Designer Worksheet

What are MVPs?

Provide students this definition of an MVP:

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

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

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

Walk students through the components one-by-one:

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

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

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

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

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

Riskiest Assumption

Ask your students to fill in the blank:

A chain is only as strong as its ___________ link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Riskiest Assumption

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

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

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

Students can evaluate the components using the Riskiest Assumption Matrix.

riskiest assumption matrix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MVP Storming

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

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

Channel Testing MVPs

Give your students the following scenario:

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

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

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

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

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

Revenue Stream MVPs

Alternatively, propose to your students that:

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

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

Potential Answers:

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

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

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

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

Students’ MVP

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

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

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

Missed Our Recent Articles?

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


Get the “How to Teach MVPs” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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

 


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!

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