It’s hard to engage students who are simply taking a class.
Like hundreds of educators, Georgann Jouflas was trained to teach entrepreneurship in Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad methodology.
Like hundreds of educators, she struggled to adapt that curriculum from Stanford University and University of Berkeley MBA students to teach her students.
Georgann teaches at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado. The views are spectacular.
So are the students! Georgann eventually came to understand that Stanford and Berkeley MBA students are trying to launch actual companies, whereas her students are taking a class. One or two every so often might want to try starting a business. Because of the different motivations and contexts, she struggled to adapt the Lean Launchpad approach to teach her course.
Georgann struggled to create meaningful learning experiences for her students.
Teaching A Typical Entrepreneurship Course
At Colorado Mesa University, like many other campuses around the world, Georgeann is teaching an entrepreneurship course, not an accelerator cohort. She needed a curriculum that was a better fit for students taking an entrepreneurship course.
She wanted to teach her students how to discover their passion and how to solve problems, not just work with ideas.
Georgann found her students faking validation; they would not get out of the building to interview customers each week because they were not comfortable interviewing people. She felt like a failure because she couldn’t get her students to get out of the building and conduct their interviews.
So, she decided to switch to teach with a new, fully experiential curriculum:
Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum
15 weeks of structured plug-n-play experiential modules covering idea generation, problem validation, customer interviewing, prototyping, financial projections, and more!
The main value to Georgann is that ExEC coaches students into a comfort zone with interviewing customers so they actually do it, learn from it, and gain confidence.
“[I tell my students] if they get good at talking to people . . . listening to their clients, and asking questions, that’s a tremendous skill. So I’m really happy with that. Before they were doing that but they weren’t really doing it, and now we’re validating that they’re doing it.”
Why Teach with the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum?
At the end of each semester using the Lean Launchpad, she was really frustrated with the experience of teaching the course. She didn’t believe her students were learning as much as they could or should, and weren’t very engaged in the learning process. A colleague of hers was sharing her excitement with Georgann about this new way she was teaching her entrepreneurship course. Her colleague was talking about a buzz of activity, about a classroom filled with engagement and excitement, about students deeply learning core entrepreneurial skills. Her colleague shared that she was using ExEC. Georgann got excited about creating this learning environment for her students.
We asked Georgann to share what she likes about using ExEC in her entrepreneurship course:
“The main thing I love is that it really gets [the students] out interviewing people. It gets them comfortable with the process.”
Georgann also shared that she enjoys working with the plug-and-play modules, because they are very easy to follow and to use. She feels empowered because she gets plenty of background material and then the applied exercise with each lesson plan. Perhaps more than anything, Georgann reports that she enjoys the experiential nature of the curriculum, because she isn’t left having to think up what exercises to use to engage the students in the learning.
“Interviewing customers is so far out of their comfort zone, but the interview script generator is tremendous. Before they didn’t know what to ask, so they just didn’t do it. Now they feel more comfortable.”
Georgann rediscovered the excitement of teaching entrepreneurship. Her students enjoyed learning the skills an entrepreneur uses to build something someone wants.
Here is the full interview with Georgann that digs much deeper into her experience searching for a new curriculum and adopting ExEC.
The nerve center of any entrepreneurship course is the syllabus.
The syllabus creates a student’s first impression. It sets a tone for the course, and for the relationship between professor and student. A syllabus conveys information about expectations. It is a contract between professor and student.
We would love to see your syllabus built in an entrepreneurial way. But we know that’s not always possible. We asked our community of over 4,000 entrepreneurship educators to share their syllabi, and based on the common courses we saw, we developed a few syllabus templates you can use. Each syllabus injects experiential learning into your course from the first day until the last.
Your students will be engaged from the first experience in your classroom!
Each sample syllabus outlined below focuses on a variety of readings, examples, discussions, and experiential exercises students can use to explore and apply the principles of entrepreneurship in a variety of courses.
Creativity is one foundation of successful businesses. Whether in the for-profit, not-for-profit, or public sector, organizations need employees who are creative thinkers and can thrive in an organizational climate that fosters innovation.
Entrepreneurship can be considered a process of economic or social value creation, rather than the single event of opening a business. This course focuses on opportunity recognition, assembly of the financial and human resources needed to develop the idea, and launching the new venture.
Creating a venture is one manifestation of entrepreneurship. Students in this course will have the opportunity to develop an entrepreneurial toolkit that allows them to successfully innovate in whatever professional life they choose to lead. This course focuses on problem identification and solving, customer interviewing, and prototyping.
Social entrepreneurship can be explained as the practice of identifying, starting and growing successful mission-driven for-profit and nonprofit ventures. These organizations strive to advance social change through developing innovative solutions to problems that plague communities, cities, countries, and systems.
Through experiential exercises, guest speakers, and classroom dialogue, students will learn to think and act opportunistically with a socially-conscious business mindset. Topics will include problem identification, customer interviewing, prototyping, financial projections, business modeling, and storytelling.
In this experiential, hands-on course, students will learn the customer-development approach to building products and services. More specifically, students will learn how to systematically identify and test assumptions to make decisions to pivot, proceed, or restart based on customer insights and evidence gathered.
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.
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:
Doan will pick a piece of paper at the beginning of Week 2.
Students will select a leader – a student in charge of strategy and execution.
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).
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.
Students plan the wish and deliver it at the beginning of the next class (one week later).
Rinse and repeat; Doan chooses another student and the process begins again.
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.
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.
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
iteratively prototype under time constraints
mobilize and deploy limited resources
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.
“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.
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.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.
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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:
Treat your students like customers (WOW! them),
Practice reciprocity culture
Provide in-depth feedback with objective rubrics
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.
“[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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
Upscale 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.
We love creating and sharing resources to make classrooms more engaging. We are not alone in that passion. This week, it is our pleasure to collaborate with a kindred spirit, both in terms of teaching experientially, and in sharing resources to help others do the same.
In her post, copied below, Dr. Robb shares her journey of turning her syllabus into an infographic so students would read and remember it.
I know, we’ve all been there. It’s the end of the semester and students suddenly realize your late work policy, your attendance policy or your quality work policy. I’ve actually talked to students about this and they cite reasons such as:
It’s just like every other syllabus they’ve read
It’s too long
It doesn’t apply to me
I never really look at it until I have a bad grade
Like it or not, our students these days are just as distracted as we are. They simply do not take the time to read the syllabus. So, this term, I thought about why that might be.
It turns out, I am just as guilty as they are. I don’t thoroughly review the credit terms on my credit cards or the terms of agreement when I buy a song from Apple. Why should I? They all read the same. It’s blah, blah, blah.
Well, this term, I decided to up my game and get my syllabus up with the times. I created an Infographic version of my syllabus. I actually decided to upload that image directly to Blackboard so it is the first thing students see.
I made a list of all the things students seemed to forget about my class (attendance policy, plagiarism policy, late work policy). I then took all of these frustrations and put them in beautiful, colorful visuals so they would actually look at them.
Piktochart is a free site that allows you to create professional looking infographics for any purpose. I made an infographic for my Introduction to Entrepreneurship course so the students understand where the course will lead them. It has been the most successful by far. You can see the full infographic here.
Whether this visual tool is used for a class project or an overall class syllabus, the students’ response has been tremendous. For the first time, I’ve had students send me emails that they are aware of the class policies!
Create your Syllabus with your Students
What appealed to us so much was not just the creativity of Dr. Robb’s approach, but that it very quickly and easily allowed students to understand the structure of her entire course. We love that she saw her syllabus as an opportunity to try something different to better engage her students.
As we’ve talked about in a previous post, your syllabus presents a unique opportunity to listen to your students’ problems and to turn those into a plan of attack together. Co-creating your syllabus with your students is an effective way to begin your semester because many students don’t think entrepreneurship will be relevant to them in their career.
Through this co-creation process, you can understand the problems that are most salient to your students, and then weave those into the syllabus, so they understand which weeks you’ll be solving problems most relevant to them.
Your syllabus is not just a contract between you and your students. It is not just a bunch of words. As Dr. Robb suggests, it can come alive and be a model of how you want your students to think and to act. We so enjoyed learning about Dr. Robb’s approach that we dove into combining her approach of creating an infographic with our approach of co-creating a syllabus.
Here’s a quick video extrapolating how these two approaches combine to create an even more powerful approach to engaging your students from day one.
Co-Create your Syllabus Lesson Plan
We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute lesson plan to help you co-create your entrepreneurship syllabus with your students. It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it. All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it so we can improve it!
And don’t forget to check out Dr. Robb’s blog for more resources and guidance on making your classroom experience more engaging!
What are you Working On?
If you’re working on an innovative way to impact students in your class and want to share with the 1,500 members of TeachingEntrepreneurship.org, let us know. This is an experimental collaboration, and if it works out, we may do more like it!
In an upcoming post, we will interview co-founder Justin Wilcox! Please subscribe here to get that post in your inbox.
Now we’re going to show you the advanced version, where you’ll use the final Problem Post-It cloud to modify your course syllabus in real-time.
Note: if you’ve already read the last post on Problem Post-It clouds, you can skip to Step 4.
Give each student a pack of post-it notes. Ask each student to write down their top 5 problems or fears in each category below – remind them to only write one problem/fear per post-it note.
Don’t give them too long for this step, you want instinctual thoughts here, 2-minutes per subject should be enough.
Ask your students to review their 25 post-it notes and pick out the 5 that are the scariest, most concerning, to them.
With their top 5 problems, ask them all to join you at a wall in your classroom. Tell your students that collectively you’re going to create problem clouds, so you can see the most common problems among your customers students.
When everyone is standing with you at the wall, ask for someone to volunteer one of their problems. They might say:
I don’t know how to build a network.
To which you can reply, “Okay, great, who else has a post-it that says something about building a network?”
Every student who has that problem will raise their hand. Collect all those notes and put them up on your wall together to make a cloud for the “Build a Network” problem.
Repeat Step 2 until you have everyone’s post-it notes on the wall, grouped into problem clouds.
Step 3: Connect the Dots
Look at the wall. You now know your students’ most common problems and fears. Most importantly, you know them in their own words.
Now is your chance to connect the dots for your students between their problems and fears and the skills you’re going to teach them.
If you can paint this picture, your students will engage!
Your opportunity here is to reflect your students’ problems and say, “During this class, we’re going to solve these problems” using your students’ actual words and problems.
You can tell them, “If you’re unsure how to find and talk to people to build a network, you can use the same techniques I’m going to teach you in this class to identify the people you want in your network!”
Encourage them further by saying, “The same techniques you’re going to use to interview customers, you can use to interview potential mentors and bosses – increasing the size and quality of your network. You can build your dream network using the skills you’ll learn in this course!”
Step 4: Beginning a New Syllabus
Now you can take your students’ engagement to a whole new level!
You can begin to update your syllabus on the fly in front of them to match the goals of the class with their problems and fears.
Pull up your syllabus on the screen and scroll to the place where you list your schedule of topics and deliverables by date or class session.
Add a column where you can add their problem / fear that corresponds with the topic.
Pick the two problem clouds with the most post-it notes. Type in those two problems in the new column corresponding to the appropriate course topic.
For instance, next to the Customer Interviewing topic, in the new column, type “Build a Network.” Reiterate to your students that the techniques they will learn to interview customers will help them build a strong network.
Or if they’re low on cash, you can describe how the techniques you’ll show them when they generate pre-sales for their product can help them discover a profitable business during this semester.
If they’re having relationship challenges, you can describe how empathetic interviewing techniques can help them connect with family, friends and significant others.
That’s the great thing about teaching entrepreneurial skills…
Virtually any challenge your students face can be aided in some way via the lessons you teach in your experiential entrepreneurship class.
Step 5: Delivering a New Syllabus
Overnight, finish adding the problems and fears from the post-it problem clouds into your syllabus where they match the course content. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the next class to introduce the new syllabus. Point out exactly how and when they will acquire the skills to address their biggest problems and fears during your course.
You have co-created a syllabus with your students!
There are five reasons we love this exercise:
Students have never experienced anything like it…and they love it. They’re having fun, brainstorming, moving around the class, creating big messy Post-It clouds on the wall, making connections with classmates, and they’re getting to talk about their challenges with someone who genuinely cares (you).
Your class will stand out. How many professors take the time to listen to their students, and adapt their course to ensure it’s relevant to the people sitting in the room? You’ll let your students know from the get-go, that this class is going to be special, impactful and helpful.
Increasing engagement. Not on will they love this exercise, you’ll know exactly what to say to engage your students in future exercises. You’ll simply refer to the problems you outlined together and describe how they exercise you’re about to do will help them solve the problems you brainstormed together.
It will change the way you relate to your students. By understanding their challenges, you’ll empathize and connect on a more substantive level than you would otherwise. That connection will magnify your impact.
You’re modeling a problem-oriented approach with your students; the same kind of relationship you want them to have with their customers. They’ll see you practicing what you preach, and how empowering it is for both the “entrepreneur” (you) and the “customers” (them).
We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute lesson plan to help you co-create your entrepreneurship syllabus with your syllabus. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above, in a handy editable document.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!
We’re hosting free, online, workshops for entrepreneurship teachers. Please vote to help us pick our next topic:
Our students are not engaged. Disengaged students drag down the energy in any class, which makes learning is harder to create. In any class, engagement starts with the syllabus. This article will help you create an engaging entrepreneurship course, starting with an engaging syllabus, which we have a template for (which you can download below).
Students are trained to expect spoon feeding, and professors have been trained to deliver. Look at almost any syllabus – it is filled with boundaries, limitations and administrative legalese. Imagine your syllabus as a promise; what if your syllabus invited students on a journey to discover their passions and path in life? What if your students believed this promise and were excited for every class session?
Many professors spend the majority of the first class reading through the syllabus. This is a student’s first impression of you and your course (other than maybe a perusal through www.ratemyprofessor.com). Think about teaching entrepreneurship – what first impression do you want to give?
Do you want to spoon-feed your students, or do you want to wake them up to the universe-altering, career-accelerating and impact-creating power of entrepreneurship?
Look at your syllabus. Seriously – print a copy and lay out the pages on your desk.
What message does that document send your students? Are you inviting them into a conversation? Does the language encourage students to be curious, to explore, to take risks? Would you be excited to take your course?
Is it really all that shocking that students are not engaged?
Imagine inspiring your students with your syllabus. What if you gave your students permission to leap through the language and tone of your syllabus?
Start With Your Syllabus
My goal is to challenge and enable faculty to create engaging classroom environments. It begins with our syllabus, but can also happen in many other ways (I highlight some of my crazy thoughts in my TEDx talk).
We need to trust our students and invite them to co-create their learning experiences. It begins with our syllabus. We as professors need to relax our iron-clad grip on our classrooms. Our insecurity, manifested in our need for control, is our students’ greatest enemy. It begins with our syllabus.
As my brilliant colleague Julie-Ann McFann points out:
“Parker Palmer, in his classic book, Courage to Teach, describes a workshop where the faculty were complaining about their unenergetic students. Just then, classes got out and these supposedly lethargic students were full of life, talking and laughing with each other. Michael Wesch, a professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State, has a terrific TED talk where he compares a photo of students in a very large lecture class looking bored out of their minds with these same students at an American Idol audition (looking anything but bored). The solution is easy:
Stop spoon feeding them and get out of their way so that they can take ownership of their learning.”
Overhaul Your Syllabus
Don’t read your syllabus to your students. As Woody Allen points out, they’ve been doing their own reading since the first grade. While research outstanding professors, Ken Bain discovered an approach to creating a more engaging syllabus. He presented this approach, which he calls a “promising syllabus”, in his phenomenal book “What the Best College Teachers Do”. A promising syllabus
“fundamentally recognizes that people will learn best and most deeply when they have a strong sense of control over their own education rather than feeling manipulated by someone else’s demands.”
The key to engaging entrepreneurship students is to not treat them like students. Instead, engaging entrepreneurship teachers see their students as their customers.
If you want to unlock your students’ energy and enthusiasm, realize what you want to teach is irrelevant. The problems your customers can solve with what you’re teaching them is the only thing that matters.
Just like we tell our students, customers don’t buy products, they buy solutions to problems. Your students don’t care about the skills you want to teach them. Those are the products that you shouldn’t be selling them. When you focus solely on selling products, your business (i.e. your class) will fail.
What your students care about are the problems those skills will solve for them. Just like any business, if you want to engage your customers/students, focus on their problems, not your products.
Imagine your students feeling a sense of control over their own experience in your class. What if your students trusted you? As you are building a syllabus, keep one question in mind. It is the only question that matters in our interactions with students:
What will help them learn?
Make a promise
Tell students what you hope they will discover, gain, and take away from your time together. Present your students with opportunities your course offers them. What questions will your course help them answer? What goals will your course help them achieve? Students want to know what problems they will wrestle with during the quarter or semester, so tell them what those problems are.
The template(which you can download below) I use has the following headings:
My Promise To You
Explain how students can fulfill that promise
Invite students to engage with opportunities to discover, learn and grow (otherwise called activities). Help them believe that learning happens once they commit and engage. Share your expectations about thinking, reading, writing, and doing. Ask for their expectations.
The template(which you can download below) I use has a section titled The Nitty Gritty. Here I share my perspective of the overall goal, deliverables, learning objectives and questions to answer for the course.
I also include a schedule for the entire semester, including General Topics, Suggested Deliverables, and Suggested Worksheets from the FOCUS Framework tool that I suggest they use.
Begin a conversation about students’ learning
One reason many students are not engaged is because the class is not a two-way conversation; faculty do not ask about and students do not feel comfortable sharing their expectations, their skills, and what and how they want to learn.
If you want a more engaged classroom, your students need to believe that you want to hear them, and that you’re willing to adjust to what you hear.
I include the following language in my template(which you can download below):
This is your journey – I encourage you to create it, own it, and execute it.
Your Conversations Starts With Your Syllabus
Your class is a conversation, with each and every student. With a promising syllabus as an introduction, you create a learning paradigm in your classroom. Your role is a facilitator, not an actor. You design and play games with your students instead of delivering information.
Students create their own learning.
You participate by creating a game plan. It all begins with your syllabus.
Students construct knowledge, they don’t receive it. They learn by asking questions and seeking answers through active exploration. Students fail, quickly, and you help them regroup, process, and take aim again.
You become a supporter, a mentor, and a learning partner.
You can give students a new perspective on learning by inviting them into an entrepreneurial experience. It all begins with your syllabus.
Get the Teaching Entrepreneurship Syllabus Template
We’ve created a syllabus template to help you engage your students. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.
Use it as a basis to begin and guide your own conversation with your students.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!
In an upcoming post, we talk how to create a living, breathing syllabus with your students that solves their real problems!
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