When teaching entrepreneurship, how many times have you heard:
- “I have an idea for an app that finds a parking space on campus.”
- “It’s like Uber for . . . “
- “I am going to design and sell t-shirts at . . . [homecoming, Greek Week, Spring Fling, etc.]”
Entrepreneurship students default to the first two ideas without thinking. The third idea is just…boring. These are all easy for students to conjure up, and offer little potential impact. As my good friend Alex Bruton says,
“Most of your ideas suck (but they don’t have to).”
You need to tell students that, so they spend less time floundering and more time flourishing.
What Is a Quality Entrepreneurship Idea?
You don’t want another coffee shop or restaurant plan. You don’t want to hear an idea about an electronic Pet Rock.
You want ideas that:
- Solve a real problem for real people,
- Serve a niche market accessible to the student,
- (At least a prototype) can be pre-sold within a semester, and
- Have the potential to scale.
You want to guide students through the struggle to identify a quality idea like:
- A pop-up salon for female victims of domestic violence
- An on-demand service driving food overflow from restaurants and grocery stores to families struggling to make ends meet
- Fertility treatments that are 90% successful
- Solar cells made exponentially more efficient through cryogenics.
Imagine an entrepreneurship classroom bustling with impactful ideas like these (BTW, current students are actively working on these ideas).
3 Ways to Generate Quality Entrepreneurship Ideas
Quality ideas are not easy to generate, especially for a typical 20-something college student with limited life experience.
Here are some easy steps to help your entrepreneurship students identify quality ideas:
- Problem List: students list every problem they encounter or observe over the course of one Tuesday and one Saturday.
- Observation: students identify the type of business they want to start. They spend 30 minutes observing that type of business – if retail, they wander around the store. If online, they get friends together to play with the website. Students jot down all the problems they observe customers experiencing.
- 1-Question Interviews: students perform mini problem interviews by asking the same question of 5 different people:
“What’s been the hardest part about work/school over the last week?”
Require that your students speak with specific types of people so they can get used to interviewing customers (without the anxiety of approaching complete strangers):
- A friend who attends the college
- A friend who doesn’t attend the college
- A friend of a friend they’ve never met before
- A non-student who works off-campus
- A family member
During this exercise, your students will see that the best inspiration for high quality ideas actually comes from customers themselves.
For more details, check out our Idea Generation Lesson Plan below.
3 Questions to Assess the Quality of Entrepreneurship Ideas
How do you know, and help students test, the quality of an idea? That’s often a semester-long process (which we’ll detail in future posts), but for starters, entrepreneurship students should be able to concisely explain the following for any idea:
- The problem it solves
- The customer segment(s) who most painfully experiences the problem
- Why they are the right team/person to solve this problem
Along the way, you can conduct a quick heuristic idea assessment using these questions:
- Is it easy to understand the problem they are solving (when they explain the problem, do you furrow your brow or do you nod your head)?
- Do the customers they identify logically experience this problem?
- Does the student have any relevant experience, knowledge, network and/or passion for solving this problem?
For example, the founders behind Packback, while students at Illinois State University, could impress the most seasoned investors with their answers to these three questions. It is no coincidence they went on to secure a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank.
As the Packback team says, we should all be helping:
Imagine if your students truly experienced butterflies, back sweat and breathlessness during their classroom experiences!
Imagine your students working on ideas they care about.
Imagine your students quickly testing demand through pre-orders.
Students will learn the mindset and skill set it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in this kind of high-impact learning environment.
Of course, just as entrepreneurship students need quality ideas to build impactful businesses…
We need quality ideas to build an engaging learning environment.
Download our Idea Generation Lesson Plan
We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Entrepreneurship Idea Generation Lesson Plan that encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.
Use it as a basis to teach your students:
- What a quality business idea is
- How they come up with lots of them
- An intro to “customer interviews”
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!
In an upcoming post, we talk about how to help your students develop powerful solutions to the problems they identify!
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