Teaching entrepreneurship

This Spring, I had a chance to teach my entrepreneurship course to a group of 18 high school students in preparation for our big Entrepreneurship kick off event. Over the course of a week (about 35 hours) the students had to work together to identify a problem in their local community, ideate a solution, prototype, refine, and construct a business plan and pitch. The top three ideas from that week would go forward to Pitch in front of 250 students and entrepreneurs for some seed money towards starting their business. The stakes were sufficiently high enough to create some interesting work dynamics.

First we started with using Design Thinking to empathize and define problems in the local community. They got to self select what project to work on and we were off to the races. There were a variety of ideas, from the incredibly simple and elegant to highly complex full home automation. We spent three days prototyping and testing and conducting user interviews in a frenzy.

Some students were crushed when told a flat out, “No” by potential clients. It sent some into a spiral of self doubt – leading to great conversations, camaraderie and learning opportunities. The biggest being: outside the walls of education, the world can be a harsh place. That may seem a bit obvious but students are still surprised to find their ideas do not hold intrinsic value simply because they are novel and original.

In the end, only one student won out and got the $200 cash prize. Her simple design, stellar presentation, and deep knowledge of her topic instilled confidence in the investors. She played on being an international student as a huge boon since she could directly talk to manufacturers in China and knows how to research that market. Look for the ZipPods sometime soon!

Some notable takeaways that apply to adults as well as students:

  • If you focus on the user testing, innovators will feel comfortable producing a prototype that is rough and dirty.
  • Remind them constantly of the MVP, try to discourage adding features or not field testing until it’s “done”
  • Have broader discussions about how to handle the “no.” Students tend to ignore the “no” when really that is the guiding path to success.
  • The list of problems generated by students at this age is still relatively weak. This may be for a variety of reasons, but Design Thinking relies on a broad world experience to craft problems.

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