First Course in Entrepreneurship Fundamentals, Part II
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By Alex Stewart
Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurship
University, Milwaukee, WI
In Part One
(Summer/Fall 2010 issue) we explored two of four early-stage competencies our
students need to appreciate and understand their entrepreneurial potential:
self-understanding, and awareness of the careers and development of real
entrepreneurs. In Part Two we explore the third and fourth competencies: a
sense of what venture would really work for them, and business-relevant
creativity. As in Part One, I will explain what I mean by these, why they are
critical, and how I attempt to develop them in the classroom. Here I also
consider the challenge you would face if you find in your class both students
needing work on these very preliminary competencies and others who are further
along the curve towards self-employment.
Competency Three: Knowing what would
be real and fulfilling.
business plan competition approach to teaching entrepreneurship can easily lead
to fancy-seeming exercises that have no prospect of launch. Rather, each
student should try to master a venture they really could launch before long.
Modest, even part-time ventures that are real will teach more than "high
potential” plans that are not.
plan that is real, that has the level of detail that shows plausible potential,
takes a lot of motivation. This cannot come from class projects alone.
Moreover, the bigger opportunities for our students will not be learned in our
classrooms but rather in the markets. Our responsibility, I believe, is to help
them launch a venture that has a prospect of survival for long enough that they
can later discover their main chance once in the marketplace.
this be included in the same course? It can’t; that’s the role of a business
plan course that comes later in a program. However, in this early course they
should start to make the venture real with a simpler exercise. I have found
that Jim Horan’s (2004) One Page Business Plan book works really well (and with
practicing business owners as well as with students). However, it is as it says
only one page and therefore misses many crucial questions. For this reason, I
have written six sections (all starting with "C”) to add to the five from the
book. As a result, students write a two and a half page plan with the following
sections: Vision, Mission, Customers, Competitors, Capabilities, Commitments,
Objectives, Strategies, Channels, Plans, and Capital. This additional material,
with a note on how to integrate it with Horan’s material, may be downloaded
from the NACCE Web site.*
Competency Four: Business-relevant
related myths about entrepreneurs are that (1) they succeed because of novel or
highfalutin "ideas” and (2) they are especially "creative.” Perhaps there have
been a few such figures, but as generalizations these are myths that discourage
would-be entrepreneurs because they judge themselves wanting in both areas.
These myths also obscure the kind of creativity that actually is involved in
entrepreneurship. This creativity has the purpose of solving the many
challenges, large and small but generally small and operational, that vex any
venture. Therefore, exposing students to techniques for business creativity has
two benefits. It assures them that they, too, can be sufficiently creative. It
also helps with their individual venture plans and generates the kind of highly
specific concepts that help to transform their plans from vague speculations to
realistic prospects for action.
How can we
teach students business-relevant creativity? There are many approaches that
work, but all approaches, I believe, should be based on efforts to solve
business challenges. At first these can be quite general, such as "what
business is right for me?” They are best if they are definite, specific
questions that arise in the entrepreneurial process and that the students truly
care to resolve. Examples might be "which of these locations is best?” or "how
can I cut labor costs for my lawn care crews?” Creativity techniques that are
removed from this foundation in practical concerns will seem too abstract and
air-fairy for business students. With this practical foundation, students
discover that they too can be much more creative than they expected. For this
reason, the focus on developing this fourth competency is best timed after some
progress has been made on the first three competencies.
use a number of the exercises from Thinkertoys, a book by Michael Michalko
(2006). You would need to choose which ones to use based on the tolerance of
your class for "far out” techniques. Some are very conventional; for example, a
simplified form of scenario planning. Others are based on developing intuition;
some are very close to forms of meditation. (I point out that they’re also
close to forms of prayer.)
this work be graded? It defeats the purpose to insist on immediate results from
each exercise. I require each student to complete the required exercises (for
which I give choices in which ones to choose), and for those that generated a
business solution, to indicate which challenges were at issue, what resolution
emerged and how. Some students generate many rather minor resolutions and some
generate one or two very large ones. Both can be valuable.
assignment that I have recently tried is to have students make portraits of
themselves and their ventures using any of two different media. I suggest many
options including paint, poetry, photos, collages, songs, and so on. Was there
pushback for such a not-business project? Some, yes. Did they end up enjoying
it? Definitely. For many it was the highlight of the course. Was it worth
doing? I think so but can’t say with much confidence as yet. I think this will
take time for alumni to give me their feedback.
unexpected benefit of these assignments is that the best of them will work well
in a display of student projects that can be exhibited for other students and
entrepreneurial guests. To date the only such displays we have mounted have
been in our business plan competition. However, next April (lead times for
schedules being lengthy!) we will hold our first entrepreneurship fair to
highlight student works and to offer a chance for networking and mingling with
both other students and entrepreneurs.
More advanced students in the same
this fundamentals class will have only early-stage students. Lately I have had
to accommodate some more seasoned students in the same course. You might face
the same challenge. My approach for my next iteration is to determine the level
of preparation at the outset and offer a different set of assignments to the
more experienced students. Instead of using Thinkertoys they will instead use
Business Model Creation (Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010). This is not because
they cannot gain from Thinkertoys; to the contrary they can gain the most.
However, their businesses stand to gain the most of all if they can innovate
with their models for making money – the point of Osterwalder and Pigneur’s
writing a personal essay and career plan they will work on a very specific
operational plan of use to their ventures. For example, they might work on an
HR handbook or a plan for using social media for promoting their business. The
materials they use will have to be tailored to the project but would be from
the field of small business management (such as Strauss, 2008). Finally, their
media project can be more specifically business-related, such as new logos, Web
pages, or advertising jingles. Some of the less experienced students might
campaign for this option as well. If you decide to include this assignment, you
can use your judgment but my suggestion is to compromise and let them do one of
two works in such a practical fashion. My experience has been that only the
more experienced entrepreneurs are able to do meaningful work of this sort.
changes have been suggested for these more experienced students: work on a
specific operational plan instead of the self-assessment, creativity exercises
in the context of business models, and more applied artistry. As these new
changes to my teaching demonstrate, and as you no doubt know, we have to be
responsive and constantly innovate ourselves. I hope that other instructors
will have found in my two articles some ideas that can be adopted and adapted
for their particular student needs. I also hope that they will share their
experiences. I’d be glad to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
supplemental material is found at http://www.nacce.com/resource/resmgr/supplement_to_the_one_page_b.pdf
2004. The One Page Business Plan for the Creative Entrepreneur. Berkeley, CA:
The One Page Business Plan Company.
M. 2006. Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, 2nd Ed..
Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
A., & Pigneur, Y. 2010. Business Model Creation: A Handbook for
Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. New York: Wiley.
D. 2008. The Small Business Bible, 2nd Ed. New York: Wiley.