Nineteen-year-old Ben Casnocha won rave reviews for his thought-provoking presentation at NACCE’s 2008 Conference. Drawing on his own experiences as entrepreneur, author, and current college student, Casnocha discussed what it means to think entrepreneurially in all contexts, not just in the process of starting a business. As part of his speech, Casnocha posed and answered questions he anticipated the NACCE audience might ask him. Here are some of those questions and his responses:
Q: What can community colleges do to help student entrepreneurs?
A: First, embrace entrepreneurship as a philosophy. Teach it as life skills, not just business skills. So if someone doesn’t have a particular interest in starting a business, they can still see the skills they’re acquiring as helpful for whatever they do. So it’s more a life philosophy than just starting a new business philosophy.
Second, help surround students with really good people. Help build their mentor lists and their advisory board list. Step in and play that role yourself.
Finally, highlight the late bloomers. I spoke at 20 college campuses this past year, and it’s incredible the amount of stress that’s on students…to conquer the world at a really young age and solve the world’s problems. And yet our society is full of late bloomers. This is particularly important to anyone who is teaching continuing ed or adults where there might be particular nervousness around not having had your big success. Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn at age 50; Hitchcock directed Vertigo at age 59, Beethoven wrote Symphony #9 at age 54….The message to impart is start now; fail now. Fail big; learn big. Keep splotching paint onto your own blank white canvas and someday your own unique painting will emerge; there’s plenty of time.
Q: How do we reach Gen Y?
A: I often hear people who are teaching younger people, ask, "How do we reach these young people? They’re so different. Our messages aren’t getting through.” There are all these books and consultants popping up around how different Gen Y is. Sure, we grew up on the Internet and we won’t get drafted for a war, so there are some differences. But ultimately it’s a mistake to treat Gen Y as aliens who parachuted to earth from the planet Krypton. Fundamentally, if you ask me the question how to reach Gen Y, I would answer, "How do you reach any human being? With a message that clearly delivers value in a way that they’ll find enticing”….Fundamentally let’s be wary of too broad generalizations, and let’s tone down the hyperventilation around how different this generation is.
Q: How do we handle unusual students, people who might struggle with the formal curriculum?
A: I struggled mightily with my high school’s formal curriculum. I wasn’t doing well academically; I had different interests. I responded to information in different ways. I have a friend who has a theory around standouts in life. He says if someone clearly has different thinking tendencies or a different way of taking in information or a different way of looking at the world, if he or she receives early endorsement of that difference and then makes the pursuit of the exceptional or the pursuit of being different part of his or her self image, then with a few lucky breaks he becomes a standout later in life. I think we should do less conforming to the norm and more embracing of people’s differences. I know it’s challenging as a teacher/educator with limited resources to have 50 different classrooms with 50 different people or 50 different teaching styles. But I think not immediately penalizing those who aren’t initially up to snuff or who have a slightly different learning style is the best approach.