Developing a 21st Century Entrepreneurship Curriculum

In 2012, in partnership with Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley and NCIIA, Jerry Engel and I first offered the Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. The class was designed to teach educators (and the entrepreneurs that support them) the Lean LaunchPad approach (Business Model Design, Customer Development and Agile Engineering) for teaching entrepreneurship. In addition the class offers a suggested “Lean Entrepreneurship” curriculum and the details of how to teach the capstone Lean LaunchPad class.

Sidnee Peck from Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business attended the last Lean LaunchPad Educators Class. At ASU Sidnee is the Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives, and the co-facilitator for the Venture Catalyst’s Rapid Startup School. Sidnee taught her own Lean LaunchPad class a week after returning to ASU, (holding some sort of record for a curriculum Pivot.) I asked her to share what she learned in the class and what she learned when she put it to practice.  Here’s what she had to say…

—–

As an entrepreneurship educator, I have two goals:

Sidnee Peck

  • inspire and encourage students to spark energy around entrepreneurship and their dreams,
  • make the reality of entrepreneurship clear enough to prevent students from wasting time on a life decision that is not right for them.

I believe this is best done through experiential learning where students spend most of their time “doing.” I have spent my entire time at Arizona State University trying to find the most effective tools and methods for teaching entrepreneurship to my students in order to achieve these goals. I update my course frequently in an effort to create the optimal learning environment and before the Lean LaunchPad training course I was still searching for the perfect action-oriented learning model.

The Lean LaunchPad Educators course
I truly did not know what to expect when I arrived for the LLP educators course.  I had been referred by a colleague in the University’s incubator and did some preliminary reading as the trip approached but wasn’t familiar with the concepts of business models or customer development.

I was blown away by what I actually learn and take away from this experience – it has changed the way I teach and the way I view my time in the classroom.  It has also impacted my students’ lives in a significant way.

The biggest surprise I encountered may seem simple, but significantly changed the way I viewed the process.  Coming into the course I had been teaching the class on the basis of execution; teaching my students that they needed to be actively setting goals supported by tasks and executing on them.  My philosophy was sound (and was supported by many bright people): nothing happens on paper or in the classroom, it all happens outside via real action and interaction.

But on the first day, Steve framed it in a different way: execution of a business plan doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because executing on a business plan that has not been validated is a waste of time and energy.  Instead, we should first focus on searching for the best business model and validating our assumptions.  After we prove that the model works, then, and only then, execute on it and build a business.

I may have been the only person at the conference who was learning the methodology for the first time and would be applying it upon my return to ASU within the coming week in my fall class.  This was bold…but it was a “why wait?” mentality, and I am SO thankful that I went for it.  Luckily, I had interviewed students for the course (as I had designed it before coming to the conference) during enrollment months (before I knew I would even teach this methodology) because I knew I wanted only the most passionate and committed students and I would do my best to hold them accountable to executing on their ideas.  It took time and preparation to roll this out so quickly, but the materials I received at the conference made it possible.  I had a roadmap in front of me, and I just had to be prepared to deliver it.

Sidnee Peck ASU ClassOne of the biggest (and best) surprises from actually teaching the class is the way that students bounce back from the direct and sometimes tough live feedback.  I had a major fear that we would scare students right out of the class, but after the first two weeks, they expressed how much they appreciated it, one student tell me that this was his favorite class because he had learned so much in just two weeks.  This realization made the rest of the semester easier, knowing that the feedback that is sometimes hard to give and take is the most important, and is valued by the students.  We established an environment of trust and a place where we were comfortable being uncomfortable.

What I wish I knew going into the semester is that the interview process and student selection is incredibly impactful on the success of the class.  In an effort to be inclusive, I allowed any student who had a business he/she wanted to launch enroll.  Going forward, I will be much more particular based on each student’s readiness.  I did get quite lucky, however, as the majority of my students are a good fit and truly want to work on their business models.  Some, however, are not ready.  They need to mature a bit before the LLP process will hit home with them and I should defer these students to a later year.

In the future I will also train my mentors in a more significant way.  I had an incredible pool of experienced entrepreneurs and business people to choose from – but without fully understanding the customer development process, some were steering my students way off track (asking for business plans!) and I had to pull them back when we met in class.

I also wish I could have recruited more in-class advisors to give live feedback…this was challenging because of my timeline, and while I did get a fair number to visit, more would have been welcomed.  There is an art to giving the right type of feedback in the right manner at the right time.  It takes practice, and the more experts we have in the room, the more powerful it can be.

The best part about the whole thing is, of course, the results my students have experienced from giving the process the attention it deserves.  I was blown away by how hard undergrads would work for their business idea.  I was impressed EVERY week by the outside work that was done and the number of interviews performed.  There were incredible learning points every single week and over the course of the semester multiple businesses made first sales, gained new customers, launched, and one even got hired by a competitor to roll his product into a product line through a proprietary manufacturing process.  Because of this success I have seen increased interest from other colleges and from the MBA program…spring will be an incredible class!

Lessons Learned

  • The student interview process and selection is critical
  • Undergraduates can handle the class
  • Students bounce back from the direct and sometimes tough live feedback
  • Align and train mentors to embrace customer development
  • Go for it!

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The next Lean LaunchPad class Jan 30th – Feb 1st is sold out (there is a wait list here.)  Registration is open for the June 18-20th class here.
Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

11 Responses

  1. As a student entrepreneur with fantastic professors teaching Lean Entrepreneurship, it is exciting to see it spreading through the academic community. I only wish I would have had it as an undergrad, but it’s never too late to learn and change!

  2. Dear Sidnee,

    Congratulation for the great success for your LeanLaunch Pad class at ASU! I really feel the same way when I saw “over the course of the semester multiple businesses made first sales” in my class in Japan. The class is essentially to help students to learn Customer Development and to have a real experience to build a new business, but particularly when they, after several pivots, are solving the serious problem/needs at Earlyvangelist, they actually get a purchase order! This kind of moments are always eye-opening and feel fruitful.

    Thank you for your nice post and thank Steve for your sharing it with us.

    Best Regards,

    Takashi Tsutsumi

  3. I wish this was put in nationally not just at all colleges, but community colleges and small business administration centers.

  4. Great post Sidnee! Thank you Steve for highlighting some of the lessons that are being learned over here at ASU.

  5. My honest reaction is not positive. But here goes. To teach entrepreneurship, one should be an entrepreneur who educates; not an educator who teaches entrepreneurship. Secondly, someone who has failed at and succeeded at some entrepreneurship attempts probably knows the very things taught in that class. Therefore you should not need to take the class because you have learned through experience.

    As for the last point Sidnee makes – let everyone in, so what if some fail that is good for entrepreneurs, others will get A’s and never be entrepreneurs; but most will work for small companies at some point. Yes start them as undergrads and or in high school. Whenever possible bring in outside resources like mentors who have been there and done that. Yes go for it!

    • Robert…I agree! Entrepreneurs should be teaching this. I am an entrepreneur myself and I push for entrepreneurs to be the instructors in all e-ship courses at ASU. But the one great aspect of LLP is that there are entrepreneur mentors and advisors in the room to fill in the blanks if it is an academic who is facilitating.

      I also agree that there is no teacher like failure…and that is the point. LLP is designed to drive you to “fail faster” so that you can learn rapidly (and ideally before you spend a lot of money). Some have the chance to fail and learn outside of an educational institution, and that is great, but this is just another way to enable that process.

      I appreciate your thoughts…all very important.

  6. Great post as usual. We are running the LLP at Colombia after having the program with Bob, and the teams selection is critical for the success of the program. Any tips or guide to make the teams interview?

  7. I love this post. There is so much to go for on lean startup methods. Students who I am regularly in touch with tend to dive into writing long business plans way too early in the game. If they approach me with an idea, I like to say: “What does it take to test it?” or “Can you save time (and money) by doing a quick and dirty field test?”. Planning is something large corporations do in order to outline the strategy for the next 10 to 20 years. Startups should instead learn from tests and adabt what they had intended to do, to what they find as they go along. I have just recently summarised this in my top 5 reasons against planning:

    1. The markets change faster by the day, making yesterday’s planning obsolete
    2. Time spent planning is time lost creating
    3. Planning destroys your flexibility
    4. Good planners are not automatically good entrepreneurs
    5. Nobody can predict the future :)

    From my experience, young and emerging entrepreneurs need to get into the action asap. It is hard to learn it in another way.

    Yet I still think it is important to do your homework and research the market once it get’s serious. It can help you raise money too!

    Thanks for sharing Sidnees post!

    Cheers, Chris

  8. I feel that entrepreneurship is something that needs to start in High School. I’m convinced we are at the beginning of a trend with the internet that will make many professions mostly if not exclusively free agency by the end of this century. Now that there are almost no barriers to starting a business (although succeeding is still as hard as ever), we should be teaching kids how to work as independently as possible.

    • Yes! We just found out that some teachers are teaching this concept as early as middle school. It is incredible…if students can start to think in this way (validate your assumptions), then think of the possibilities…they go way beyond just startups, but a general thought process & mentality!

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