Venture Launch Course Reflections

The inaugural offering of ENTR 4432 Venture Launch course offered to undergraduates at Mount Royal University that I developed and instructed just wrapped up with the student team presentations completed before their final exams. After a brief holiday break, I have a had a chance to reflect on the successes, challenges, failures and to develop enhancements that will be incorporated in this up coming semester’s offering of the course.

The Venture Launch course is the fourth of a six course Minor in Entrepreneurship at the Bissett School of Business. In embrace of lean start-up principles, the course itself was a Minimum Value Product offering. It follows the ENTR 4331 Opportunity Development course created and taught by Laurie Jensen. ENTR 4331 incorporates Steven Johnson’s research from “Where Good Ideas Come From“,  Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation and Steve Blank‘s customer discovery and validation approaches. Over a full semester, students in this hands-on course that engages them deeply in
the idea-to-opportunity process, identified, selected and developed an opportunity for the creation of a new venture.

This cohort of students continued on to the Venture Launch course with their opportunity;
out of the proverbial coffee shop and into the basement to develop their ventures (Canadian start-ups work in basements of the founder’s homes as the garage is way too cold and inhospitable in winter!). We incorporated Eric Ries’ Lean Start Up and Steve Blank’s Customer Development methodology by having the student teams iterate through two build-measure-learn cycles designed to test hypotheses and refine their business models (documented on Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvases). But in the class,  I found these methodologies challenging to apply in an experiential way to essentially pre-revenue, low to no capital student start-ups. So we targeted instead to have their ventures by the end of the semester in state of preparedness to continue-on in a bootstrapped mode or ready to successfully court first round love or angel investors.

All through the semester, I was (and continue to be) amazed by the sheer volume, diversity and convergence of the information and innovative thinking regarding start-ups. It was enlightening and energizing to follow the shared trials and lessons learned of the mass of practitioners, much of which we reflected and fed back into our course on the fly. But several factors also challenged us and separated our experiences from this body of work. First is that our work is centered around educating and developing the entrepreneurial mindset of undergraduates which has it own set of unique challenges different from those of graduate students and in-the-field practitioners. Second, we are not focused on tech start-ups exclusively but more broadly on all ventures ranging from “bits to atoms” in nature. Thirdly, our Calgary-Edmonton economic corridor is dominated by primary resource extraction and the tertiary sector of related financial services (we arguably have a global tier energy industry cluster forming) with abundant capital that unfortunately has very limited investment attention for non-energy related ventures. Fourth, while we have a vibrant and active entrepreneurial and academic community, we are an order of magnitude smaller in scale and energy of the leaders and thus do not have depth of experience and talent to draw advise, mentorship and support from. These factors, while daunting, are being addressed in build 2 of the Venture Launch course; the second cohort will begin their journey this week.

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