Venture Launch Course Reflections II

I have just returned from my travels and have begun the process of re-factoring and improving the ENTR 4332 Venture Launch course that I have now taught twice at Mount Royal University . We had recently re-designed our entrepreneurship program from a small business management focus to developing an entrepreneurial mindset with the goal of helping students create innovative, scalable business models for new and existing for-profit and not-for-profit ventures.

Students entered the course with their venture opportunity identified and developed in Prof. Laurie Jensen’s ENTR 4331 course;
 out of the proverbial coffee shop and into the basement to develop their ventures. We incorporated Eric Ries’ Lean Start-up and Steve Blank’s Customer Development methodology by having the student teams iterate through build-measure-learn cycles designed to test hypotheses and refine their business models (documented on Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas). We found these methodologies challenging to apply in an experiential way to essentially pre-revenue, low to no capital undergraduate student start-ups. As a result, we targeted 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 money or angel investors.

The composition of this second cohort was quite different from the first semester’s inaugural cohort. While the first semester was exclusively second and third year undergraduates, this cohort had several continuing education students with varying academic backgrounds who were already in the workforce and in some cases are already been involved with new ventures. The wide-spread of individual capabilities, relevant business experience and personal drive made creating an impactful learning experience more than a bit of a challenge. But this diversity of the students backgrounds was also a blessing; there was a refreshingly candid exchanges of ideas and opinions in class and in their blogs, and clearly having a class composed of diverse, multi-disciplinary individuals enhanced the overall learning experience.

This time around, I was able to incorporate Eric Reis’ “Lean Start-up” as the core textbook. While I had used the Lean Start-up process in the first running of the course, the book was published too late to be used as the core textbook. Hard-cover books, with its long-form content in a collection of printed pages, curiously still impart a sense of authority and permanence that is lacking with all things on the internet … even with millennial’s !

What is Working Well:

  • General models and tools seem to be suitable and appropriate in practice with the students, in particular Business Model Canvas and Lean Startup.
  • Students “get” the “Pivot”, “get out of the building” (most of the time) and “lean thinking”.
  • Student journaling thought blogging has been effective for sharing observations, feedback and reflection between team members, teams and advisors.
  • The continuous education students add a lot to classroom experience; sharing of different perspectives and experiences.

Challenges:

  • There is a lot that has to come together in a short period of time for the students. Many have only limited employment experience to draw on.  A full undergraduate course load is challenging for most; the addition work load of venture development is a struggle for some. Several had part-time jobs or athletic commitments which made off-campus activity scheduling a challenge.
  • The students have difficulty creating reasonably realistic financial models for their venture and are very reluctant to “aggressively” scale their ventures.
  • Recruiting members that can contribute in a meaningful and timely way to the  advisory boards that students form for their venture teams continues to be a challenge.
  • Grading was time consuming  due to the volume of material to review in the blogs.

Re-work/Refinements:

  • Less “sage on the stage” … there is a plethora of material available on the net e.g. blog postings, readings and videos that could be incorporated into out of class readings and assignments.
  • Need to re-think the venture opportunity and team selection process that initiates the course to create more robust and creative teams. Actively encourage cross-disciplinary teams – e.g. recuit and include students from the computer science programs
  • Need to be more actively encouraging the possibility of a social ventures and intrapreneurial new ventures within an existing organization.
  • Need to find some simple and Lean Start-up “friendly” financial modelling tools that are appropriate for undergraduate students with a limited exposure to accounting and general finance.
  • Will continue the further refinement of integration with ENTR 4331 Idea to Opportunity course; moving forward the use of the BMC and a slimmed down experience of the Customer Development Model
  • Incorporate a formal requirement for two MVP cycles and a midpoint presentation to “force” the pivot or persist experience for all teams.
  • Look at some alternative methodologies that have been evolving; Ash Maurya’s work is very interesting and his Lean Stack is going to get a closer look this summer.
There has been an incredible explosion of entrepreneurship as a management science. The Stanford Udemy experience has stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider my approach;  I need to continue even faster and further on the “less sage on the stage”, more to active discussions and creating experiential opportunities for the students. We need to continue to focus on the development of the entrepreneurial mindset ; more on growing individuals that are confident and aware rather than the actual launch of sustainable and scalable ventures. Steve Blank’s recent posting “Entrepreneurship for the 99%” has also given me cause to further ponder. The majority of our graduates are unlikely to start new ventures or join early stage ventures straight after their graduation. They almost all will likely be contributing members to operating organizations, large and small, commercial, charitable, political or otherwise in nature. Consider what impact can be brought to our community by these graduates with a developed entrepreneurial mindset!
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2 thoughts on “Venture Launch Course Reflections II

  1. Evan,

    I liked reading the blog post (especially at a time when I am thinking about re-structuring my own course for the fall). It in itself had a kind of lean startup feel since it seemd like you were trying to finish a build-measure-learn cycle with the reflection so you can enter into another cycle.

    Ian

  2. Thanks Ian. As an adherent to the “eat your own cooking principle”, I deliberately have applied the Lean Startup approaching to developing and delivering the course and will continue so. “Build, Measure, Learn”.

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