Entrepreneurship 101: highest profits earns an A!

Teaching entrepreneurship requires controlled failure: Experience from a 7-Week experiment of #real660 (now known as Dr. Zaneb Beams' Cup or #beamscup).

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  1. My introductory entrepreneurship class just ended. I was so tired to grading business plans that would never turn into real businesses that David Kirsch (@darchivist) and I created a business competition. We took our same curriculum, but let go of using the course as a launchpad for businesses, and instead focused on maximizing learning about the entrepreneurial process.
  2. The best way to do that, was to force students start businesses, i.e., to become entrepreneurs. Students ran their businesses for 5 of the 7 weeks of the course, with the first 2 weeks devoted to a 2 hour entrepreneurship challenge that gets the students to focus on the skills that they can bring to the table. 
  3. The real learning, however came from both forcing the students to sell and the failure that was built into the structure of the course. The former will be obvious to any experienced entrepreneur, so I'll focus on the latter. The five weeks of the live competition had four elimination rounds. This created a problem. If your team was eliminated, you cannot earn money towards your A grade. However, entrepreneurship is an inherently risky enterprise, and failure is part of the process. So it was important to have that failure component, but still make it safe for students to fail. A dilemma! 

    Indeed, the failure was relentless:
  4. Each student proposed his/her idea, 9 were eliminated. Eliminated students were required to join the surviving teams - and negotiate equity with them. 2 weeks later, 2 more teams were eliminated: 
  5. 2 days later, 2 additional teams were eliminated in a "sharktank" challenge, leaving just 4.  All through, students were exceptionally engaged, and spent a lot of time outside of class thinking about the competition. However, failure was inevitable. After they mourned their losses,
  6. And tried to process...
  7. And the instructor had doubts
  8.  I realized that this was the key feature of the courses success. The emotional loss of the failure caused students to reflect. They needed to understand what they did wrong. Turns out, there was some academic thought on exactly this point:
  9. And this was reflected in students' experiences in the safety of the course:
  10. How did we create a safe learning environment? It was safe because David Kirsch (@darchivist) and I also created a parallel metric - students could earn "Karma Points". Student grades were determined by their maximum rank in either $$$ or Karma Points. In this way, failure in the contest did not necessarily translate into failure in the course. In fact, there were plenty opportunities to recover for the industrious student.  
  11. Some of the students didn't understand:
  12. But they are wrong. This is the key feature of the course. #Real660 (or #BeamsCup) is a safe environment for students to try businesses, fail, and learn from that failure. Either they discover that they don't want to be entrepreneurs, or, they are better prepared when they become entrepreneurs. But they know this because they have all now become entrepreneurs. Wish them luck: you can read about their failures (and successes!) here:
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