There are several great resources for teaching—and experiencing—entrepreneurship that are converging in wonderful fashion now and worth mentioning.
First is the work of Steve Blank, who has been preaching tirelessly the lesson that the real objective of a startup is the search for a viable business model. In his words,
“existing companies execute business models, while startups search for a business model. (Or more accurately, startups are a temporary organization designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model.)”
Entrepreneurship classes typically focus on the companies that succeeded, and on the individual nature of the entrepreneurs or the successful businesses that they created. But little time and attention go to how those entrepreneurs found that ultimate business model—and the skills and strategies required to do so.
Steve Blank is bringing this search process to light, and developing ways to teach this missing aspect of entrepreneurship. His message is that it’s not about the plan, it’s about the planning—and the planning is unpredictable, uncertain, and uncomfortable. Teaching someone entrepreneurship in a classroom, writing a business plan, is like teaching someone how to ride a bike by having them create a powerpoint of 40 page document on bike riding. You might learn what entrepreneurship is, but you won’t become an entrepreneur that way. Speaking from experience, it is difficult to fit this kind of curriculum into the typical college course, but it’s worth it. Even if a student learns that entrepreneurship is not for them, it’s a valuable lesson.
The second resource is a new book, BusinessModel Generation, which presents a great way to envision a business, rather than the technical solution, and communicate that vision to others. The image above is a combination of Blank’s strategic approach to startup management, overlayed onto a business model “canvas.”
Business Model Generation is a critical tool for prototyping a business quickly,cheaply, and relatively comprehensively. The one-page “canvas” they have developed fits right in after the ballpark visioning of problem-definition (“what sucks”TM Paul Hudnut, Inc.) and the “elevator pitch.” It also precedes the 10 slide “pitch deck” format that describes in greater detail the different aspects of the business model/plan. Lastly, the book serves as a useful reference tool for thinking about business models. So you can teach to the canvas but have students get more in depth about business planning with the book. In our classes, we have relied on a one-page “idea template” which tried to capture many of the same aspects of a business that the “canvas” presents, but their template illustrates the relationships between these aspects, and that’s a critical piece.
A third resource is the Lean Startup concept, by Eric Ries. This work builds on Steve Blank’s customer development approach, and combines the “fail early, fail often” approach to prototyping (long a cornerstone of the design process and education) with the Agile Software Development methodologies of the programming world. For anyone in IT, this is a really valuable concept. For developing other products and services, there is value here, but it’s the same principles underlying design that are covered from many different angles.
The common and valuable contributions from across these works is their focus on making entrepreneurs, not teaching entrepreneurship. The teacher becomes coach rather than lecturer, and the students learn through hands-on experiences wallowing in the uncertainty of the real entrepreneurial process.