Posted by: Tom Ross | October 11, 2012

The Education of the Entrepreneur: Part Three

In Parts One and Two of our feature series, The Education of the Entrepreneur, we addressed the current debate around whether or not entrepreneurship is a set of skills that can actually be taught, and then some of the major lessons-learned that can be shared with new or budding entrepreneurs.

In this, Part Three of the series, we’ll be focusing on not just whether entrepreneurship can be taught, but how it might best be taught. And to begin, we’ll start by sharing the stories of Scott Landow, who spoke at the Entrepreneurship in Education Conference, “Launch it! Grow it! Move it!” that took place in Fresno, CA earlier this month.

Scott Landow, Cal State San Marcos, and founding partner of Ventures 2.0

Scott Landow, in his session “Teach a Man to Fish,” took our question one step farther: if you can teach entrepreneurial skills, how should the class be structured so that students get the most of out it?

Mr. Landow is a founding partner of a company called Ventures 2.0, which helps businesses in trouble get back on their feet. He has high-end new business experience as a CEO and founding partner of half a dozen companies in the last 20 years. When he was asked to teach an entrepreneurship class at California State University at San Marcos, instead of falling back on classic business class curriculum he took a more experience-based approach, one that made more sense to him.

Most such classes begin with a work plan. But Mr. Landow believes that if you grow your business from a seed to fruition, your work plan will write itself. Not everyone will agree with this, but this compelling approach focuses on learning from hands-on experience. (You can write the work plan based on your experience later—and then use both experiences for your next venture.) Mr. Landow called it “teaching entrepreneurship using local social causes as working models to enable learning with real dollars and affecting the lives of real people.”

“You can’t teach a business idea or concept, “ he contends, “Entrepreneurship is in real time. Students have the vision. They just lack the fundamental skills.” Teachers, he says, are like the bumper rails at the bowling alley: we help students hit the pins. “Start small so they can taste of success. This gives them the confidence to take the next step.”

But Mr. Landow added another goal to the venture: social responsibility. The money the teams raised would go to a charity of their choice. “What if giving back was not an afterthought,” Landow said. “What if is was the core pillar?” This gave the students a whole new dimension to their need to succeed: they were doing this for someone else, and they didn’t want to let them down. You can read about the enterprise in the North County Times.

Mr. Landow’s idea is for student teams in the class to create a lemonade stand as a business. And that is just what they what they did…where it was possible. In one case a lemonade stand already existed (at a street fair) so they had to be creative: they invented “citrus sippers”–fresh fruit with candy straws–instead.

Photo Courtesy of UC San Marcos

In the end, the project grew into something that involved the whole community. A student had a cousin, Ricky, who has a rare disease and needed a bone marrow transplant; he was living at a Ronald McDonald House that was to be the recipient of their team’s profits. Mr. Landow seized on the opportunity and challenged the class to expand the donor pool by enrolling as many CSUSM students as they could in the marrow registry. They created “Ricky’s Army.” Their pitch: “Save a life, while you can.” This was their final assignment in the class. And the response was enormous. They enrolled 2000 Cal State San Marcos students in the bone-marrow registry.  You can read about it here.  And here.

Stay tuned for more on entrepreneurship as we go beyond the classroom.

We will explore the role of the business incubator (like the one in Rancho Santiago Community College District’s Digital Media Center) in helping entrepreneurs get started. And we’ll talk with new successful business owners to better understand what they had to do to get there.

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