For a student, passing a final exam can be as easy or as difficult as memorising notes or textbook passages. But when it comes to entrepreneurship, it’s impossible to cram by reading a textbook. In fact, there’s nothing textbook about starting a business, and the final exam in real life.
That said, there are three key things secondary schools and universities can do to prepare students for running their own businesses, and these lessons don’t involve assigning page numbers or timing a final exam. Rather, they’re about teaching students to understand people, use the tools available to them, and get a feel for how to navigate the real world of business.
Practice Pitching; Focus on Feedback Regardless of whether they’re seeking investments or bootstrapping, entrepreneurs should be able to clearly communicate their mission and idea on cue whether it’s through a 30-second elevator pitch or a 30-minute presentation. In addition, they should be constantly seeking feedback from potential customers to ensure that their brilliant idea is actually something consumers want. This idea of customer development ensures a constant stream of feedback that nips irrelevant business ideas in the bud.
Make It Relevant Many programmes focus too much on strategy and theory, such as competitive analysis. But, when you are just getting started, your biggest competition is actually yourself. A great way to address real-world, relevant issues is through guest lectures from entrepreneurs. They’re a refreshing supplement to outdated case studies, and they give students a feel for what it really means to start a company.
Get Tech-Savvy Students should learn to continually measure the success of their businesses so they can continue to improve. This lean start-up framework consisting of a continual build, measure, learn, and repeat model can help students de-risk their businesses and increase the likelihood of success. Technology makes it easy for them to understand the potential market size of their businesses. This is critical when seeking external funding, as it’s necessary to prove to investors that the market is large enough to provide a significant return. I’ve seen several professors advocate for using Google Insights to help students understand the potential market opportunity. Another great tool is Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, which provides a clear way for students to understand how their businesses will function, as well as the potential trade-offs of decisions.
Build Student Entrepreneurship Programmes Interest in entrepreneurship is sprouting up in the universities across the country. But it moves fast, and curriculums must constantly adapt to keep up. The best programmes collect feedback from alumni and improve the entrepreneurship curriculum over time. For example, Haas School of Business changed its Entrepreneurship 101 class based on student feedback. They replaced the business plan requirement (which startups rarely need) with a focus on team-building, product development, and fundraising.
To stay relevant in the volatile world of startups, academic programmes must focus on real-world tools, resources, and skills that will help students pass the final exam of starting a successful business.