A first-time educator shares his experiences and mistakes

The other day I was asked to give a business planning workshop to the science students at my startup’s incubator. It was a simple request, most of the members had science and engineering backgrounds while some team members and I came from business backgrounds.

Or we sort of doing. My major is Entrepreneurship and Strategy. We use design thinking, lean methodologies, and research to combine science and business and create new ventures from gathered insights. I love it so much, and I thought this would position my team and I to deliver a very relatable workshop on how these scientists can grow their ideas at the intersection of science and business. From giving this workshop I learned 5 really interesting things I discuss below.

1. Everyone “gets” why business needs the scientific method

Our attendees came from diverse backgrounds, and disciplines within the sciences. But every single one understood, once we’d explained it, how much using hypothesis testing to gradually validate aspects of a venture can reduce risk and increase probabilities of creating something impactful.

I had my own “ah-ha” moment in the second year of University in an Opportunity Identification class. We were learning about Steve Blank and the lean canvas, and my professor said something along the lines of “using research to validate business assumptions”. A light bulb went off. I’d never considered business as being something that could be “figured out” in the same way as natural laws like Newton’s laws of motion. It was incredible seeing that I wasn’t alone in that moment is so powerful.

2. Entrepreneurship is learned, not something we’re born with

Our students didn’t really “get” entrepreneurship. They had ideas or even developed innovations but they didn’t understand what it takes effort and skill wise to commercialize something successfully. They didn’t know any of the methodologies, the terms, how to get initial funding, how to track expenses, find co-founders, get access to co-working space and organize or lead teams. They were wickedly smart people, sharp, inquisitive, and critical but they just hadn’t been exposed to these ideas or processes before and they were out of their depth, as I’d of been in one of their chemistry lectures.

I found this really interesting because it hints at the value of business acumen as part of the talent triangle in forming a new venture. Or what PMI calls Strategic and Business Management in their model for the skillsets need in a founding team to form a new venture successfully.

3. The Business Model Canvas is an amazing beginners tool

The exercise we did that went the best was the business model canvas. For their scientific minds, it immediately made sense to break down the “problem” of a business into its components and then analyze each one separately. That’s why I love the business model canvas since it allows everyone to speak using the same language when discussing assumptions and aspects of a business. We did an exercise where we went through one together and then had each person work on one separately for their own idea.

I found from speaking to them after that they got a lot more out of us working through it with them than from working independently. To apply that for future workshops I intend to spend more time leading participants through exercises while emphasizing the individual engagement I was looking for. From my own experience in class, I know most voices aren’t heard and the loudest ones are heard too much. That’s why I tried incorporating an individual exercise but it was too separate from our teaching and they weren’t ready.

4. Entrepreneurship is hard to teach

One of the participants told me afterward we’d lost them right after starting because we used some jargon words she didn’t understand. I tried to use jargon since it had meaning in the lexicon like MVP, key metrics, customer persona and so on. But even things like metrics which I’d assumed people knew the meaning of was jargon to them. I discuss why jargon is damaging here but it alienated them from the content really quickly. However, another student mentioned he’d enjoyed the jargon because it showed him how we spoke about these things. I think the balance is in knowing what’s jargon to someone without any experience and explaining definitions to their level.

As well, I found I was getting tripped up about subtle interplays between different methodologies. Like how problem-solution fit looks on a business model canvas, what constitutes a “validated” hypothesis, how to track insights from interviews and primary research and other things I’ve done, but haven’t processed enough to be able to communicate them effectively.

My biggest takeaway is that I need to improve my ability to simplify and synthesize these models to the point that I can communicate them to people who have no exposure to them.

5. People have dead faces while they’re listening

This is more of a joke point. But it’s amazing how even in an interactive workshop people just look like they hate you while you’re presenting. It will never cease to amaze me that someone who I’ve felt glaring at me for over an hour is now telling me how awesome a time they had, and how much they’d learned. It’s great to hear obviously but show that enthusiasm while I’m speaking. I know I do the same thing but I feel bad for all the people I’ve been raptly listening to who think I’m annoyed or bored with them.

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Andrew is a design graduate student in Toronto who writes about leadership, design, and startups. Visit his blog Lead Boldly for exclusive content. Or say hey on Quora | Instagram | FaceBook | Twitter | LinkedIn.


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