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General Session Notes: Decades of Knowledge Shared: How Entrepreneurs Learn and How Colleges Meet Their Needs

Posted By Jeanne Yocum, Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This panel was moderated by Jon Robinson of the Kauffman Foundation. Panelists were Wendy Torrance, director of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation; Marc Nager, CEO and co-founder of UP Global and Start-up Weekend; and Garrett Hinshaw, president of Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, NC.


You can listen to the audio recording of this session here.

The three panelists spoke about their work and then Jon asked questions. Here first are the panelists presentations:


Wendy presented lessons learned from a decade of engagement with four-year colleges via Kauffman. She said the big question people ask who are starting down the path of creating an e-ship program is where should it be located in the school; should it be located in the business department or where? The answer is there is no one answer.  Finding the right answer depends on many factors, such as the economy in which you operate, the existing entrepreneurship eco-system, etc.

One of the biggest challenges is how to think about the balance between thinking and doing. Sometimes there is a tendency to emphasize plodding thinking over doing. Seek to find a balance between those two – provide students with the theoretical framework but also give them the opportunity to do and to act and to try things about, including building their own venture.


How do you know how well you’re doing in your programs? Use caution in using metrics that are easy to quantify, but education can have an impact much broader than the easy to measure things like jobs created, financing obtained, etc. Measure what influence the education had on the student cultivate champions


Marc talked about the value of experiential learning and Start-up Weekend’s experience so far. Here are his comments:


Think how you went through your own entrepreneurial journey. Did someone teach you or did you learn things yourself? E-ship is easy to learn but it’s hard to teach. You need to target something that people are personally invested in right there. This has a lot to do with the success of start-up weekend over the last 4 years. People aren’t there to learn things but that’s exactly what we’re doing. Our whole model is about that experiential learning.


How do we drive integration between what’s happening on the grassroots level in a community and tie that to the efforts at a community college? How can we take more nontraditional communities and integrate them into the community of standard entrepreneurs. Artists, craftspeople, etc.


We have a new program called "Next,” which is a 4 to 5 week program that answers what happens after you’ve gone through Start-up Weekend. What’s in between start-up weekend and the accelerator or incubator experience. That’s what this program is for. You dive deeper into questions like who is your customer and the actual business model, getting deeper into revenue models and marketing, etc.


The most exciting thing for us with Startup Weekend is taking what we’re learning in the consumer web tech area and apply that to other industries, like the maker market, the medical market.


Garrett talked about the importance of disruption and also about the Innovation Fund that will soon be launching in North Carolina. Here are his remarks:

I want you to think about disruption. A lot of times disruption has a negative connotation, but let’s think about disruption from a different context. Think about a hospital operating room and the line showing the patient’s heart rate goes flat and the beeping stops. The doctors and nurses have to deliver a shock to change the direction of that patient. Similarly, we have to change the direction in which we as community colleges are headed. We have built such a great history  and we’re not devaluing the history at all because it has done so much for us in democratizing higher education.


Example of disruption: Catawba Valley Community College has a manufacturing solutions center; it has everything someone needs to bring a product to market. We’ve worked with businesses in 48 states and from countries around the world. That’s disruption to the normal community college environment.


Need to make sure the world outside our walls knows the impact we can bring. Innovation Fund North Carolina is a statewide initiative that is focused on lighting up the network of community colleges and universities we have in this state. We have an opportunity to provide some glue to bring forth the services and networks entrepreneurs looking to start businesses in our state.


We’ll provide pre-seed funding, those who have run out of credit card and family/friends resources. That’s a gap that exists here in NC and it’s been validated by every entrepreneurial person I’ve talked to. Beginning December 17, a community college, doing investing, raising the resources to create the change in the social economy to drive this state forward. Long Beach doing the same thing in CA, and Johnson County CC in Kansas will be doing the same thing. We have the opportunity to increase that pipeline and insure that more of these new businesses get up to that angel investment level. It includes education; we have to insure that we inject ourselves, whether they like it or not, to be in their game room to help them create outstanding results in the future.


Disruption does not mean we are tossing out the bath water. How many of you here tack an e-ship certificate onto every diploma that you give out at your institution? None. We don’t either. My question to you is why not? Every CEO I talk with says these are skills that they are looking for in the people they hire. I challenge you to go back to your campus and ask that question. Why haven’t we placed the emphasis on the critical things that our business and industry and the universities want to see in our graduates?


Jon: What have you learned about the coaching and mentorship process and bringing guest speakers to provide context to your lessons?


Marc: I generally use the phrase "mentors are like mushrooms." I’ve seen as many coaches or mentors kill companies; probably more do that than there are ones that give great advice to entrepreneurs. We use the term coach whiplash, getting opposing advice from coaches. We don’t call anyone who comes to Startup Weekend a mentor; we call them coaches. A mentor is someone you have a personal relationship with. We try to get away from speakers; we think they have little value beyond the marketing. We generally only have one per weekend. We require that they stay for the whole two days.


Wendy: One of the challenges is that there are a lot of powerful stories out there and there are probably people in your communities who can come in and tell powerful story but there is a risk on basing decisions based on parts of their stories. For example, someone who comes in and says they founded the company with their best friends. Well, it turns out that this is not a good thing; studies actually show founding a business with your best friend is often a disaster. It’s important for your students to be able to put the speaker’s story in context. Their pathway is not the pathway for everyone.


Make sure that people who want to coach or mentor are not there trolling for investment opportunities but rather are there for the right reasons, that they want to educate.


Jon: Where do you see the role of the community college in the entrepreneurial ecosystem?


Marc: Community colleges are incredible feeders, even more so in our world than standard four-year university programs. The entrepreneurs who come from community colleges tend to have more work experience under their belt and so they tend to have better solutions to problems. That demographic has the ability to use the just-in-time learning. 


Jon: Where do you see the community college being part of the entrepreneurship ecosystem 10 years from now and what are some of the things that are going to stop us from getting to be where we want to be and what the workarounds are?


Garrett: The winners of the FastPitch competition represent what community colleges do. The ability to access many, many different types of individuals who have a history with us and have a comfort level with our colleges, if we really deployed our efforts to focus on entrepreneurship we don’t know what our impact could be. Ten years is too late; we have to focus on this now. People have to know there is a place for them and their ideas and it’s the community college right in their back yard. There are a lot of individual traits to be successful as an entrepreneur but we can give them the ability to realize those traits and be successful

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