Enterprise workshops with University students

Last week I had a great day as an ‘expert’, helping with a two-day student course on enterprise in an event called the Dynamo Challenge 2010. It followed the fairly popular format of setting teams a task to develop a business plan for an idea, then having them present the idea to a panel for feedback and marks. So what was that formula that made this one good?

The ‘Dragon’s Den’ experts

The organisers invited a team of about thirty experts, who cam from a broad range of backgrounds. They included accountants from some large firms, business coaches and consultants, marketing consultants and business owners in fields as varied as product design and logistics. Although we only attended the day, we were well briefed on our roles and very much welcomed into the delivery process. For me, it was so good that with minimal time to get to know each other, the experts were able to work well together to coach the students – the last thing they would have wanted was a bunch of smug or very directive ‘experts’ sounding off about what was right, or points-scoring between each other!

The Graduate Enterprise workshop format

The organisers did a good job selecting a venue ( the Marwell Hotel near Winchester) that had good parking, plenty of breakout rooms and an un-stuffy atmosphere. Here are some of the things that I think really contributed to the success:

  • an icebreaker for the undergraduates to meet the experts, who acted as customers in a free-for-all sales hall
  • keeping the energy very high and the activity times short
  • bringing in enough jargon to represent the real world, but making the emphasis practical more than academic
  • keep the spirit of experiential learning – do, reflect, learn, plan. See David Kolb’s learning cycle, (http://www.ldu.leeds.ac.uk/ldu/sddu_multimedia/kolb/static_version.php et al)
  • having meaningful rewards for the winners
  • including ‘meetings’ with the experts as well as information presentations. This again reflected real life, where a business has to find a business advisor and decide what to take on board

Business Startup Courses for the future

So, what do I take away from the event?

Having both lectured on an enterprise course and delivered business coaching for a number of years, I feel that a practical approach is invaluable in preparing for a thriving business. Because there are few right and wrong answers, success is more likely to come from someone who learns from experience and puts their own mark on a process. There is a strong argument that attitude and approach make an entrepreneur, and it is the business theory and academic side that builds on what the entrepreneur starts.

It reminded me how dry some business startup courses aimed at ‘adults’ can be, and is something I will bear in mind to make sure that the Simply Work for Yourself experiences I will run next year alongside the online course will be upbeat, fun, challenging and memorable.