I led a feasibility workshop with 25 visiting German university students yesterday morning. It was an interesting experience if slightly unfulfilling.
They are Fulbright students from all over Germany participating in a month-long entrepreneurship-themed Summer Institute Program. The students are engaging in language development, community service, and entrepreneurship education, as well as enjoying field trips to the North Carolina mountains, Disney World (in part to get a taste of its intern program), and Washington D.C. Only about half of the students are business majors.
I first saw the students last week when they used a library lab for an ongoing computer simulation of running a coffee shop, but yesterday was my formal introduction. One of my favorite Entrepreneurship faculty members is working with the students and introduced me.
We began by asking each student to describe his/her Germany-based business idea, which they were assigned to come up with over the weekend. I always enjoy hearing students describe their ideas. This group was a bit different from an average group of UNCG entrepreneurship students in that no one proposed a bar or night club! (A juice bar and kebab shop were mentioned though.) One student was impressed with his breakfast visit to Cracker Barrel over the weekend and proposed opening a German franchise. (I remember the first time I ever saw a Cracker Barrel – my folks and I were in southern Ohio, driving from Michigan to Chapel Hill in 1991 to check out the library school.)
We next reviewed what kind of information or data an entrepreneur wants to find when considering the feasibility of an idea. The students had a lot of good answers and comments, having discussed this topic last Friday. Like so many groups of international students, they seemed sharp, engaged, and highly motivated to learn.
One source of the trickiness wasn’t unusual: some of the business ideas were not consumer-oriented, like “engineering consulting for power plants”. The faculty member or I talked to many of the students with non-consumer orientated business ideas during this individual exploration time.
The other trickiness could perhaps be attributed to the students’ lack of experience with hands-on, practical research. They were slow to realize I was turning each of them loose to see what useful data they could find. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my instructions. But the faculty member had warned me that these students generally haven’t been in an educational tradition emphasizing active/hands-on learning. And I don’t think many (if any) of the students had worked with demographic data before.
It also didn’t help that we discussed as a case study the kangaroo farm idea. The student proposed creating a kangaroo farm for selling the meat (including kosher meat). The student asked about identifying the meat-eating population of Bayern, as well as the local Muslim and Jewish population. Some of you know that the U.S. Census tracks neither meat-eaters nor religion (anymore). I didn’t expect the German data sources to cover those topics either (particularly the meat topic). So I showed how Mintel and Euromonitor cover food consumption trends. But the example became too complicated for an opening round of feasibility research. Maybe we should have begun as a group searching for a consumer-oriented business idea with an easily-researched target market. And then have one of the students navigate using the big screen, which would also have helped me deal with the translation issues? (“What’s the word for disposable income again?”)
My faculty member friend is usually very positive and would probably report to me that the students enjoyed trying to find the data and learning how to start doing a feasibility analysis. I would have liked another crack at them, though. Next week I have MBA orientation, which is pretty routine and doesn’t really involve research, but still I hope to be better prepared.