While memories and notes from the spring semester are still fresh, I’ve been working on changes to my “Researching Opportunities in Entrepreneurship & Economic Development” class for the 2015 spring edition. I have written about creating this Coleman Fellow class, things I learned while teaching the class (including the OES site), and how the class turned out.
This class went well from my perspective, and the student evaluations were very positive. In the comments section of their evaluations, the students provided two good suggestions:
- Have more in-class discussion on the assigned reading. (I once mentioned in class that I need to do better with that.)
- Don’t assume much prior knowledge of basic business concepts and terminology. Include reviews of those in class. (A good point since there are no class prerequisites except for graduate or upper-level undergraduate status.)
One student didn’t appreciate having to follow up the capstone presentation with a written version of the capstone project, claiming the work on the written report was redundant and didn’t add knowledge of entrepreneurship research. That’s a fair criticism. I’m guessing one of the students who did well on the presentation wrote that comment. There were other students, though, whose presentations were quite lacking in research, got detailed feedback notes from me in response, and had to work hard in their final report to present adequate and relevant research on their proposed business or nonprofit idea. Those students really needed the two-stage capstone to develop and demonstrate competence with entrepreneurial research. (I modeled the two-stage capstone project from the Export Odyssey class and a couple of other research-intensive classes for undergraduate business students.) Also, most students need more writing practice. So I’m retaining the two-step capstone.
Changes for next time:
The Coleman Foundation approved UNCG’s 2014-15 grant and so both the veteran fellows and the three newest ones will be funded for our cross-campus entrepreneurship classes. So round two of my 530 class will be next spring. I would teach this class again even without funding. It’s fun to me and important to the students as well as to the library in my opinion.
In my review of the class this summer, I focused on structural changes – changes to the syllabus and the capstone write-up. Both documents are available on the class libguide (the 2015 syllabus is a draft, largely due to the calendar unknowns).
I’ll work on changes to classroom discussions, active learning exercises, etc. later. Ilana Barnes’ presentation at LOEX last month will be particularly useful for me to review then.
I made some minor changes to the syllabus involving grading and late policies – not too interesting.
But I did make major changes to the capstone. For the grading, I ramped up the possible points for “using a variety of high-quality sources, including data” and reduced the points for “organizing the information in a logical manner”. While grading the capstone work last April, I wished I had more flexibility in assigning points for the research – the main point of the class and capstone.
The biggest change in the capstone concerns the suggested topics and outline. This was the 2014 version:
You are not limited to these topics. Nor must you follow this order. Some of these topics may overlap in your outline.
- Description of your proposed business & its product(s) or service(s)
- Industry and consumer trends and forecasting
- Your target market
- Consumer spending patterns
- Psychographics and consumer attitudes
- Competition: how many, their names, locations, size, etc.
- Trade magazines regarding trends and developments
I was trying to give the students some flexibility in content and organization. For example, a research presentation on opening a neighborhood bar might look pretty different than one on opening a wild animal rehab refuge (both are examples from this spring). And students like to have choice, right?
Here is the 2015 version:
You are not limited to these topics. Nor must you follow this order. Some of these topics may overlap in your presentation and report.
1. Summary of your idea:
- Description of the proposed business & its product(s) or service(s)
- The NAICS code
- The market you will serve (ex. what geographical areas)
2. Industry research
- National and local size or performance
- Growth projections on industry size or performance
- Industry trends (from industry reports, trade magazines, etc.)
- Mix of occupations in the industry
3. Market research
- Size of the local market/demographics
- Consumer spending levels/patterns
- Psychographics/consumer attitudes
- Consumer marketing trends (from market reports, trade magazines, etc.)
4. Competition: how many, their names, locations, size, etc.
5. Financial benchmarking
- Typical annual sales for start-ups or established companies
- Profit margins
- Wages for occupations in the industry
- Financial benchmarking trends (from industry reports, trade magazines, etc.)
Quite a difference, isn’t it. Well, some students really struggled with deciding what data to research and include in their presentations. A few non-procrastinating students asked for more guidance, which I was happy to provide. So I buried the entrepreneurial hatchet and went with this proscriptive outline. The outline mirrors the order of research required in UNCG’s undergraduate required feasibility plan and business plan classes for entrepreneurship majors and minors. I’ll compare the quality of the 2015 presentations to what happened in 2014.
Another change in the outline is more subtle and counteracts a mistake I might be making in the class: introducing trade magazines as its own, independent category of research. As most of you know, trade magazine articles can provide valuable information and data for any aspect of starting a business: industry analysis, consumer trends, financial benchmarking and trends, innovative practices of competitors, etc. In the original capstone write-up, I included a line in the grading rubric about using trade magazines throughout the capstone as appropriate. But above in the original list of suggested topics, I list trade magazines as the last topic. Several students ended their presentations with an isolated slide of various trends gleaned from trade articles – following the bad example my suggested list of topics provided.
So in the 2015 version, I emphasize applying trade magazines to each section, based on the relevant application of the information (industry, marketing, financial, etc.). That change will also ramp up the critical thinking a little bit, I hope. “So here is this article about my business idea,” a student thinks. “What is its main point, and which part of my business idea does this article help develop?” That question would make a good active-learning exercise when everyone is looking at the same article.
Now I’m eager to give that a try! Maybe I can sneak that exercise into ENT 300 this fall and see how it goes.