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Last week, VentureWell CEO, Phil Weilerstein, wrote on our blog about the need for

creative approaches to fostering entrepreneurship education on campus. As a follow up,


we’re highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship educators who are doing innovative
and inspiring work in their classrooms. Below is a curated collection of cutting-
edge class activities and exercises used by VentureWell Faculty Grant recipients that
are designed to prepare early-stage innovators in taking the first steps toward
transforming their ideas into impactful inventions and ventures.

1) The “If I Knew…” Exercise


Aileen Huang-Saad
University of Michigan

“Each term, I end the class with the “If I knew” assignment. Students are asked to fill out
a simple PowerPoint template that asks the following questions:

 When I signed up to take this class, I was expecting…


 This is what I got out of the class…
 If I had only known…
 This is what I would change…

Before class, I go through all of the student responses and aggregate the feedback into
the themes. I then present the summary to the students for the last class and we
discuss their reflections. This summary presentation is then used to iterate on the
course for the following year and is assigned as the first reading for the next cohort of
students as their first assignment. This sets the stage for the next class.”

2) The Envelope Exercise


Pritpal Singh

Villanova University

“I like class activities like the envelope exercise developed by Tina Seelig at Stanford
University. In this exercise, the students are asked to plan for a two-hour activity to
increase an initial, unknown investment provided to them in an envelope. The amount of
money in the envelope is very small – around $2. The students are usually surprised at
how little money is in the envelope. Yet, every time I’ve done this exercise, the students
have increased the investment money provided to them. The exercise helps students
realize how easy it is for them to make money. I was particularly delighted when the
students at the Bluefields, Indian, and Caribbean University in Nicaragua came to this
realization. These students are generally from relatively poor communities and lack
confidence in their ability to make money. When they performed this exercise and
realized how easily they could make money, it was really eye-opening and thrilling for
them. It was also a very rewarding experience for me.”
3) The Get Out of the Building Exercise
Rodney Boehm
Texas A&M University

“I provide exercises that get students out of the building. Nothing shapes a student’s
perception about their idea or market better than talking with a customer. Most students
are uncomfortable when they start a conversation with a potential customer. Once they
are comfortable with the skill, it transforms them and their way of thinking.”

4) The Defining Problems Exercise


Ruth Ochia
Temple University

“In my introductory course, I work on students developing a sense for defining


problems. I show pictures that contain many potential issues. The students are asked to
define the issues they can see and what questions they would ask or additional
information they would want to help define the problems. They always want to start with
solutions, but the key is to get them to define the problem better, which is half the work
of solving the problem anyway.”

5) The Flipped Classroom Exercise


Deb Streeter
Cornell University

“I think almost all entrepreneurship professors use class activities to create what is now
considered to be a “flipped classroom.” I’m no different. Students in my courses work to
develop business ideas and concepts, go out to understand customers, pivot, pitch, and
spend time outside the building to learn and practice Lean Startup concepts. I also try to
spark interesting conversations inside my classroom. Sometimes I do that by using
short, focused video clips or the Startup podcast. I use the mishaps and adventures
featured in the podcast to illuminate important ideas and concepts. The episodes are a
perfect match with so many concepts related to entrepreneurship and Lean Startup. The
class becomes very invested and opinionated about the founders and the company.”

6) The Business Thesis Exercise


Jed Taylor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“There is a simple business thesis exercise that we use in our I-Corps program that
teaches teams to articulate their value proposition and customer segment in a concise
way. It sounds simple, but it always amazes me how challenging it is for students to do
at first. I even crack out this exercise every time that I give a guest lecture across
campus.”

7) The Soft Skills Exercise


Cheryl Bodnar
Rowan University

“I use game-based class activities to help students develop their soft skills such as oral
communication and teamwork, both of which are critical for entrepreneurs. Each player
has a card with various symbols on it, and only one of the symbols on their individual
card is defined. Without showing their cards to other players, participants have to
decode the symbols and reveal the message on their individual cards, using only oral
communication. The end result: all players enter a color on a rainbow-colored game
board and the whole class wins.”

8) The Blindfold Exercise


Joe Tranquillo
Bucknell University

“In some classes I teach, I will hand out blindfolds and ask everyone to put them on.
Then they pair up. Their task is to leave the second floor of the engineering building,
navigate the campus, find the library, stand in line at the café and order a coffee or tea.
The pair only gets to take off their blindfold when they get their beverage. Afterward we
deconstruct this activity. The most important insight is that we as educators talk a lot
about knowing your customer. Sometimes the only way to really understand a customer
is to live in their world. After this activity the challenge is to find ways to become or
simulate how to be your customer. Students seem to remember these class activities for
a very long time!”

For many student inventor entrepreneurs, their first exposure to innovation and
entrepreneurship happens in the classroom. That’s why it’s important to continuously
develop and improve upon innovation and entrepreneurship class activities to ensure
early-stage innovators are well-equipped to solve the world’s biggest problems.
Learning curriculum development ideas and best practices from other faculty in the
ecosystem can help educators adopt, implement, and refine their own coursework for
maximum impact.

Get more ideas for class activities! Read 6 Class Exercises to Amplify Innovative
Thinking.
Last year, we shared a collection of cutting-edge class exercises used by our Faculty
Grant recipients to prepare student inventors for their innovation and entrepreneurship
journey. To kick off the start of the new academic year, we curated a fresh new list of
class exercises that you can incorporate into your courses.

From systems thinking to design sprints, these innovative class exercises can help you
adopt, implement, and refine your own coursework for maximum impact.

1) The Pin-Up Exercise


Raja Schaar
Drexel University
“I LOVE a pin-up. Constructive critiques of projects has really helped my students grow
their ideas. These daily conversations also help me understand my students, gauge
their learning, and assess how the class is progressing. I try to switch up the format
regularly. Some days it’s a game, some days it’s formal, but it’s always about open
conversation.”

2) The Systems Thinking Exercise


Jeremy Faludi
Dartmouth College
“In the VentureWell-supported online course, Tools for Design and Sustainability,
there’s a section called Whole System Mapping. It’s a way of both making people better
at systems thinking in a very simple, visual way, and incorporating quantitative
sustainability measurements (like life-cycle assessment) into the early-stage invention
process. The exercise uses systems thinking to help inventors make their product or
service more sustainable while still meeting users’ needs.”

3) The 48-Hour Crash Course Exercise


Nathalie Duval-Couetil
Purdue University
“In a New Product Development course, I created a “crash course” activity that had to
be completed and presented during the first week of class. Student teams were given
products ranging from toys to air fresheners. In 48 hours, they had to create pitches on
how to improve these products. The idea was to give them a clear sense of the scope of
what they would learn throughout the semester.”

4) The Design with Empathy Exercise


Eric Lima
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
“For a freshman design class, I ran a Design Thinking module before I eased into
a Lean Launchpad module. The module helped connect students with real people
facing real challenges. It was based on the IDEO approach of interviewing the people
you are trying to serve to build empathy with them and uncover the underlying (non-
obvious) challenges they experience. The process led to insights that redefined the
scope of student projects, which improved the overall design of the deliverable.”

5) The Tinker Toy Exercise


Steve Tello
UMass Lowell
“The idea of the Tinker Toy Challenge is to engage students who have not yet worked
together in creative problem-solving and teamwork. Tinker Toys are sorted by shape
and color into separate bags and tucked under chairs or placed on a table. Matching
colors and pieces are placed together. We then present a challenge such as building a
vehicle to transport a sick individual across rugged terrain. However, before students
can start building, they have to build a team with students who have a different shape or
color in order to gather sufficient pieces to build the vehicle.”

6) The Wallet Exercise


Grant Warner
Howard University
“I used Stanford d.school’s Wallet Exercise with a group of mechanical engineering
students enrolled in the Capstone Design/Senior Project. The exercise emphasizes the
importance of developing empathy, leveraging short design sprints, and building low
fidelity prototypes. These are important lessons for the class and their professional
careers moving forward.”

For many students, their first exposure to innovation and entrepreneurship happens in
your classroom. That’s why it’s important to continuously develop and improve upon
class exercises to prepare students to launch a journey to solve the world’s biggest
problems through innovation.