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Microsoft Catalyst Program: Entrepreneurial training for students and graduates

This Saturday, I finally did something that Jehan and I had been talking about doing for all these years: Run a dedicated day long workshop on entrepreneurship for students from local schools. The credit for arranging the whole show goes to the Microsoft MIC Catalyst program for students that brought ten shortlisted teams to a room at the Microsoft Innovation Center at NUCES FAST ICS, Karachi, city campus.

Teams included students from FAST, NED, Mehran Universirty, Usman Institute of Technology, SIUET, PAF-KIET and MAJU.

My first test was a request for all of them to show up at 8:30 am on a Saturday morning. To their full credit they all showed up at 8:30 and caught me by surprise (I was late by about 10 minutes). The next test came at 12:30 when we usurped the normal lunch break and replaced it with a working lunch. The third and final test came at 3:00 pm when I asked them about their conviction and their belief in their projects and their willingness to give up a well paying job to make it work. You believe that you are making meaning and not money when you are willing to give up the world for it. Anything less is a joke. Given that they had been through a long day they took my attempts to confuse them with a lot of grace.

Teaching Students about Entrepreneurship

The challenge in this case was that we had a half and half mix of 2nd year and final year students. Of those about 3 students already had jobs or had been working side by side with school. The most impressive of the lot was the graduate student from Mehran University who blew me away with everything that he had already achieved in life and where he wanted to go. It is very rare that you are blessed with such a flare for hands on engineering. I normally get computer scientists within the circles in which I teach. It was a joy teaching a hardware engineer for a change. When we finally broke for the last tea break of the afternoon he explained how he had used replaced PVC pipes rather than ceramic fins to create a low cost wind-turbine in inner Sind as well as suggested doing the same to his class mate in Sudan or how he used an expired hard drive motor to build an anemometer for measuring air speed for the same wind turbines.

We started off the day with a review of the three challenges of starting and running a business. The first is the Stage one decision linked to opportunity cost and how that keeps on growing as we mature and succeed in life. The second challenge is launching the product or business challenge and the reason why we fail here is because we get products, pricing, selling or shipping wrong. The final challenge is the growth and expansion challenge where well established businesses comfortable and successful in one arena stumble and fail as they opt to grow and expand in newer markets

We then looked at business models and the core questions we have to answer before we can build a business. In the first five minutes of the class I had tried to review some of the major myths including the availability of capital and the representation of easy money – two myths that have been accentuated by both media coverage as well as our own inbuilt biases. Which then raised the question that if as first timers we are not likely to raise or receive capital from investors why should one put so much effort in figuring this business plan bit out. The obvious answer is for ourselves… The business plan document is as much for ourselves as a roadmap and a thinking tool as it is for outsiders.

The business plan questions all link back to one specific dimension. The voice of the customer! So after the first refreshment break we started playing with a number of advertisements to see how well established brands and companies communicate who their customer is through their campaigns. We also spoke about the difference between an emotional sale and a functional sale as well as pitching with or without speaking.

This was quickly followed by a pitching session where we reviewed 4 pitches and tried to discern which one of these were real and which ones were un-real. Lunch was a working lunch session with Guy Kawasaki and his art of the start speech which like always was very well received. Post lunch we tried to put down everything we had learned about our customers by trying to describe them and their pain through our attributes.

We closed the session by a review of all the things that I got wrong in my startups and my story as a failure. If you missed the session and would like to go through a print edition of the same course and the material here is a list of resources that you can use to brush up on this topic. I will post a copy of my power point presentation and the handouts on this page later this week.

Finally a big thank you to Microsoft, PASHA and TIE for the Catalyst initiative. It was fun to spend this Saturday with 12 bright kids and I hope they got as much out of the session as I did.

Sometimes I wonder how different this world would have been if we had access to these resources and training when we were growing up and going to school.

Entrepreneurial Framework for those of you who missed the session

Here are the three primary resources shared with the students at the session

Entrepeneurship-Training – Power point slide deck

LCF-Executive summary – Sample executive summary

LCF – Final deck – Sample power point presentation

In addition here is a list of posts that cover the basic framework around entrepreneurship that many of us take for granted and most of us have never seen or understood.

Startup Guide: Finding the voice of the customer

Startup Guide: Strategy and Tactics

Startup Guide: Describing your product

Startup Guide: Linking pain, product, segment and reach

Startup Guide: How to win a business-plan competition

Startup Guide: Funding for dummies

Startup Guide: Hiring Great Talent

Startup Guide: Just ship it

Kill your Ego

The myth of a unique idea

On Hamlet, Horatio and Shakespearean mythology

A penny for your thoughts, pretty woman or the myth about raising capital

Strategy & tactics or winning for itsy bitsy teeny weenie little Pakistani mom and pop tech shops

Have fire, will travel or why you should listen to your heart

Memories, Cookaracha Guides or venture number two

The essence of a business plan competition

The presentation cheat sheet – one

The presentation cheat sheet – two

The presentation cheat sheet – three

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