University of Maryland students and not just learning about entrepreneurship this semester – they are hard at work starting and growing their own businesses. And for the first time, they are also getting course credit to do so.
The students are participating in the Fearless Founders program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business’ Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. The goal of program is to demystify the venture creation process and guide student ventures from idea to launch. It is the Dingman Center’s latest push to teach students the “Lean Startup” methodology, a test-it-and-tweak-it approach to starting and innovating businesses that was popularized by veteran entrepreneur and author Eric Ries. The course is supported by grant from the University of Maryland’s Academy of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and cross-listed with the A. James Clark School of Engineering.
“This is a groundbreaking course at the University of Maryland – not many universities are giving course credit for working on building a business,” said Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center. “This course demonstrates the Smith School’s commitment to entrepreneurship and the pedagogical value in starting and building a business. This the ultimate experiential learning program for entrepreneurs.”
Students are learning the strategy, frameworks and tools necessary to develop their business ideas by actually getting out of the building, talking to customers and testing what works, Fine said. “We want them to learn quickly what works and what doesn’t so they can minimize their risk and spend their time on building a venture that has the greatest chance of success.”
The Fearless Founders program breaks the venture creation process into three stages, each with goals and deliverables. At the completion of each stage, students have the opportunity to receive seed funding from a Capital One grant. Students also enjoy the added perk of earning credit for working on their businesses. But as entrepreneurs, their first concern is getting critical advice and guidance to make their startups a success.
Scott Block, a senior marketing and operations management major, is working on growing his company, VentureBoard. The startup offers a web-based platform to universities to help students navigate the entrepreneurial process. “The program has been a great way to make sure I’m on track with my startup in a structured way as opposed to just working on it my spare time. The whole program has been really helpful in making us focus on customer discovery and growing the business.”
In fact, Block’s product is used by students in the course to track their progress on their businesses.
The first Fearless Founders stage, Idea Shell, is an introduction to entrepreneurship and a chance for students to vet their ideas for a venture. Students spend time figuring out the problem they want to address, brainstorm possible solutions and test the viability of those solutions with potential customers. They attend workshops and participate in advising sessions with Dingman Center entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRS). Student can receive up to $500 in Capital One seed funding upon completing “Idea Shell.”
The second phase, Hatch, is when students build and test their businesses, trying to really determine where there is a market for their product or service. They experiment with how to find and keep customers and try to pinpoint how to scale the businesses. Students receive academic credit for the Hatch course, taught by Fine, and up to $1,500 in Capital One funding.
Students spend the third stage, Terp Startup, continuing to grow their business with one-on-one advising from EIRS. The focus for this phase is on scaling and generating revenue.
In addition to building their ventures and receiving expert advice, students also benefit from the collaboration with peers in the program.
“It’s been great to see the ‘ah-ha’ moments students have when they work with each other,” says Rebecca Thorman, program and projects manager at the Dingman Center and head of the “Hatch” phase of the program.
“Part of the magic of this course is how much students are learning from each other,” Fine agreed. “They are staying after class to work together and work on their businesses.”
The Fearless Founders program fits into the Dingman Center’s other programming, all of which provides a hands-on approach to entrepreneurship. Find out more at www.rhsmith.umd.edu/dingman.