Stephen Daze gives students safe environments in which to build their start-up skills.
Peter Drucker said it best. The legendary management consultant claimed entrepreneurship was neither a science nor an art but a practice. I liken entrepreneurship to a particular practice—sports. Take hockey: you can learn its rules, theories and tactics, but until you lace up your skates, grab a stick and step on the ice, you’re not building actual skills. As the Telfer School’s Dom Herrick Entrepreneur in Residence, my job is to give students opportunities to practice entrepreneurship—to help them gain the skills, acquire the tools, build the resources and cultivate the networks to work in early-stage start-ups. I do so in these main ways:
- I took on leadership of the Entrepreneurship Bridges Speakers Series, an event held five times each year during which students hear directly from successful entrepreneurs and meet prospective business mentors.
- I organize the Telfer Traction Challenge—an annual competition based on what students have done in their businesses to date, and what they would do for their start-ups if they won the challenge’s prize money.
- I oversee a workshop series called Startup Tools. It teaches students how to use the many free or low-cost software and websites to validate business ideas, conduct market analyses and complete other vital tasks that go into creating new businesses.
- I run Startup Weekend. It brings together students on a Friday night once a year to pitch business ideas. The students then pick the top ideas, form teams around them, and then work tirelessly throughout the weekend to move them ahead. On Sunday night, the teams present their work to see which group has developed its idea the best. The winning team gets prize money and bragging rights, while all students earn valuable experience in entrepreneurship.
- The Telfer School launched another program this past year that I help manage. Top Five Startups identifies the best student businesses across campus. The students behind them receive money to travel to Silicon Valley on a curated trip that introduces these emerging entrepreneurs to key people in the Valley and helps them understand how to do business there.
What I try to do with these seminars, workshops and contests is give students safe environments in which to practice and thereby build their start-up skills. Entrepreneurship is a bit messy. You don’t always get cut-and-dried results. So you have to know when to apply certain skills and principles, and how to adapt quickly to changing conditions. Entrepreneurship makes for an interesting life. My experiential learning helps prepare students to embrace, enjoy and practice it to the fullest.