I teach MGMT 230, the introductory course in the Wharton Entrepreneurship curriculum. In order to give students a flavor of startup life, the first half of the class comprises a set of challenges that I call ‘The Entprentice.’
Teams are formed and quickly given the task of starting an actual, revenue-generating, micro-business. The ventures provide a “live-lab” where teams compete with each other as they apply concepts such as hypothesis testing, product innovation and buzz marketing. I was very proud that, through these challenges, the class generated almost $1,000 for charity.
As the Entprentice comes to a close, I ask each student to blog about the experience. Among the best was Sacha Djorkaeff’s reflection about the joys and challenges of working with a team of strangers to implement concepts in the entrepreneurship curriculum while the clock is ticking. At my request, Sacha agreed to share excerpts from his post:
I have always been passionate about entrepreneurship; however, I was never formally introduced to the “science” of entrepreneurship until I took Professor Wry’s class. I was a strong believer that this category of business could not be taught and that only experience, constructive failures and personal adeptness could forge a successful entrepreneur. It only took me one class to realize that entrepreneurship can be effectively based on theoretical instruments that are applicable at almost every level; more remarkably in idea generation, product testing, marketing and resource management. I had this preconceived notion that a venture was a smaller version of a corporation, which is probably one of the reasons why I made the mistakes I did in my previous ventures.
This exercise taught me how to delve into a project with a group of extremely diverse people and build a successful venture with very little money, a limited amount of time and a notably heterogenous team. In a way, I consider this the worst possible scenario for starting a venture but the best possible way of learning how to start a business.
Going beyond what I learned about business, this exercise revealed numerous facets of my personality, strengths and weaknesses in the context of entrepreneurship. I noticed that I often fit the stereotypical description of an entrepreneur; for example, I easily identified myself with Professor Wry’s discussion about hypothesis testing. It is true that I believe, like every entrepreneur, that my idea is the best and is undoubtedly going to be a success. This often blinds me to crucial aspects of venture building such as product testing, research and perpetual self-critique.
On the other hand, the beauty of this course was that I was able to instantaneously apply the key class concepts to my own ventures. For example, for my company CAMEIO, we were expecting to launch our official website in February, but we delayed it to gather additional in-depth research of the market and test a raw product before investing significant resources in an idea that might conceal jeopardizing flaws.
This class also taught me how to channel my creativity and generate realistic and high-potential ideas simply by looking in the right place and filtering hypotheses in an adequate way.
The Entprentice exercise has provided an all-encompassing entrepreneurial experience. I have learned about group dynamics and where I stand within a team of entrepreneurs. The challenges that we faced and the concepts we were asked to implement have been eye-opening and directly applicable to my own ventures. Most importantly, the Entprentice has taught me more about entrepreneurial techniques and myself as an entrepreneur than any other experiences I have had in the past.
Editor’s note: Wharton sophomore Sacha Djorkaeff was born in France and moved to the U.S. at the age of 12. He attended the French Lycée of New York where he started his first company, CAMEIO, specializing in selling graduation rings to academic institutions. Sacha is currently working on a venture called Socialeaf, which is dedicated to offering innovative social media marketing solutions to governmental contractors in developing countries.
This post first appeared on Wharton’s Entrepreneurship Blog on Apr. 8, 2013.