Being an entrepreneur is something that should be encouraged and nurtured in everyone from an early age - especially in a country like the U.S. where the economy relies on small business.
Every school and university should offer a range of courses designed to empower young people to take an idea and turn it into a profitable enterprise, with confidence and competence.
Sadly, most educational institutes seem intent on sticking to dry, academic curricula that might teach young minds how to think, but don't prepare them for the harsh realities of the real world.
I thought I would take the opportunity, having written many books, (some have been used as recommended reading in educational institutions like MIT), to outline a proposed college course that teaches learners how to become Internet entrepreneurs.
Proposed outline for an online startup course
Online businesses represent the perfect way to encourage young entrepreneurs to try out new ideas and gain valuable experience running their own company, because they are cheap and easy to set up.
They are also easy to administer and grade because all the tools required to measure the profitability of the company are freely available.
All that is required, in terms of paid services, by students in order to set up their online company is:
In addition, they will need the following free software/services (depending on their business model):
- Google analytics (some hosted website builders provide their own analytics)
- Payment gateway, like PayPal
- Google AdSense (or some other network to generate ad revenue)
- Social media integration (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc)
Obviously, there might be a few additional things students would need to scrape together depending on the nature of their business idea. Course administrators may wish to limit ideas to those that don't involve having to procure permits or other time-consuming and complex issues.
Based on a 12 week course, and allowing for some overlapping and additional projects and assignments, I propose the following course outline:
Business plan (4 weeks)
Students should be required to complete a proper business plan that includes the following:
- Executive summary
- Company description & overview
- Products and/or services
- Marketing plan
- Operational plan
- Organization & management
- Expenses & capitalization
- Financial plan
- Additional resources
Development (3 weeks)
Given how advanced hosted website builders are, it should not take students long to create their website or blog.
Even non-technically minded students will be able to quickly set up a good quality site using any one of the leading website builders.
Marketing & operations (4 weeks)
During this phase the student can research and implement marketing strategies while maintaining and developing their web platform.
It's important that an awareness of the different sources of revenue and Web traffic is developed.
For example, mini-projects on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or online advertising using Google AdWords could be used to teach learners about the various opportunities available to them online.
Final presentation (2 weeks)
This section of the course may be treated as the "exit plan" - i.e. presented as a sales pitch to potential investors looking to buy the company.
It should include information and reports on the financial health of the enterprise, and a summary of how it has progressed in comparison to the objectives laid out at the start, as well as a profitability report.
Perhaps there could be a small award for the student who generated the greatest net or gross profits?
Grades & administration
To make this course both practical and easy for teachers to administer, I suggest that students submit weekly reports on their progress.
These reports should include analytical data and graphs provided by Google analytics, as well as an executive summary that relates the stated goals to current performance.
Overall, I would suggest that marks are allocated accordingly:
- Business plan: 30%
- Administration & operational competency: 20%
- Weekly reporting: 10%
- Marketing & advertising strategies: 20%
- Final presentation: 20%
The business plan itself is potentially a difficult part of the course to administer because, by its nature, students may come to realize that their plan is not really viable. This result is a reflection of their thorough work to date, but leaves them in a difficult position.
Teachers may wish to provide a selection of startup ideas that are known to go well with the resources and time students are allocated for this course to prevent this from happening.
Operations and reporting are grades that accumulate over the year/semester, and teachers may wish to retain administrative access to the students' analytical data and Web platform in order to verify reports, or offer help and insight.
While marketing and advertising are, for Web based businesses in particular, far more important than the allocated 20%, it isn't really practical to offer more here. This is because many good online marketing strategies may require longer than the duration of the course to see tangible returns.
What do you think of this as a preliminary course outline for a college or school elective course? Do you agree that educational institutes should stimulate entrepreneurial growth?
Share your tips and ideas on how to develop young entrepreneurs in the comments below.