Towards the end of 2018 Peter Lenney met me in the hub area, of the Management School, and in his usual impactful and motivational way he challenged me to increase the experiential nature of, The Entrepreneurial Challenge. I was taking over this module from Magnus George, who is already known for his great teaching and engaging style, so this was no small task. Prior to becoming an academic, my background was that of a serial entrepreneur, so Peter knew my style would draw on my networks and previous experiences. I was up for this challenge.
The overriding objective of this module is to sensitise the MBA students to the real world of entrepreneurship and help them appreciate how innovation is generated within an SME. Any study of entrepreneurship or innovation is integrative, as it draws from all of the MBA modules. Thus, it was easy for me to simply increase the amount of time the students spent with entrepreneurs, give them one or two frameworks in which they could explore what they saw (e.g the Business Model Canvas) and draw on their reflective skills to help make sense of their experiences. I decided that interacting with real entrepreneurs at the beginning, middle and end of the module would be ideal. We would start with emersion into the world of entrepreneurship, and ask the students to reflect on what they experienced and work out what literature might help make sense of what they saw.
The time I met the cohort was at the University, waiting for the bus to take us directly to the NatWest Business Accelerator. When we arrived in Manchester, we were immediately immersed into the NatWest world of business support for entrepreneurs. They matched 5 students with 5 entrepreneurs, who then pitched their business idea to the groups, and it was then up to the students to draw on their global experiences across multiple industries, and pitching back how they would make a step change. This was a fast and interactive activity, that draws on the pitching tools and mindset delivered by the highly motivational NatWest team, led by Gemma Fattahi.
On Wednesday, lectures were started with an honest talk from Lancaster Alumni, and CEO of Rejuvenation Water, Kris Ingham. His truthful account of the highs and lows of moving from an idea to opportunity was a stark contrast to the more bounded and formulaic model we all saw at NatWest. This provided an opportunity to reflect on what is entrepreneurship.
Thursday was the big day of the week and the riskiest of the entrepreneurial events. In groups of 5, the students were sent out to spend a day with an entrepreneur in their business, who had been primed to come up with a challenge or puzzle for the groups to explore. The students headed off to locations such a Greta Green in Scotland and Manchester. This was a high energy day for all the groups involved, with taking on challenges such as, ‘How can I sell my business’ to, ‘How do I launch this new product’. The output from this day was the creation of an outline feasibility blueprint that would form the main assessment for the module.
Each group had to work on the ‘puzzle’ they were given, and pitch their solution to a panel of investors. They had entrepreneurial mentors to support them creating their solution, and every group really got onboard with it. The students were outstanding at dealing with awkward conversations, reframing their ideas to accommodate oddities from the entrepreneurs and positively gathering data that anchored their presentations in rigor.
With a high volume of variables bearing down on a growth-oriented small business makes it almost impossible for the entrepreneur to know what to do. It can be a very lonely place with paradoxically thousands of people to talk to, but no one to specifically to discuss their worries with. The entrepreneurs who volunteered to help these MBA students were delighted to have a group of interested, unbiased and trustworthy individuals, who collectively had 40-50 years experience to draw on, making it a truly unique experience.
Written by Dr Ian Gordon (Lecturer of Entrepreneurship, Strategy & Innovation)