As I mentioned in my last post, I was determined to provide students with a real-life entrepreneurship experience. Sprott’s BUSI2800 is an intro to entrepreneurship course open to all; therefore there is quite a diversity of programs and expertise in the classroom. Searching for an online gamified platform, I came across the concept of the VentureChallenge this past summer and decided to pilot it this fall. Developed by Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia and in partnership with Shopify, the online Venture Challenge takes students through the entire entrepreneurial process, from the idea stage to launching and running the business, with the help of built-in learning resources and a gamified platform that includes a class leaderboard. Students learn about ideation, product development, marketing, sales, cash management, e-commerce, social media and more.

In this experiential approach, student teams conceive of a new business idea for a NFP mission-driven e-commerce venture that runs for 30 days to raise money for a selected charity organization. This is not a simulation but rather an online approach to support the creation of a non-profit mission-driven online business.  Students are running real businesses, selling real products and services to real customers through an online store. With Shopify, student teams can set up their business very efficiently since a streamlined process guides them through launching their online store with no technical skills required.

At Sprott, our philosophy for our entrepreneurship offerings is for our students to ‘Live entrepreneurship, not just learn about it’. This project is a low risk experiential learning experience that provides concrete knowledge and skills in new venture creation. This specific project also emphasizes aspects of social entrepreneurship given its mission-driven goal. An additional innovative aspect is the extensive online learning resources and tasks so that students can acquire crucial skills in the business management of popular social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google Adwords and Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, and social metrics to promote, sell and monitor effectiveness of marketing campaigns and offerings. These skills are in high demand with employers. Carleton University is currently the only Ontario university using this experiential learning approach to entrepreneurship.

In all, the class created 22 venture teams who ran a wide range of businesses. The businesses were active for the month of November and together served nearly 700 customers, raising $18,700 in revenues with $4,700 in profits going to local charities. The results surpassed all expectations. I was very impressed with the creativity and dedication of the students to this exercise. They experienced every aspect of conceiving and running a small business. They also developed an awareness of social entrepreneurship.

2800A F15 OVC PIC Kekoa Tang giving cheque to OHS 151211

Kekoa Tang giving his team’s profits of $1,400 to the Ottawa Humane Society

The top team VESI Bottle, sold nearly $2,500 worth of glass water bottles sandblasted with custom messages, predominantly targeted at the millennials market, and pulled in about $1,400 in profits that were donated to the Ottawa Humane Society.

The second team, Groceries2Go, created a grocery shopping and delivery service for Carleton Students. They generated $3,300 in revenues, the highest among the teams.  Their profits went to the Carleton University Food Center.  Feedback from the students has been very positive, even though the challenge required an intense and sustained effort from the teams. The School is quite happy with the results and we will be offering it in future BUSI2800 classes.

A research project is also in the works to assess the impact of this entrepreneurship education approach on entrepreneurial intentions and behaviors, and also link to research on social entrepreneurship.  Although it required commitment and effort on my part to learn and use it, the outcomes are really worth it. I received appreciation letters from some of the charities that brought tears to my eyes…. Never expected such outcomes and impacts.   I should add that the support from the OVC team has been simply phenomenal.  In conclusion, I highly recommend the Venture Challenge.

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I am teaching a course new to me this term.  The course is an entry level, 2nd year course on entrepreneurship, and the first in our suite of entrepreneurship courses for our  Sprott School of Business B. Comm concentration in Entrepreneurship and minor in Entrepreneurship. This course is open to all, therefore students in the class are exposed to a great variety of educational programs, backgrounds and experiences.

I have decided to pilot a new initiative in this course this term.  Teams of four students launch a real online business, supported by Online Venture Challenge, an online gamified learning platform partnered with Shopify and developed by Prof. Geoff Archer from Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC, Canada.

This is a unique experiential approach: each team selects a charity organization to give their profits to. Teams brainstorm potential business ideas for products or services and launch their online stores on Shopify.  There is a competition among teams as well as a pitching event.  At the end of the term, profits will go to the selected charity organizations.

At  Sprott School of Business, we believe that students  learn best about entrepreneurship by doing entrepreneurship…  As such, they will learn valuable marketable skills such as ideation, feasibility assessment, business models, minimal viable products, social media tools and an integrated communication strategy, team work, role of a CFO and much more.

I will update on the progress!

I’m glad to report that overall, our pedagogical approach to teaching entrepreneurship at Sprott School of Business (Carleton University) is working well and bearing fruit.  Students are excited and engaged.  They are creative, resilient, collaborative and motivated to work hard and succeed. Lots of enthusiasm and energy too!

I have to admit that I was a bit weary of introducing a lot of new business approaches to teaching entrepreneurship but it turned out to be a very good move.  We want our students to ‘live’ an entrepreneurship experience, not only ‘learn’ about it.  We obviously do not expect all students to start their own company while still in school (but some do and are quite successful at it!). Essentially, the expected end game of our entrepreneurship offering is for students to either own a high-growth startup within three years after completing their bachelor degree, or to work for a startup or an organization that fosters entrepreneurship.

I’ve been teaching three entrepreneurship courses this academic year, all essentially revamped from previous years or new.  Within our entrepreneurship programs, we have ensured a logical path and have aligned content across our entrepreneurship offering so that students can progress from ideation to business creation and implementation.  We have capitalized on new business thinking and methods –  ideation, business model generation, value proposition, early validation –  using material from Steve Blank, Bob Dorf, Eric Ries, Osterwalder & Pigneur and many others. We are using a blended learning environment, making learning an individual as well as a collaborative learning experience.  Our assignments are part and parcel of the development and implementation of their business opportunities.  We have also offered high quality workshops from people in the trenches, and have mobilized our entrepreneurship ecosystem, within and outside of Carleton University, to support our student entrepreneurs.  Our brand new Carleton Accelerator is now up and running and we are celebrating successes!

Peer-to-peer learning is an important aspect of our entrepreneurship pedagogy. That last aspect in fact never ceases to amaze me…. students are really willing to help each other out and share their best practices, insights and lessons learned. So on this last note, I’ve asked my students to share their reflection on successes and setbacks in developing their business opportunity.  This is not a superficial reflection but rather an in-depth coverage of the challenges and successes in applying what they have learned in this course (and previous entrepreneurship courses) to their business opportunity.  Essentially a ‘memoir’ of sort for the next generation of student entrepreneurs.

I am looking forward to reading their reports!

stay tuned….

An excellent use of 2 minutes of your time to understand a multi-sided markets – using Google and its business model.

Steve Blank

If you can’t see the video click here

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I am quite excited about my new function as Assistant Professor, Global Entrepreneurship at Carleton University – Sprott School of Business and teaching entrepreneurship courses using new pedagogical approaches.  In particular, I’ll be using the Startup Owner’s Manual from Blank and Dorf (2012) and the Business Model Generation text from Pigneur and Osterwalder (2010).  Several colleagues teaching at Sprott and elsewhere have adopted such approaches to teaching entrepreneurship and are quite enthusiastic about their early successes.  In addition, with all online resources available from Blank and others, it becomes a great opportunity to go with a blended learning approach.  At Sprott, we really believe in having students experience entrepreneurship rather than only learning about it.  Along with our ecosystem and support mechanisms, we are confident that we can help students develop their entrepreneurial minds.

I’ll report on our progress in future blogs!

Innovative and high-growth firms need access to capital to ensure success.   In addition to the typical start-up sources of capital – love money, crowdsourcing, angels and the maze of public sector  support,  such firms – early – and late-stages, need access to venture capital (VC) funds.  In Canada, as in most other OECD countries, equity provided in the form of venture capital decreased between 2007 and 2009 and rose slightly in 2010 (OECD 2012). Canada’s venture capital industry has been challenged on a number of fronts in recent years, including persistent poor returns that have led to low fundraising and have limited the amount of capital available to fuel the growth off Canadian start-up businesses (Canada’s Economic Action Plan). In the technology sector, venture capital declined steadily following the tech bubble burst of the early 2000, and returns on investments have been dismal since.   Consequently many high-tech firms are often forced to go south of the border to access US venture capital, leading to a lost of Canadian tech talent to places like Silicon Valley.

Canadian VC investment activity remained at a steady state in 2012 compared to 2011: $1.47 billion in 2012 vs. $1.51 billion in 2011, in about 458 firms each year. Total deal sizes under $1 million represented nearly half of all deals completed in 2012, a continuation of a trend that has become more pronounced in recent years. Software and Internet-focused firms captured about half of VC investments in 2012 (Industry Canada).  Some predicts that 2013 will see  the VC landscape in Canada shifting.  Of note, the federal government’s announced last January  the Venture Capital Action plan, a comprehensive strategy for deploying the $400 Million in new capital over the next 7 to 10 years, which is expected to attract close to $1 billion in new private sector investments in funds of funds (Canada’s Economic Action Plan).

Questions to ponder:

1) What are the overall goals and mechanisms of the Government of Canada’s Venture Capital Action Plan announced in its Economic Action Plan 2012 ?

2) What are the key VC funds in Canada?

3) What are the key VC funds in the US?

4) How would you characterize the Canadian VC funds versus the US VC funds?

5) What are some of the trends happening on the Canadian VC scene?


Canada’s Economic Action Plan – Venture Capital Action Plan

Industry Canada, Venture Capital Monitor

OECD 2012, ‘Canada’, in Financing SMEs and Entrepreneurs 2012: An OECD Scoreboard, OECD Publishing. http:://

The transformation of the book publishing industry.  

Traditional publishers are most interested in books they can print in quantity for sale to large audiences.  However, like in so many other industries, the business model of the traditional book publishing industry has really evolved recently. Take for instance, a company launched in 2002 and  offering self-publishing, printing, and distribution services, and headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Its business model has enabled anyone to publish. has a unique business model.  Innovation in business models does create value, and is generally cheaper than product and technology innovations.   Countless companies  such as IKEA, Dell and Zipcar are highly successful due to innovative business models.

Questions (2nd individual reflection for my 3810 students but open to all to comment):

  1. What is unique about’s business model compared to more traditional book publishers?
  2. How does create value to customers?
  3. What do you consider’s competitive advantages to be?

Scott Shane is the 2009 Winner of the Global Award for Entrepreneurship Research.  This essay (in Small Business Economics 2009, 33(2):141-149) is the Prize Lecture he gave upon receipt of the Award in May 2009 in Stockholm, Sweden.   The essay draws on his book: Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors and Policy Makers Live By. Yale University Press, 2008.

In this paper, Shane argues that policy makers should avoid subsidizing the typical start-ups and instead focus on high-growth firms.  His rationale is that high-growth firms, sometimes called ‘gazelles’, are the source of economic vitality and job creation.   Using various sources of data, he demonstrates that  typical start-ups are headed by people not necessarily motivated by growth, in industries in which most start-ups fail, and not necessarily the best entrepreneurs, hence not generating innovation, jobs and wealth as policy makers would like to believe. He argues that this is not just a U.S. phenomenon since studies conducted elsewhere show similar results.

This is a rather strong argument given that most government officials do not want to ‘pick winners’ to support.  Yet, Shane argues that start-ups with a high probability of generating jobs and enhancing economic growth can be identified.

In Canada, several, such as Wells and Hungerford (Policy Options, September 2011), are advocating that high-growth entrepreneurship is key to Canada’s future economic success.

Questions (to my entrepreneurship students but open to all to comment):

1) What are Shane’s key arguments against policies to support more people to become entrepreneurs?

2) What is your opinion of this paper: do you agree? disagree? why?

3) What is the situation in Canada? (Hint: google the Policy Options paper I mentioned above as one source of information)

(Note:  Click on the text bubble next to the title of this post to leave your comment.)

Technology entrepreneurship rarely succeeds in isolation; increasingly, it occurs in interconnected networks of business partners and other organizations. For entrepreneurs lacking access to an established business ecosystem, incubators and accelerators provide a possible support mechanism for access to partners and resources. Yet, these relatively recent approaches to supporting entrepreneurship are still evolving. Therefore, it can be challenging for entrepreneurs to assess these mechanisms and to make insightful decisions on whether or not to join an incubator or accelerator, and which incubator or accelerator best meets their needs.

In a recent article in Technology and Innovation Management Review, I discuss five key factors that entrepreneurs should take into consideration about incubators and accelerators are offered. Insights are drawn from two surveys of managers and users of incubators and accelerators. An understanding of these five key success factors (stage of venture, fit with incubator’s mission, selection and graduation policies, services provided, and network of partners) and potential pitfalls will help entrepreneurs confidently enter into a relationship with an incubator or accelerator.

– See more at:

Zara – a Spain-based  high-fashion, low-cost retailer, stunned investors and analysts by revealing that its profits climbed 30% in the first quarter of this year along with an increase in sales of 15%.  Yet, 70% of its revenues come from Europe, and it is based in a country where the macro economic situation is  quite challenging.   Zara is the flagship chain store of the Inditex group and is considered a Spanish success story. How is Zara doing it so well while other eurozone firms have stuggled?

Well, Zara has a unique business model.  Innovation in business models does create value, and is generally cheaper than product and technology innovations.    Countless companies  such as IKEA, Dell and Zipcar are highly successful due to innovative business models.

Questions (2nd individual reflection for my 3810 students but open to all to comment):

  1. What is unique about Zara’s business model compared to more traditional fashion retailers?
  2. How does Zara create value to customers?
  3. What do you consider Zara’s competitive advantages to be?
  4. What about its online strategy?