Can You Teach Entrepreneurship? A Lesson on Life and Startups from Students

Repost from Medium

By Jordan Rothenberg, Regional Manager, USA at Techstars

Over two years ago I met a group of energetic teenagers from Plymouth, Minnesota who were eager to organize a Techstars Startup Weekend, an ambitious feat for a group of high school students. I was skeptical, but they proved me wrong at every turn.

Fast forward to today and this team has graduated high school, organized three Techstars Startup Weekends, launched a number of successful ventures, and are currently in Techstars Class 144 at the Techstars Retail Accelerator, in partnership with Target, with their startup Runnera.

The team behind Runerra have an opinion.

L-R: Niel Patel, Sam Lerdahl, Josh Chang, Bharat Pulgam

I hopped on a FaceTime call to catch up with the four cofounders to talk startups, school, and life, on their journey into entrepreneurship.

Here are a few key takeaways, plus some things that they say better than I could:

  • Being an entrepreneur is hard. Much harder than being a student. You can be a passive student and get by with good grades. You can’t be a passive entrepreneur and expect results. Your livelihood and the livelihood of your team, customers, and stakeholders are on the line.
  • You’ll never stop learning. Startups and entrepreneurship force you to be focused on the day-to-day and on the future.
  • There’s intellectual rigor in a university setting, but when you’re out in the real world is where you’re really getting tested. Thinking on your feet and making decisions that matter can’t be taught in a classroom.
  • Stay humble and don’t discount the sage advice you’ll get from mentors and family members. Even though your parents might not understand a business model canvas, they understand you as a human and how you operate and that’s invaluable.

Q: When I first met you all as high school students you were already starting up. What made you take the entrepreneurship leap so early?

Bharat: My initial frustration was around the bureaucracy of addressing important problems. I was called to action when teenagers were dying and nobody was doing anything about it. I started HEART, Helping Every At Risk Teen, after two teens in my school committed suicide. Entrepreneurship let me channel my energy towards solving problems for good.

Q: How did your involvement with Techstars Startup Weekend shape your trajectory as lifelong learners?

Josh: That was my first exposure. I realized that you could learn as you go, just jump right in and adjust along the way. We didn’t know how to raise sponsorship money, track our finances, or approach mentors, but we figured it out. Being thrown right in is the best way to learn.

Q: Now that you’re in a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator withRunerra, what are a few things you’ve learned that you wouldn’t have learned in the classroom?

Sam: Pretty much everything. College is like treading water in a swimming pool, while Techstars is like treading water in a pitch black, storm-laden ocean.

Bharat: Techstars has forced us to perform at a level that we wouldn’t otherwise. We’re learning how to be entrepreneurs in a way that isn’t taught in a business school. There’s so much we still have to learn as entrepreneurs. We’re learning how to learn better.

Q: Do you think entrepreneurship can be taught in a classroom setting?

Neil: In entrepreneurship there’s the framework and the application. Frameworks and concepts can be taught in the classroom. Getting out there and taking the leap of faith is where a true entrepreneur’s colors come through.

Sam: It takes failures to learn entrepreneurship. The classroom is not very conducive to embracing failure the way that real life experience does.

Q: What else would you like to share about being a student and entrepreneur?

Bharat: Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Do the work, put your best foot forward. Everyone assumes you’re going to fail, but if you commit to solving the right problem and are calculated with your decisions, then you’ll succeed. Value the people closest to you, don’t disconnect from them, they’re your biggest fans.

Josh: As an entrepreneur you’re committing to being a lifelong learner. The world is your classroom, but you need to be straight with yourself and embrace intellectual honesty.


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