2012 Coleman Fellows Final Report: Technology E-ship Study Abroad Course in Australia

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During June 2012, Texas Christian University (TCU) offered its first study abroad course in Technology Entrepreneurship. The course was broadly successful and TCU plans to offer this course again in the summer of 2013. Technology Entrepreneurship satisfies “global awareness” and “natural science” core requirements of TCU, business minor requirements of TCU’s Neeley School of Business, and entrepreneurship requirements of the Coleman Foundation.

 

 

A Coleman Foundation Faculty Fellows Grant generously supported the development of this course. This report describes the outcomes of the course with relation to the Coleman Foundation’s focus on business creation, where “entrepreneurship” is defined as follows:

 

“Entrepreneurship is self-employment through business ownership which has significant elements of risk, control, and reward.”

A small, but diverse, group of 8 students from TCU completed the course. This group of students includes both men and women from across the U.S. They are rising juniors and seniors from a broad range of majors and their demographics are shown in Table 1. These students, however, have expressed the common goal of each owning their own business.[1]

Table 1. Student Demographics

Student

Gender

Major/Minor

Level

Hometown

1

male

business (finance)

senior

Cleveland, OH

2

male

business (finance)

junior

Kansas City, MO

3

male

engineering (mechanical)

junior

Oregon

4

female

fashion merchandising/business

senior

San Antonio, TX

5

male

communications studies

senior

Orange County, CA

6

male

business (E-management)/finance

junior

St. Louis, MO

7

male

comm. studies/business

junior

St. Louis, MO

8

female

business (BIS/marketing)

junior

Boulder, CO

Technology Entrepreneurship is a 3-week summer course which includes 1 week at the TCU campus in Ft. Worth, TX and 2 weeks in Sydney, Australia. In keeping with the experiential learning aspect of entrepreneurship, the course includes a wide variety speakers and site visits. The students learn directly from the founders of technology-based businesses both in the U.S. (4 of whom are TCU graduates) and in Australia. A complete listing of the invited speakers and site visits is provided in the course syllabus. During the Ft. Worth component of the course, the students conduct laboratory exercises which prepare them for the technology presented by some the speakers and at some of the site visits. The laboratory component of the course requires that the students maintain a concise and accurate notebook. The students learn the importance of the lab notebook as a legal document in intellectual property filing.

Key entrepreneurial competencies stressed throughout the course include the following:

  • Mitigating/managing risk – preparing for the “entrepreneurial leap”
  • Leveraging resources/bootstrapping
  • Tenacity & perseverance
  • Recognizing & assessing opportunity
  • Creative problem solving
  • Building and managing networks


A pre-course/post-course survey was conducted to assess the attainment of these competencies as well as TCU’s global awareness and natural science objectives. The students earned the following average scores in the graded portion of the surveys:

Average Pre-course Survey Grade: 63.4%

Average Post-course Survey Grade: 85.7%

The surveys also included short answer questions, which were not part of the assessment. Student responses to some of these questions are appended at the end of this report.

I believe that the success of this course is a direct result of the high quality of presentations prepared by each of the speakers. Many of the invited speakers are themselves entrepreneurs and were eager to share their experiences. In preparation for their talks, I shared the student demographics with each speaker. I also asked speakers to focus on specific competencies. It is an effective teaching technique to have the students learn entrepreneurial competencies through the perspectives of different entrepreneurs.

For example, I asked both Debra Wawro (founder and CEO of Resonant Sensors, Inc.) and John Rodgers (founder of Starboard Innovations, Inc.) to share with the students how they each prepared themselves to mitigate the risks associated with starting their own businesses. Debra traced her educational and career choices which provided her with the background and experience to minimize the risk in quitting her full time job at a telecommunications company so that she could focus her efforts on growing the business. Her prior employment allowed her to save money to bootstrap the business. Before devoting her full attention to the startup business, Debra sought out and acquired a research position at UT Southwestern Medical Center. This position was key for Debra’s business in that it provided her with experience and contacts in the medical industry. Resonant Sensors Inc. produces medical diagnostic instrumentation. Debra’s career decisions mitigated the financial and technical risks in starting her business.

John Rodgers, on the other hand, did not have industry experience before starting his consulting business. John earned his Ph.D. from MIT in aerospace engineering and started his consulting business after a brief period working at his graduate school advisor’s company. The consulting business was originally intended to service the aerospace industry, but John quickly learned that he needed to diversify his market. John discovered that the techniques used in the aerospace industry could be applied to the oil and gas industry, which has both the need and the funding to hire consultants. With a growing family, John found that the cyclical funding cycle of a one-man consulting business was too uncertain for his family. To mitigate those risks, he modified his business model and has grown his consulting firm. The entrepreneurial experiences of these two business owners teach different perspectives on identifying and managing the risks involved in starting a business.

In addition to inviting business owners to speak to the class, I also invited the leaders of technology-based business incubators. Darlene Ryan, the executive director of TechFortWorth, and Hamish Hawthorn, the CEO of Australian Technology Park (ATP) Innovations, are each entrepreneurs themselves. They each spoke on the services and opportunities provided by their incubators to startup businesses. TechFortWorth was established by the City of Ft. Worth whereas ATP Innovations was founded by 4 universities in the city of Sydney, Australia, to help take university research to the commercial sector.

The students also learned from Benjamin Chong, an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist. Benjamin’s company, Right Click Capital, is based in Sydney and funds internet and technology-based businesses. Benjamin stressed the importance of perseverance in starting a business. So many “entrepreneurs” fear sharing their ideas. Benjamin emphasized the need to “iterate” and improve your idea to develop it into a business. Networking and seeking mentors were key points in his talk.

These are only a few examples of the diverse array of presentations throughout this course. Technology Entrepreneurship was successful in educating aspiring entrepreneurs in key competencies so to prepare them for business ownership. The international aspect of the course provided the students with a new perspective on the opportunities afforded to entrepreneurs in the U.S. We plan on offering this course again next summer as a study abroad course to Australia. In the future, this course may also be offered in other countries while retaining the first part of the course at TCU’s campus in Ft. Worth.

Responses from the Post-Course Surveys:

Would you recommend this course to other TCU students? If so, why? If not, why not?

· Yes, this course was an excellent example for business students who want a truly global perspective on the way corporations and other small businesses operate abroad. I loved the city of Sydney and think it was a perfect destination.

· Yeah, I think it was a great course, very diverse and applied to a wide range of people/majors.

· Yes I would. It is a great experience another visit another country and see a different culture. Also you actually learn useful information in this coarse. A lot of information about starting a business and the hardships involved with it

· I would definitely recommend this course to TCU students. It has been a great opportunity to learn and experience a new culture. I think it is incredibly valuable to learn about new cultures and how business is conducted in those cultures.

· I would recommend this course to everyone at TCU. This is a great way to experience Sydney and get a true understanding of the business culture in Australia

· Yes. I would recommend it because there aren’t many opportunities that come along where you get to stay in Australia and get a feel of how their businesses work. Also, the connections made with the entrepreneurs on the site visits were really cool.

· Yes I would because it gives you time to both learn and explore Sydney. I had a great time and met new friends.

· Yes I would recommend this course because it was a great experience and it taught me a lot about business.

Do you plan on starting your own business? If so, what type of business?

· Yes, a small web start-up. I would also like to have my own bakery or coffee shop one day.

· Yes. A woman’s fashion boutique

· Not at this stage but the opportunity may arise later on in my life and I want to have at least some knowledge of what I am getting into

· I hope to start my own recording business one day. I love music and hope to get into the business after the Army

· Yes, I hope to start a Real Estate business

· I do, however I am unsure. I would like to think I would get into an industry that sells a product that everyone will always need (car insurance, steel, etc).

· Yes at some point when I make enough money I plan to start my own business selling things near the beach. It will probably have something to do with the internet.

· Yes I plan to start my own business, but at the moment I do not know what kind of business. My dad does real estate so I may go into that type of business.

Which were your 2 or 3 favorite site visits in Australia? Explain why.

· Benjamin Chong (Right Click Capital)- very fun and interactive presentation. Truly learned a lot.

· Hamish Hawthorn (ATP Innovations), - enjoyed getting to hear from one of the actual participants and his story of starting his business with ATP.

· Larry Platt (Advitech) & Jeremy Pola (Novecom), I really enjoyed the company in Newcastle but mostly because it was laid back and we learned more about the country. I don’t however; think the drive was worth it.

· Mitch Bryson (USYD). I liked this one because it was short and sweet and I was able to understand everything he was talking about and found it interesting.

· Carlos Broens (Broens Industries)-although carlos came off as a bit intimidating it very cool to see his machine shop and the size of those CNC drills.

· Benjamin Chong (Right Click Capital)- he was a really good speaker. He kept you interested the whole time during the presentation andt his information was very useful. Also it was interactive,

· Peter Newnham (Thales Australia)- the atic was a very interesting place to see. I found it interesting that there was a market for computer generated simulations that I did not know existed. Also they worked in a very unique place and it was a very interesting tour.

· My favorites were 89N and Right Click Capital. I thought that they actually enjoyed having us there and made it an interactive environment instead of a presentation.

· -Kevin Garber did a great job at making our meeting very informative yet relaxed and open. He was very knowledgeable of his industry and of many other industries.

· -Benjamin Chong was a wonderful presenter and I really liked how he gave us his complete thoughts on how to correctly start a business that will be successful. For being so young he has a great understanding of how things work. Benjamin was by far my favorite speaker due to his knowledge and how he ran our meeting.

· I really enjoyed 89N, Right Click Capital, and ATP Innovations. At these site visits I felt the information was very useful for the field of work that I want to get into after I graduate. They kept me interested the whole time and did a very good job and presenting their information to the class. The Novecom site visit was really fun as well. The technical stuff was a little over my head at some points, but I really enjoyed meeting with Larry Platt and Jeremy Pola.

· My two favorite site visits were Kevin Garber and Benjamin Chong. Both of these men keep it short and sweet and spoke in a language we understood. They kept it interesting and I like how Mr. Chong kept it interactive and fun. They gave good advice and actually seeded like they cared about the students.

· I liked Benjamin Chong because he was interactive and to me he gave me the best advice. He was very interesting and seemed personal to our group.

· Mitch Bryson (USYD). I liked our last one because even though it did not really go into the business side of robotics, it was very interesting and cool to see all the robots that they made and how they are using them in field testing.

Who were your favorite 2 or 3 speakers in Ft. Worth? Explain why.

· Sophie and Ezra Purdy (Axxis Building Systems), - very approachable and easy to talk to. They were very open and honest about the good and bad of starting their own company, and it was easy to see myself in their own shoes.

· Brad Hancock (Neeley Entrepreneurship Center),- I really enjoyed his presentation and how passionate he was about entrepreneurship. I like that he is someone at TCU I would be able to speak with again.

· Chris Belk (Belk Framing & Construction), I found him the most interesting and easy to listen to. The time went by quickly

· Josh Wilken (Corning), I found it interesting in what the company is doing now but also the future plans. I also liked hearing about the way corning is run, the different departments within corning and the way they handle firing people or a project failing. I liked that they don’t fire just because your project failed.

· Michael Sherrod (Neeley Entrepreneurship Center)- a very interesting speaker. HE had a lot of knowledge and experience with starting a new company. It was also good to see how he thought and how he was always trying to innovate and improve the product he already had ,

· Josh Wilken (Corning)- I found the company of coring very interesting and how they viewed their R & D was very cool. ,

· Chris Belk (Belk Framing & Construction),

· Sophie and Ezra Purdy (Axxis Building Systems),

· -Josh Wilken did a great job of showing us what exactly Corning does and how innovative the company is. Also, he explained the importance of constantly changing yourself and keeping with the times. This allows for a company, such as Corning, to exist for a very long time with such a specific product.

· -Brad Hancock was probably my favorite speaker in Fort Worth. He was very informative and did a great job of teaching us the Entrepreneurial part of this course. In addition, you could tell that he really cared about the course and the fact that we all signed up to take it over the summer to continue our learning experience.

· I really enjoyed Michael Sherrod, Chris Belk, Josh Wilken, Darlene Ryan, Sophie and Ezra Purdy, and Brand Hancock. That’s more than three, but I didn’t want to have to pick a favorite because I really enjoyed all of them. Michael Sherrod was probably the one I most enjoyed. I think this is because of his entrepreneur background and all of the businesses he started up. The other speakers were very laid back and made the information useful for me. Even the Purdy’s, who are involved in a very technical business made their information very useful.

· My first favorite speaker was Josh Wilken. He had interesting and easy advice while keeping us interested and making it fun. He taught me a lot. My second was Brad Hancock. He gave us reading material and showed us anyone can be an entrepreneur. He seemed like he really wanted us to learn and was a nice person.

· I really enjoyed Josh Wilkens talk about Corning. I have seen his company before on YouTube and it was really great to hear him speak about his company and how they started up and to become the leader in gorilla glass.

· I enjoyed listening to Bard Hancock because I have heard him speak before and he is a very good public speaker. He gives very good advice that I will use later on in life when starting a business. He seemed very passionate about business and it seemed like a personal talk.



[1] See “Responses from the Post-course Survey” appended at the end of this report.

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