Enhancing Entrepreneurial Learning (Thesis Summary, Draft 2)

Enhancing Entrepreneurial Learning: Modeling Mentoring to Design New Means of Entrepreneurial Learning

There are two problems being addressed by this thesis, the first is the problem of access to mentors and the second is the problem of communication between mentor and entrepreneur. Both problems were discovered in the process of learning about the challenges information technology startups face. Tackling these two problems is one way to reduce the seventy percent of startups that scale prematurely, which is shown to be a major cause of the ninety percent failure rate of startups. Essentially, tackling access and communication are two steps towards enhancing entrepreneurial learning and experience transfer between novice and experienced entrepreneurs in the context of a mentor interaction.

The first take-away from my interviews is that entrepreneurs operating in this area of business, information technology startups, are concerned about three major topics: mentoring, funding, and traction. An added layer of complexity is that funding is usually, but not always, needed to provide runway for the startup to get off the ground. To get funding, traction is usually needed. Funding can be broken down into early stage and late stage. Early stage funding goes towards figuring out a repeatable business model and a product-market fit. Late stage funding is focused on execution and further refinement on the already discovered repeatable business model. Furthermore, mentors are perceived as a form of traction because they believe in the company's idea, product, team, and lend their credibility. Essentially, this means that if funding is needed, mentors may prove to be a first point of traction, thus aiding the startup to get off the ground. From literature, I learned the story is more complex than simply going after mentors to attract funding. With mentoring comes many pedagogical supports for the startup and entrepreneur.

The problem of access to mentors has four underlying problems that gives rise to the lack of access to mentors. First is the geographic separation between entrepreneurs and mentors. The second is that experienced entrepreneurs don't always self-identify as mentors even though they have experience to strategize with novice entrepreneurs. The third underlying problem are busy-schedules. The fourth hurdle is the need for serendipity, and this is where trust and the nature of human relationships plays factor.

The problem of communication between mentor and entrepreneur is a problem that emerges once the novice entrepreneur has access to the experienced entrepreneur. There are two problems I've become aware of that act as barriers, preventing knowledge and experience from effectively transferring from experienced to novice entrepreneur. The first is a stigma with taking notes. The second is a high-low level disconnect; essentially, there's a disconnect between the strategies discussed in conversation and the actionable steps taken afterward.
The interactions that are being designed and prototyped are framed by these two problems: access and communication. The designs that address the problem of access use the four underlying issues as design constraints for each prototype. The designs for communication follow the same rule, use the identified underlying issues as design constraints. Since both problems have a great deal of overlap, all six constraints are considered when designing each prototype.

The designs being prototyped include: beer coasters, name tags, napkins, a worksheet, a website, and a smart phone app. The two identified physical environments to implement these prototypes include face-to-face networking events and one-on-one interactions between novice and experienced entrepreneurs.

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