Thesis Defense: Enhancing Entrepreneurial Learning

The following slideshare is my master's thesis defense. Even though there's 51 slides, the run time was roughly 12 minutes.

After presenting the mentor system during my thesis defense, I received feedback on two major areas of the system that will help guide its development. The first area is learning for the entrepreneur and the second area is determining the outcome of the mentor system.

One of the challenges of the mentor system is measuring the actual learning that is going on within the mentoring session. For the entrepreneur, the learning occurring during these mentoring sessions is dependent on their stage – idea stage, launch stage, or operating business stage. As part of the design for the mentor system, the system needs a set of metrics for measuring the appropriate skills for each of these stages. Measuring these basic competencies for each stage, while the entrepreneur has progressed from the idea stage to launch stage and finally to an operating business, will determine whether the learning will actually result in an increased business success. In other words, the entrepreneur will be making less mistakes.

As a part of learning from a mentor and having discussions and feedback, the entrepreneur should make less mistakes over time. Being able to know when an entrepreneur changes their mind from going down one road to another can be one indicator of learning. Another indicator is measuring for the conversational themes. If these conversational themes were present within the mentoring conversation, then the precursor for learning is present. However, without measuring entrepreneurial behavior we can not be certain if learning took place. For example, if we look at a classroom full of math students, we can measure how they are learning by testing them against a set of standards. We begin with an entry exam, to see how much they know on the subject. The lesson is taught and a second exam is administered on the same subject. If fewer mistakes were made, it's assumed that learning has occurred during the lesson. I think this same example can be applied to entrepreneurship in the sense that learning is measured over time, not with a single set of questions. A reduction in mistakes can not be measured by a single exam. Obviously, asking entrepreneurs to take a single survey as they are starting their businesses is not the right way to go about measuring learning. Finding the appropriate mechanism for this will take some time and will guide the development of this project over the next few months. I think this feedback will effect the follow-up section of the mentor system by determining the questions that need to be asked.

The second area of thesis committee feedback is determining the outcome of the mentor system. This means that I need to explicitly communicate the value this system delivers to its different audiences – entrepreneurs, mentors, and local mentoring organizations. This ties directly with the value proposition because it will determine the expectations of each audience before they use the mentor system. At the moment, it seems the best course of action is to go directly to the users in order to determine what the mentor system should accomplish. If we look at entrepreneurs, we realize they want a successful business. Non-profit local mentoring organizations want to help more entrepreneurs because they receive federal funding that requires them to help as many entrepreneurs that seek them out. Mentors want to be able to give back and see an eventual impact as a result of their mentoring. The needs and wants of these three different intersect at helping entrepreneurs start and continue to operate sustainable businesses. At this intersect, I believe we can define the outcome for the mentor system.