I thank Professor Madsen-Brooks for her thoughtful post on the new Venture College at Boise State.

Venture College is an attempt to design a new program that we believe speaks to some needs of a small portion of our student body.  As such, we are releasing a pilot program to see if we can meet some of those needs. No program leaps forth fully formed, without error, perfectly conceived. By clearly designating the program as a pilot we are trying to be transparent in our efforts. We are also trying to be careful with resources, making a relatively small investment while we test out the program.

The concept of Minimum Viable Product is a process to bring forth new products, not a product in and of itself. I endorse the theory of Minimum Viable Product as a process for launching a business and expect to ground Venture College in it. Eric Ries’ work, The Lean Startup has popularized the concept within the entrepreneurial community. First promulgated by Steve Blank of Stanford based upon his research and experience, it provides guidance to efficiently starting a new business. My personal experience is that many entrepreneurs spend a great deal of time and money trying to perfect their notion of the perfect product without seeking customer reaction early and frequently in the product development process.Previously, Leslie Madsen-Brooks asks, “What, then, constitutes a university’s minimum viable product?”

Early in my entrepreneurial career I made this mistake myself. My partners and I designed and released a complicated software system to account for estates and trusts, only to learn the market had no interest. The market did have an interest in the underlying accounting system. If we had put out the minimum viable version of the product early in the development cycle, we would have learned this valuable information much sooner and saved a lot of development and marketing dollars.

Venture College is a co-curricular, non-credit program and not part of the academic offerings of the university. However, our students must be enrolled and making progress in a degree program to be eligible to participate in Venture College. Those of us involved in creating the program believe a strong education is an important component to a successful career as an entrepreneur.

We know there are students who are dropping out of our university to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. We believe for most this will prove to be a mistake; that it is important that students complete their education. Venture College is a statement that a student can do both—pursue an education and make progress toward launching a business.

When we say the program will be “self-paced” and “on-demand” we do not mean on-line, although there will certainly be on-line components to the program. What we mean is we will work closely and personally with each participant to design a flexible sequence of investigation, experimentation and deliberation to learn whether his or her business concept is viable. Each will bring a different background to the program. For instance, a business student with no engineering experience will need a different set of learning experiences than an engineering student with no business experience.

The program takes advantage of a unique Boise State asset, the proximity to and interest of the business community. More than 200 local business people have offered their support and offered to deliver some of the content of the program. From this group, students will develop their own personal networks of supporters who can provide advice, introductions and possibly start-up capital.

We appreciate Professor Madsen-Brooks suggesting one of her students consider the program. We recognize that most of our students will be naïve about their intellectual property rights. Our task will be to provide them with the skills to be able to evaluate financial offers that may very well come their way. After all, they say they want to be entrepreneurs. If so, then they will face the realities of the Darwinian marketplace every day. Perhaps we can better equip them to do so.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.

  • Thanks for this thoughtful response, Kevin. I’m curious about this statement: “We know there are students who are dropping out of our university to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.” I haven’t run across any students who have told me they’re taking that path, though I’ve only been here three years. Is there data on such students, or do we only learn about them when they return to Boise State years later to finish their degrees?