Teaching Entrepreneurship To Undergrads

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Guest Post By David Williams – Explorateur Ventures, Ltd – (CEO)

Explorateur Ventures


We are a few weeks away from the autumn 2013 semester at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Lee Business School , which will mark my fifth year of part-time/adjunct teaching Entrepreneurship to undergraduates. In autumn 2012 I also co-taught an Entrepreneurship-related course at the Boyd School of Law  with local attorney Josh Westerman. This year Boyd is re-calibrating its curriculum to include more business/entrepreneurship course offerings. While our course is not offered this academic year, we look forward to further course offerings at Boyd, which could include a prerequisite to our course.

There will be three courses in LBS this autumn:

  • FIN345, Managing New Venture Funding – a finance course which takes a holistic view of finance within a venture, throughout its life cycle; in its fifth year
  • BGES430, International Entrepreneurship – a management course which is part of the Global Entrepreneurship Experience Program; in its third year
  • FIN480, Entrepreneurial Finance – a re-launched finance elective course which will principally focus on valuation and negotiation; first year after a three-year hiatus

While all three present a different perspective on entrepreneurship, they present real-world material integral to entrepreneurship education.

As standard procedure we do not use textbook(s) in these courses (caveat – BGES430 does use a supplemental text written by Professor Robert Hisrich at Thunderbird’s MBA Program). Instead the curricula are curated largely from case studies from top global MBA programs, such as Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg, Darden, Ivey, IMD and others. Ergo, although these courses are indeed undergraduate, they have a “MBA lite” bent and students are pushed to operate at a quasi-graduate level. In addition to these case studies, we have been grateful for a wide variety of guest speakers who have participated in our courses, from the local, national and international business community, from countries as far away as Finland, Japan and China. Their contributions add rich content and bolster the real-world emphasis to which we adhere.

While textbooks per se are avoided, we have used from time to time supplemental readings and books, such as Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness. This semester, we are pleased to include in all three courses Brad Feld’s Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City text, which allows us to continue to stress in the respective last class sessions the importance of building, collaborating and leading the evolution of our startup ecosystem. What good are basic tools taught in the courses if there is no community to support the execution and usage of these tools?

The inclusion of Brad’s book this autumn arrives at an interesting time for us. For the past five years, we have ended the courses with a case study on Austin, Texas and how they methodically created from the 1980s their ecosystem environment to what it is today.

Ironically, I am myself a University of Texas McCombs MBA graduate, and a significant amount of that Harvard Business School case research takes place during my time there in the mid- to late-1990s. A personal interest/experience in the content as well as an important pedagogical message. Comparing Austin with Las Vegas has been fairly intuitive for me; both cities and states had to emerge from dire economic straits, with Texas’ emphasis in oil and gas and real estate, while Las Vegas and Nevada heavily concentrated in gaming and real estate. Due to technological advancements over the past thirty-plus years, I would anticipate that Las Vegas’ ecosystem will evolve at a more accelerated pace than the time it took Austin to develop its unique startup culture.

Coincidentally, this next week will mark the first-ever South by Southwest event outside of Austin, with the SxSW V2V conference held in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan Hotel , as well as related events at community venues such as Startup Weekend at the Switch InNEVation Center, an event at the renovated Gold Spike downtown hosted by Tech Cocktail, and other activities. It is therefore timely for us to move from a single data-point ecosystem reference to what things can be done generally, to more focus on sustained growth of our community. We look forward to leveraging lessons learned and suggestions made from Brad and the Boulder, Colorado community in course group projects.

Attached below are the attendant syllabi for each of the above-mentioned courses; please refer to those for specific course details and curricula.

BGES430 Syllabus 13 1.0

FIN345 autumn 13 syllabus 1.0

FIN480 autumn 13 syllabus 1.0

You may also want to follow our Twitter feed (@socraticstartup) to follow course content and guest-speaker participation as we move through the semester, and a Facebook page of the same name. The FB page is only open to current/former students and guest speakers for course/curriculum reasons; however those interested in our activities certainly may follow our posts and information on that open page.


David C Williams is Adjunct Faculty member at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he teaches Entrepreneurship courses focused on finance, management and law. He is also CEO of Explorateur Ventures, Ltd, an international consultancy that advises startups and growth companies. In addition to being an active member in the #vegastech community in Las Vegas, he has lived, worked and travelled abroad in South America, Europe and Africa. He can be reached via dcw@explorateurventures.com or on Twitter @explorateurven.

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Help Local Startups Launch!

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Launch Up

LaunchUp.org is Barn Raising for Entrepreneurs.™ We facilitate dynamic and energetic monthly events filled with entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, and startup junkies. We work hard to engage and leverage the existing ecosystem of entrepreneurship with our community focus. We provide help, resources, and support for risk takers, doers, and makers of things.

Entrepreneurs + Community + Energy < 90 mins = Awesomeness

LaunchUp #8

We’ll be hosting our 8th Launch Up at the Historic Fifth Street School in Las Vegas on January 9th 2013. The lineup of speakers is spectacular and we’re expecting a large crowd! You should arrive early because the first 300 people who arrive to the event will be given a copy of Brad Feld’s new book “Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City“. Brad will be signing them before and after for anyone who would like to get their copy signed.

The Lineup

Amp Session: Brad Feld

In the Weeds: Jack Porter

Presenting Companies:

Downtown Podcast
Presenter: Dylan Jorgensen, Executive Producer/Host

Downtown Podcast is a weekly video podcast where host Dylan Jorgensen documents a citywide revitalization project unlike any other.  Built on a philosophy of engineered serendipity, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh is betting big that this unique approach to rebuilding the physical structures and cultural glue of a once forgotten downtown Las Vegas will forever change the way we think about cities.

The host Dylan Jorgensen is CTO and Founder of TicketCake.com, the 7th company funded by the VegasTechFund, a branch of the Downtown Project’s $350 million revitalization effort. Dylan brings locals and visitors in each Sunday to explore this exciting city-sized experiment.

Presenter: David Leibner, CEO / Founder

DrinkBoard enables mobile gifting for the hospitality industry. Our platform provides customers and merchants with the opportunity to enjoy and capitalize on one of our oldest societal traditions — gift giving. Our goal is to create a mobile gifting market place made up of the coolest and most distinguished bars, restaurants and hotels. The DrinkBoard platform differentiates itself from mobile payment and mobile couponing by supporting local merchants at the full retail price of their products and services for download soft. One of the biggest drivers of both hospitality business and gifting is special occasions and DrinkBoard is at their convergence, enabling a new type of gift giving and a new opportunity for hospitality merchants. With almost 1 million birthdays a day, over 100 million anniversaries a year, 3 million babies being born and millions of college graduations each year, DrinkBoard gives the world the ability for someone to say “congratulations buddy, this one is on me”.

Our Events:

The format is pretty simple.

Clinics, consisting of:

  • For the hour before the main event at certain LaunchUp, we will have experts (Legal, Fundraising, Tech, Design, etc) available for free advice to entrepreneurs and their startups.

90 Minute Main Event, consisting of:

  • Amp Session. A Successful Entrepreneur will inspire us, motivate us, and probably make us cry.
  • In the Weeds. Dig into a specific startup topic at ground level: Taxes? Legal? Outsourcing? Sales? Marketing? Yep, Yep, Yep, Yep, Yep, and lots more Yep.
  • 3 Startup Companies. 7 min presentation, 7 min Q&A. Community interaction and advice for these companies. See companies like these LaunchUp Alumni.

Barn Raising, consisting of:

  • Free Food. A man’s (and a woman last we checked) gotta eat.
  • Corner Dives. Find one of the presenting startup companies logos on a wall, go to them. Meet them. Offer to help them. Energize them.
  • Networking. Until we get kicked out.

Come to LaunchUp#8. And keep coming. It’ll be the funnest and most energetic night you’ll spend about entrepreneurship.


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Startup Density in Las Vegas

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Recently I posted about VegasTech and the entrepreneurial revolution going on in Las Vegas. Today I saw a great article in Forbes titled Tony Hsieh’s new $350 million startup. Tony, well known as the founder and CEO of Zappos, is putting his time, energy, and money into rebuilding downtown Las Vegas as a tech hub. According to the Forbes story, in addition to relocating Zappos’ headquarters to the old Las Vegas’ City Hall building (along with $60m of renovations), Hsieh, along with some business partners, are investing:

  • $100 million toward the purchase of land and building acquisition
  • $100 million toward residential development including the building of high-rise apartments
  • $50 million toward tech startups with seed investments of $100,000 each
  • $50 million toward local small businesses like bakeries, yoga studios, restaurants, coffee shops and other requisite creative-class amenities
  • $50 million toward education and the building of a school system

I have one word for this – AWESOME.

A Brief History of VegasTech

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Yesterday morning, on my way out of Las Vegas after two days at CES, I had breakfast with Rick Duggan, David Gosse, and Jennifer Gosse. They had reached out to me about getting together to discuss the Las Vegas tech scene and to pick my brains about Boulder, startup communities, TechStars, and anything else that came to mind. We had an awesome two hour breakfast where I learned a ton about what’s going on in Las Vegas and committed to spending the day at /usr/lib (their co-working space) the next time I’m in Las Vegas. 

Following is an overview of what’s happened in the Las Vegas tech community since April 2011. As with all startup communities, this is being led by entrepreneurs. As part of our discussion I reinforced my strongly held view that the leaders of a startup community must be entrepreneurs – all other participants are feeders. Rick, David, Jennifer, and the Las Vegas tech community seem to grok this, which is awesome.

Thanks to Rick DugganDavid Gosse, Jennifer Gosse, Gian Brown, Mike Manzano, Shaun Swanson, and Mark Johnson for contributing to this post.

In April, 2011, 12 people gathered at The Beat Coffeehouse in downtown Las Vegas and attended the first Las Vegas Jelly, a casual co-working session. Designed to bring together the technical / startup / entrepreneurial minds in Las Vegas, it began modestly. Just four short months later, attendance regularly topped 150, including 70 gathered in a room designed to hold maybe 30 to hear local startups practice their pitches. The event continues to grow.

Since that first Jelly, a loosely knit community of DOers have combined and collaborated to bring the following to Las Vegas:

  • Startup Weekend (June and November)
  • Las Vegas Jelly (weekly)
  • Ignite (quarterly)
  • Delivering Happiness Inspire (quarterly)
  • /usr/lib (a tech library / co-working lite space open daily)
  • Ruby Users Group (weekly [yes, it pre-dated VegasTech, but has grown far stronger now])
  • Mobile Monday (monthly)
  • LaunchUp (monthly)
  • LV Night Owls (irregularly scheduled)
  • vegasstartups.com
  • VegasTech.com
  • 2 co-working spaces (one opened January 2012, the other to open in March 2012)

Though a number of individuals are responsible for the community’s success, ask anyone and one name is mentioned as the movement’s instigator: Shavonnah Tiera. Shavonnah attended a Startup Weekend in 2010 and wanted to bring that to her hometown of Las Vegas. Undaunted by the then lack of a tech community, she forged ahead and found people to help, sponsors to sponsor, and a venue. The first Startup Weekend Las Vegas in June was a critical juncture in Vegas tech history. The sold out event proved that great ideas and execution could come from the locals. A tech community existed in Las Vegas, and the people in it had finally found each other.

As these events formed, various organizers discussed how to coordinate efforts and bring things together under a single umbrella. The initial intent was simple: make sure events didn’t overlap and split up the community. Eventually a decision to use the web site VegasTech.com was made (#VegasTech had already been in use as a Twitter hashtag for some time, and there was a lot of momentum behind the name).

The weekly Jelly remains the VegasTech community’s key event. Each week, 25% of attendees are new faces, another 25% attend semi-regularly, and the remaining 50% are diehard regulars. So the community is clearly still growing. And all of this came via a dedicated set of volunteers. Not one of the efforts thus far has been paid — it has all been done in the spirit of giving: from building the VegasTech.com web site, to providing experienced mentors to newly formed startups, to planning and executing a social media strategy.

During this time, some 20 community leaders emerged to drive the various events above, while still more have asked how they can help.

As an external validation of the vibrancy of the community, Las Vegas was chosen as one of the first eight cities worldwide to host a chapter of the Startup Foundation, a Kauffman Foundation initiative.

Unique Characteristics of VegasTech

And now, very much patterned after one view of Boston’s tech community, here’s VegasTech:

  1. We’re giving. Our community started from giving and that will always be an underlying strength.
  2. We work 24/7 like our city. From late hours at /usr/lib to the Night Owls group, there’s something going on late night quite frequently.
  3. We’re very casual and informal. Just as you can go to most of the best restaurants in Las Vegas in fairly casual dress, we embody that by not having a lot of process or structure around our events. Want to come to the Jelly and talk about something? Just do it. Want to put on a new event? Likewise. There’s no master committee to answer to. No person or group dominates the community. We all take care of it together.
  4. We mix business and pleasure as often as possible. Business meeting over your sixth beer at 2:30 in the morning? Sure.
  5. Our entrepreneurs are natural gamblers. We are risk takers. We push the envelope.
  6. We have a sense of humor that makes it all worth it.
  7. We do. Also known as JFDI. We don’t wait around and have a bunch of committee meetings. We aren’t afraid to fail; we’re afraid of not trying.
  8. We’re open to learning from other cities and intentionally bring in the best minds from other places.
  9. We’re very adept at social media; our community wouldn’t have formed without it. We network on it, we share tips on it, and we always tweet with the hashtag #VegasTech so everyone knows what’s going on.
  10. We share and help each other. We support each other’s ideas and companies for the overall benefit of the community. If one wins we all win. If one fails, we share lessons learned. When a new site or app is announced, we ask “How can we help?” and “Can I get a beta invite on TestFlight?”. This applies both within the direct tech community as well as with our supporters. Our downtown venues where we hang out support us as well.

Things we could do better

  • Integrate new leaders into the community.
  • Respond more effectively to offers of help.
  • Give structure to those who prefer structure.
  • Ensure adequate funding for deserving companies.
  • Founder speed dating.
  • CEO job list (but first, more jobs).