When Dr. Felix Arndt was asked to design a new Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship course at the University of Guelph, he decided to create an online course combining theory with real-world, practical experiences. He reasoned that to teach students how to succeed in business, they needed an opportunity to run an actual business.
The result was MGMT2500, the introductory course in the new entrepreneurship minor at the University’s Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics. Not only does the course introduce students to key concepts in entrepreneurship, it also gives them experience in planning, marketing, designing and operating a small online business through a project called the online venture challenge.
Leading up to the online venture challenge were two other projects designed to prepare students for entrepreneurship.
One was a personal business plan in which students described what they wanted to accomplish and how they intended to reach their goal. The other was the two-hour challenge, a unique assignment that had student teams trying to make as much money as possible during a two-hour period — starting with an initial investment of $5 each. After the challenge, students produced a video describing what they did and how much money they made. They also critically reflected on what they learned.
The online venture challenge was the major culminating project of the course. To support the project, Dr. Arndt reached an agreement with the Canadian e-commerce company Shopify, allowing students to use Shopify’s small business shopping platform. Student teams had to provide or source a real product or service to sell, build an online store using Shopify, and market and sell their product for a month. Students also had to arrange to ship the product or provide the actual service and process payment. They could partner with a social enterprise to donate their profits if they wished, but all businesses were required to make money and had to run for one month. At the end of the month, students had to write a report aimed at attracting potential investors.
Benefits and Outcomes
Student teams developed and operated 12 unique businesses for the venture challenge. Their products and services included beeswax soaps, custom pet tags, holiday cookie cutters, and dog walking. One business, Soft As Can Bee, is still operating after the course ended in December 2020.
According to Dr. Arndt, students developed many valuable skills from the project, most notably the ability to launch and ran a small start-up company. Students learned through Shopify or Google Analytics the impact of changes in marketing strategies and website design on sales and traffic. Many students come from families that operate their own businesses, so the practical skills they developed could be applied immediately.
Dr. Arndt says the course benefited his own teaching as well. In subsequent entrepreneurship courses, he will be able to refer back to this course to illustrate real-world examples of the principles and concepts he is teaching. He also says the feedback he received was especially gratifying. Many students said it was the best course they had taken, and they thoroughly enjoyed the practical aspects of the online venture challenge.
Students quoted in a University of Guelph News article cited the importance of learning firsthand about the complexities of starting a new business, the importance of teamwork for success, and the value of social networking to build interest in their products.
Challenges and Enhancements
The challenges Dr. Arndt faced were typical for the first offering of an online course.
There were delays in receiving support from IT and library services at the onset because staff were overloaded with pandemic-related work. However, once these issues were sorted out, the course ran smoothly.
For the next offering of the course, Dr. Arndt will maintain the basic structure and assignments, but will make minor modifications to improve the instructions for the venture challenge, giving more details about process and expectations.
Dr. Arndt says theory-based entrepreneurship programs at other institutions could benefit from offering more practical courses like this one. He says that although there is some theory in entrepreneurship, the field is inherently very practical. He also believes students in other disciplines such as engineering could benefit from the course since professionals in that field often end up running their own businesses.
Dr. Felix Arndt
John F. Wood Chair in Entrepreneurship
Department of Management
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada