As the fall semester ended, I took some time to reflect back on the Fellowship Seminar that took place on Mondays over the lunch hour. The seminar is for students in the Wisconsin Fellowship in Enterprise Development and is structured as an applied discussion focusing on using business and entrepreneurship frameworks to discuss early-stage startup ideas.
Each week one of the fellows prepares a five-minute video pitch providing a brief overview of their business idea. Then they facilitate a discussion in class on how to improve their pitch and startup proposal. Dan Olszewski, Director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, moderates the discussion and gives special attention to target customer segment and value proposition of the product or service. Students evaluate the pitch and provide feedback on: the attractiveness of the target customer segment and value proposition, what experiments could be run to test key assumptions, and general thoughts on the business idea.
While the business ideas pitched represented diverse industries, several pitches involved knowledge work, two-sided marketplaces that connect producers with consumers, or products for families with young children. The common themes represented different life-stages and societal trends that are impacting our fellows. Throughout the semester, there was also a tendency to use Lean Startup Methodology to identify low-cost minimum viable products that can be tested and refined in market. It was helpful to hear everyone’s ideas for low-cost experiments we could use to test our assumptions and refine the product or customer segment.
The seminar provided a great opportunity to bring concepts we were learning in other courses to life and allowed us the ability to apply them in early-stage startups. For example, it was clear to see how network effects can play a big role in the success of marketplace products when we were discussing a photography marketplace. The value of this type of marketplace increase as more photographers and families start using the product which enables the business to scale.
Fellows also brought nice perspective to the discussion based on their diverse experiences. The seminar provided valuable experience giving and receiving feedback. I found the process helpful as it made me more comfortable sharing my idea before it was fully developed. The process of talking about and sharing your idea was extremely helpful in refining and making sure you can convey your thoughts into a pitch. On the other side, practice providing constructive feedback was extremely valuable. It has helped me think about building on someone’s idea so that they can deliver better results and stay motivated.
The Wisconsin Fellowship in Enterprise Development is an applied training program for full-time MBA students that integrates foundational business knowledge, award winning academic research, and cutting-edge industry techniques in a rigorous single year program.