It’s been a few years since I co-taught web venturing at James Madison University. My good friend was a professor there. I had given a few talks to his classes locally when he taught at Skidmore, and so he invited me down to give the same talk at JMU and eventually co-teach the class (mostly virtually via Skype with a few days spent in Virginia). Unfortunately the following semester I had to bail for personal reasons, and then subsequent semesters we could never quite sync up. The distance was partially responsible – Skype just isn’t the same as being there. I was also plenty responsible, with life, marriage, home buying, business, etc always seeming to get in the way. I had hoped/planned to eventually get involved with one of our local schools but hadn’t ever taken action.
Thankfully, Prof. Wales accepted a job at the SUNY Albany business school and is now teaching 15 minutes from my house! He invited me to be a part of his social entrepreneurship class. The goal of the class is for students to create a business that sells a product, with all profits being donated to a local charity that they partner with. The idea being to teach them about double bottom line business, where success is measured both by profits and social impact (think TOMS shoes).
The past two Tuesday evenings I’ve worked with the groups to refine their ideas. In two weeks they’ve gone from rough concepts to the point where they’re ready to accept orders. In the web venturing class we always struggled with the best and simplest way for them to set up a professional website. The goal of the class is to build a business, so the website shouldn’t take up much time. This semester Prof. Wales is trying out Square, which is a really interesting option. For one, it doesn’t cost anything. Two, students get a free card reader that they can use to accept payments in person, as is often the case with these businesses where you’re selling things around campus. Third, it allows them to set up a (very basic) e-commerce store for free. It’s not nearly as fancy as Shopify, but that’s kind of the point. Most of the selling is going to happen in person, through a referral, or via Facebook. I thought it’s a pretty interesting concept, something that anyone could apply to rapidly prototyping a business with a product.
The best part is that I get to go back at the end of the semester and see their final presentations. It’s impressive how motivated the students are. I love having the opportunity to connect with the kids. As I get farther and farther away from being a student, it becomes more and more valuable to spend time with them and understand what makes their generation tick (I think at age 33 I can safely say I’m not in their generation anymore!)