My Visit to James Madison University

James Madison University Logo

After a couple of awesome presentations at Skidmore College, I was a bit bummed to hear that Professor Wales, my good friend and teacher of the class, had accepted a position at James Madison University in Virginia.  I had enjoyed going in to speak both semesters and thought that the two of us had a ton of future potential working together to grow young entrepreneurship in upstate New York.  Of course, I also understood that it was a great career move for him and that it didn’t signify the end of our potential collaboration.  JMU is a great school and he has a ton of great resources at his disposal. He originally asked if he could video Skype me in to guest lecture, but after some thought I decided that if I was going to do it I’d rather do it in person.  My girlfriend and I decided to turn the trip into a long weekend in Washington, DC.

This past Friday morning I gave guest lectures to both of Professor Wales’ Entrepreneurship classes.  Each talk lasted for 50 minutes and had about 25 students in attendance. He’s done a great job of improving the class each iteration.  This semester student groups are required to start a business that turns a profit of $200 by the end of the semester.  Extra points are awarded for eco-friendly projects.  You can read about all of the projects over on Prof. Wales’ blog.

As has been the case in the past, the Q&A portion of the lecture has been the best part.  I tried to tighten up my actual presentation, but next time I think I’ll shorten it a bit more.  20 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes of Q&A would probably work best.  This time it was closer to 30/20 the other way.  My goal for the presentation itself is to tell enough of my story to get them interested enough in asking me questions.  Rather than guess what they want to know, I’d rather answer it directly.

I like to do a sort of “guided” Q&A – my last slide has about 20 topics related to young entrepreneurship that they can ask me about.  It works well because it lets them know that I’m willing to answer just about anything.  The slide is below.  I’ve revised it each time based upon questions from the previous group.

Discussion Topics Slide

Once we get rolling on the Q&A I generally tend to get questions about anything and everything, which is when I think both sides really are enjoying it the most.  I think it’s a great presentation strategy.  I sort of stumbled upon it because originally there were too many topics and I couldn’t decide what to cover and what not to.  Now that I’ve used it a few times I’m going to work it in to every presentation I do from here on out.

I was just so impressed with everything at JMU.  They were nice enough to pay for my hotel and dinner, although it was completely unnecessary.  The faculty that I met were just genuinely nice people.  I can see why Bill took the job. The town was a great college town.  And of course, the students were fantastic.  For being early on Friday morning, I was surprised how attentive they were and genuinely interested in what I had to say.  It’s hard to get up in front of a room of people you’ve never met before.  Seeing people really listening to what I was saying eased my nerves a ton. A handful of students even came up after class to discuss various things with me, which makes me feel like I didn’t totally bore them.  Everyone at JMU made me feel right at home.

Every time I get back from doing these types of things I’m all fired up. There are so many young passionate students out there that can start great businesses and change the world.  Not just in Silicon Valley, but at all the great institutions around the country (and the world for that matter).  In a lot of cases, I feel like they just need someone like Prof. Wales to come along and show them how to get started.  By taking a class like this they’re able to get a real taste of entrepreneurship and decide if it’s for them.  I wish every talented student had the same chance.   Hopefully as time goes on, that’s something I can help facilitate.

Thanks to everyone at JMU for the awesome experience.  I look forward to coming back soon!

13 comments on My Visit to James Madison University

  1. Michael says:

    That’s good to hear that you are having a great time presenting. I am trying to start a business because of you and Nev, and would have loved to hear your talk. Do you think you cold make a set of posts on the topics you have on the discussion board. I think that would really awesome.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Wow Michael that’s awesome. Funny you mention that. I was planning at some point to do a set of “essays” on topics like that – things that are important to starting a business but no one ever really talks about. I’ll bump it up a bit on my priority list 🙂

      On a side note, I want to video tape these talks and post them on the blog (and also use them to critique myself), but the biggest hurdle is that I share confidential information like revenue numbers that I don’t want getting out online. I’m not sure if I hacked it up and took that stuff out if it would be worthwhile…so I always decide not to bother.

    • Neville says:

      I agree, I’d love to hear you elaborate on some of these topics (well, whatever you can comfortably do online). I think you’re already working on the “Teaching Yourself Programming” part…I’ll be paying special attention to that one!

      • Adam McFarland says:

        Yup. Just spent about two hours working on the programming post. I’m excited about it. It’ll probably be the first “essay” that I routinely update as time goes on.

  2. TIm says:

    Glad to hear everything went smoothly, sounds like it was a good experience for all of those involved, that’s good business.

  3. Dave says:

    Very cool, sounds like the students had a great opportunity, as did you!

    You should have shot me an e-mail, I live about 30 min outside of DC. Next time you’re in town, let me know.

  4. […] I guest lectured at James Madison a few weeks back I was asked a couple of questions from students interested in learning how to […]

  5. […] I give credit to Junior Achievement. They have a high school entrepreneurship program that schools can participate in. I give credit to teachers like Professor Wales who has his students start a business as a part of his college entrepreneurship class. […]

  6. […] big rush. I’m taking some time off this week and next week to head back to James Madison to give another talk, and also to visit some friends and family down South. Therefore, my deadline to get everything […]

  7. […] at James Madison University where I gave my “Entrepreneurship as a Career Choice” talk. Previously I had just spoken to individual classes of say 15 – 30 people. This time Prof. Wales and the […]

  8. Hey Adam. I stumbled upon this blog just surfing the web. I am a JMU alumnus (’08) and have started my own business with my brother, who is also a JMU alum (’06).

    Neither of us took the entrepreneurship courses at JMU but were able to learn most of what we know from growing up in a family of entrepreneurs. I can safely say that listening to people like you come and present to students is one of the most beneficial learning resources we have. Thank you for taking the time to share you experiences. We plan to do the same once we have a few more years of experience.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Hi Ameen –

      Thanks for commenting and for the kind words. Best of luck to you and your brother in your entrepreneurial ventures!


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