Edtech Entrepreneurs Gather At Twin Cities Bootcamp.

Posted on October 18, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations, Twin Cities region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Change the business model, change the school.

Our challenge, which we readily accepted, was to change the college’s business model.

Make no small plans, said famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham.

Make no small changes to our school’s business model, decided we three initiates to the world of higher education administration.

Just Change It.

So, we bent to the task at hand: breaking the mold of an heretofore successful traditional four-year liberal arts college. Our intentions were good. All we wanted to do was make sure the college was fit to compete against the new uber-barbarians invading the collegiate space.

We got only so far down our chosen path before realizing that the future of western civilization rested in our hands.

We muffed it.

The Sponsored Education.

Call ours the corporate sponsorship approach to higher education management. The big idea was to sell not just naming rights but content rights to college courses – and even major areas of study – to the highest bidders. Big companies, we assumed, would jump at the chance to forge untrained students  into tailor-made corporate gladiators.

But how to  attract students to a school with such a Machiavellian bent? Easy. Ignore the students, and pursue the parents instead. Scare Mom and Dad into believing that without a degree from Corporate U, the kids were bound for dismal lives of career mediocrity.

Money does change many things. No more would our college cater to the student seeking a broad-based, liberal arts education. Theater majors, philosophy hounds and English Lit enthusiasts need not apply!

Giving The Boot to Western Civilization.

On that note, we understood how seriously off the rails our little exercise in collegiate reinvention had careened. For our model to succeed, western civilization needs must end.

The ghost of George Orwell was invoked at this point.

An Exercise In Business Redirection.

Fortunately, it was only an exercise – a game of business reinvention, played out in just 20 minutes. No colleges, universities or civilizations destroyed in the process. We, the players, were attendees of the recent Business Models In Education Bootcamp, organized by Educelerate Twin Cities and Education Startup and held in St. Paul. The goal of the exercise was to give us a hands-on feel for the work of strategically redesigning a business or institution. Working in groups of three, we tackled the job with the aid of a worksheet called the Business Model Canvas — a concept ably explained by Teresa Marchek, a Twin Cities business consultant and event co-facilitator.

The idea of the exercise, as boot camp co-facilitator Rajiv Tandon said, was to give us a crash course in leading business and institutional transformation. The bigger the change, the better for purposes of the exercise, Rajiv advised.

Scribbling down our thoughts on Post-It notes which we attached to the worksheet as a record of our journey, we tracked the effects of our ideas across nine different areas of strategic importance to the institution:

  • Customer segments
  • Customer relationships
  • Channels
  • Value Propositions
  • Key Activities
  • Key Resources
  • Key Partners
  • Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams

Getting all those pieces to fit together takes some doing, obviously. Our brief plunge into the process did show us the value of the approach. Using the Business Model Canvas as our guide, we plotted out a rough outline for completely making over  our unnamed liberal arts college. That it would have been the sure ruin of a fine institution renowned for its instruction was beside the point. Working with the Business Model Canvas was the point – and a good one at that.

I’ve been to a few Educelerate Twin Cities events now. This was one of the best, not least because of the classroom-like activity. All Educelerate events are  an open window on the world of edtech entrepreneurship in the Twin Cities. Steve Wellvang, a partner at the Minneapolis law firm Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly, is one of the genial Educelerate organizers.

A recent article in Forbes Magazine hailed the Midwest as the nation’s new breadbasket for business startups. Medical and alternative energy were two sectors labeled attractive to venture capital investors; edtech from Minnesota belongs on the list as well. (See the Forbes article here: Forbes: Midwest Land of Opportunity.)

What’s your experience in edtech or business startups and innovation in general? I’d like to hear from you…

Download the Business Model Canvas here Model from the Business Model Foundry website.

Information on Educelerate Twin Cities is here: Educelerate.

Doug Hovelson, author of this blog post, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. Some might call him a media junkie, in a good way. He’s written and placed thousands of press releases and company stories in almost every media outlet known to humankind. He’s always delighted to talk media relations strategies with people who want to see if they can do more with their media relations efforts. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.


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