Incredibly jet lagged, just landed in LA for some long awaited R&R (and reunion with my two small ones and parents) after a long trip to Germany to teach a venture creation course to masters students in the Computer Science Engineering and Economics program at the Technische Universitat Darmstadt.
I started the trip at DLD women, a great DLD experience, as usual, but this time even better somehow, with the many many women all around (have never been to a conference with professional content and such a feminine vibe)! (next general DLD city event in Tel Aviv October 21-15should be fun! and Zellots will be working the event again like last year).Was great catching up with old friends (even one from LA) and meeting new, seeing Hanan and Shamim, by now DLD regulars and seeing Shamim WOW! the audience yet again with a great talkon pushing boundaries in writing. From there spent a relaxing weekend with a good friend in Erlangen, where Oren and I lived many many years ago in what seems like a previous lifetime.
Then on to Darmstadt, Germany.
Had gotten venture proposals from all 50! students enrolled for the course. Venture proposals ranging from topics like an emission reading app to an interface for cloud storage. Some more developed than others, some more creative than others…I admit I was daunted a bit by the sheer number of students, (thankfully had help from Shimrit Shiran preparing the materials and reading and organizing the proposals), but still somehow managed to maintain denial mode until the very minute I met them Monday at 9am.
A great group of students, the combination of computer science and German, requiring quite a cultural adaptation to the usual suspects I teach at the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at IDC Herzliya. Very polite and attentive, very engaged but deferential, always on time and mostly insanely concerned about their grades. They tend to be a bit younger than the undergrads at IDC Herzliya (allowing for Israeli students’ army service ups the average age) and unlike their Israeli counterparts, most have no work experience at all. German students apparently spend all of their time studying and have no time for work. The studies are very demanding and it seems a cultural consensus that when you study you don’t work.
The course was very intensive, but did not seem to phase them in the least bit. Literally tireless! Every day 9-5:30 pm, a combination of case study, lectures and interactive work on ventures (from team formation, idea exploration, eco-system research, customer discovery, concept testing via minimum viable product and getting together an executive summary and final presentation). For anyone that has gone through the summer induction program (SIP) of Zell, this would have been one week of that without any chance to get into the program at the end. So why do it?
Again, grades were certainly a motivational factor! Team formation was especially incredible. After hashing out ideas between each other, they formed teams in the most seamless civilized manner I could have ever imagined. I had been fearful there would be no way to manage the amount of groups that would come out of fifty ideas, but I said ten teams of five and in the end, thats basically what came to be. I had offered anyone interested in pursuing their idea in the course to present it, but very few agreed. I then realized they were shy (also something I had not run into among Israelis) and less than eager to put themselves out there.
Even if most are not entrepreneurs, nevertheless certainly met some students with that spark in their eyes. Some will pursue an entrepreneurial path and some will take that spark and hopefully employ it in the businesses they work for. But I also sensed a real drive to learn about entrepreneurship. Although for the overriding majority of them that will not be a relevant option in any way shape or form. The alternative employment options in Germany in this economy are plentiful and offer job security, significant compensation, career trajectory etc. Its almost absurd to think of throwing that away to be unemployed, financially dependent on your parents or your savings, taking an idea that will likely fail, testing it out relentlessly, putting yourself out there, getting rejected endlessly, working 24/7/365 (mind you a German employee works sane hours and has six weeks paid vacation a year!)…well I think the point is clear…
Opportunity cost for entrepreneurship for young Germans very HIGH!
I think everyone got something out of the experience. Not only that getting a business off the ground whether Internet based or not, is much harder than it looks, but from speaking to them in breaks and after the course and in class discussions, I think it really opened their eyes to the possibilities, to the creativity needed, the gumption, the need to get out of the building and to continually search and learn.
On a personal level there were many take homes for me about venture creation, about teaching it and about myself. It was a great experience and I am looking forward to teaching again at TUD in February (despite the weather!). After I get over the ego-trip of having every single thing I say executed without question (a situation that never would happen with my Israel students), I will sort through the experience and try to apply it going forward. Coming up next SIP 2012!