Steve Blank at school – lessons from an auxiliary


This article has already been published in Poets and Quants

I have been an adjunct professor for almost two decades. Here is what I learned.


Colleges and universities that offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to teach courses on innovation and entrepreneurship can benefit from a more formal integration process.

The goal would be six times:

  1. Integrate assistants as partners in their entrepreneurship centers
  2. Create repeatable and scalable processes for the integration of deputies
  3. To present additional elements to the extent and depth of university research in the field
  4. Exposing teachers to current industry practices
  5. Create a literature feed on translational entrepreneurship for practitioners (founders and VCs)
  6. Create fruitful and mutually beneficial relationships between traditional research professors and adjunct professors.

As an associate and lecturer at several universities, I have seen the often-missed opportunity to create connections between faculty research and practitioner experience. Business centers have recognized the benefits of both, but a more thoughtful effort to strengthen the relationship between research and practice – and faculty and teaching assistants – can help improve classrooms, strengthen linkages between research and practice and strengthen the Center's knowledge base. and improve the reputation of the Center and its program. (See here for what it would look like.)

An auxiliary is a part-time employee who is not the subject of a warrant. In most schools, innovation and entrepreneurship programs involve experienced business professionals, lecturers or adjunct professors, to teach some or all of their courses. In research universities offering entrepreneurship programs, auxiliaries are usually founders, VCs or business leaders. Full professors occupy full positions in research on innovation and entrepreneurship, while auxiliaries teach the "practice" of entrepreneurship.

It's a journey
I have been an assistant for almost 18 years and I still remember the integration process at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. I started as a guest speaker, essentially a walk-in entertainment, where the minimal input proved that I could form complete sentences and tell engaging stories from my eight startups illustrating key lessons in entrepreneurship.

Feeling that I had passed a test (which I learned later, it was really a test), I then got the co-teacher diploma with Jerry Engel, director founding executive of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship in Haas. Here, I had to master the program of someone else, hold the attention of the class and pass on the maximum of knowledge with the least possible damage to the students. Although I do not realize it, I passed another test.

I knew I wanted to write a book about a radically new entrepreneurial idea, called Customer Development (which will later be the basis of the Lean Startup movement). Simultaneously, Jerry needed an entrepreneurial marketing course and had suggested that if I created my class for the first time, a book would emerge. He was right. The four stages of epiphany, the book that launched the Lean Startup movement, was based on the course material of my first class. I do not know who was most surprised – Jerry learned that an assistant wanted to create a course or myself on hearing Jerry say, "Sure, go for it. We will have it approved. "

And here is where the story becomes interesting. John Freeman, the faculty director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship in Haas, started guiding me just as I started teaching in my class. While I was waiting for John to go on to monitor how and what I taught, I was pleasantly surprised when he suggested taking coffee once a week. Every week, during the semester, John kindly pointed to read specific articles from academic literature dealing with discovering clients in the business and related topics. In return, I shared with him my impressions of whether the theory corresponded to practice and what theory was missing. And that's where the story lies.

I became much smarter by discovering a whole world of papers and people who had thought long and hard about innovation and entrepreneurship. Although no one knows exactly what startups I was exploring, the breadth and depth of what I did not know was staggering. More importantly, my book, customer development and Lean methodology have been greatly influenced by all the research that preceded me. With hindsight, I consider it a work of art translational entrepreneurship. Eighteen years later, I am still reading new articles and coming up with new ideas that allow me to refine ideas in the classroom and outside.

The relationship between faculty, staff and assistants
What I accidentally found by chance at U.C. Berkeley was a rare event. The director of the entrepreneurship center and the research director of the faculty worked as a team to create a department that explored both research and practice. Together, in just a few years, they used the guest speaker to co-teach the teaching methodology to create a professional faculty comprised of over a dozen instructors.

Some lessons from this experience:
A successful adjunct program begins with the mindset of the faculty research director and the team development skills of the center director. They recognize that the role of assistants is to teach students practical lessons and for teachers to be aware of best practices in the real world, the relationship will flourish.

However, in some schools this faculty-auxiliary relationship can become problematic. Professors may consider that the role of the auxiliaries in their department is to remove the "teaching" burden of the research faculty so that the faculty can continue to rely on corporate research, publication and research. doctoral council. In this case, business center helpers are seen as a replaceable source of low-cost educational assets (somewhere above teaching assistants and doctoral students). The result is a huge missed opportunity for a collaborative relationship, a ranking of the department.

When the faculty director of research provides support, the director of the entrepreneurship center can create a stronger program that strengthens the reputation of the faculty, program and school.

At UC This Berkeley support eventually led the whole school to change its policy for the auxiliaries by formally recognizing them – designating them as "professional teachers", creating a shared suite of offices, inviting auxiliaries to participate in certain faculty meetings, etc.

A side effect of this type of collaboration is that the teacher-auxiliary relationship offers the school the opportunity to co-create translational entrepreneurship.

Translational entrepreneurship is a term of choice for linking entrepreneurial research to entrepreneurs' work. As a process, Assistants read a scientific article, understand it, see if and how it can be relevant to practitioners (founders, company executives, company executives or employees) and then share it with a wide audience.

Although Jerry and John developed an excellent process, they did not document it. When John Freeman died and Jerry Engel retired, the process of integration followed. Linked here is my attempt to capture some of these best practices in an "Add-On Integration Manual" for the use of managers of contractor centers and their deputies.

It's worth it.

Lessons learned

A small investment in the implementation of reproducible and evolutive processes for the integration of complementary aids:

  • Enable entrepreneurship centers to integrate auxiliaries as partners
  • To present additional elements to the extent and depth of university research in the field
  • Potentially create a flow of translational entrepreneurship literature for practitioners (founders and VCs)
  • The result would be:
    • Better courses run by auxiliaries
    • Deeper links between research and practice
    • Better and more relevant university research
    • Strengthening the reputation of the center and its program
  • See here for a proposed integration guide
    • Comments, suggestions and welcome additions

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