Thursday, March 16, 2017

Future Entrepreneurs

Teaching in higher education in Croatia for almost 20 years, I have mostly been in the private sector.  But I am happy when learners reach out to create value no matter where they come from in our Entrepreneurship Ecosystem.  I have had wonderful collaborations with a team of students from the public univeristy, in particular those from Ekonomska Klinika.  This young team develops their own managerial skill sets by focusing on projects that will help others like the Future Entrepreneurs project.

On Saturday, March 11th they launched another version of their annual program called Future Entrepreneurs.  This is a free workshop series for high school students to explore creating their own career and designing their own future through a series of Saturday morning adventures.  I was thrilled to be able to kick-off the 2017 edition with my dear friend and former teaching assistant, Anita Flajšlik, who has emerged in her own right as a wonderful leader in the entrepreneurial space in Croatia.  She joined Agrivi almost 3 years ago and is an executive with game changing enterprise who is revolutionizing how farmers in 150 countries around the world manage their crops.

Together with the keen team from Ekonomska Klinika we were in entrusted with inspiring the capacity crowd of teenagers from over 15 different high schools and 1 elementary school to start their investigation. Anita began with sharing her story and how her entrepreneurial path evolved from a community and events organizer to a teaching assitant, international project manager to her current role in Agrivi.  She held nothing back as the students could relate to her transformation from student to leader in rapid rise.  When so many young people struggle with finding their own job these days, especially with unemployment of young people in Croatia estimated at 30%, Anita was a ray of hope.  And hope, is what they need.  To be able to see their own potential as she has and apply to something of global importance, in a place just a few towns over from your childhood home, is really helping bridge the world of what they want to be and where they are right now.

My take was to help them start as authentically as possible. Surveying what they love and what they are good at as so many of the top entrepreneurs today built upon some inspiration they had as a teen themselves.  In the end, I tried to motivate them to take this opportunity to find out what they are starting with and fill in a story that has yet to be written.  I asked them to not only generate ideas in the workshop part of our time together but also to start creating new habits that every entrepreneur has that increases possibilities just by being prepared for opportunities coming their way.

Key Takeaways I offered:

1. Maximize the moments that others find to relax.  Turn your next coffee time into idea time...instead of complaining about life, devise solutions to problems you see around you.

2. Visit events that put you in direct contact with other entrepreneurs.  These could be start up events but they can occur just as well in your neighborhood with local business owners, the libraries next guest speaker and ofcourse the marketplace where people are hustling to share the story of their products and services.

3.Discover more about entrepreneurs you hear about.  Don't just find stories for entertainment but follow the lead of a headline to learn more about how real entrepreneurs got their start, came up with  their idea, failed and succeeded, learned and grew. In particular, I mentioned Joe Barratt of Teenage Market.

4. See opportunities in all directions.  Pull from ideas of the past, present and anticipate trends of the future in any sector or industry that is of interest and related to things you love and issues you care about.

5. Inspire or be inspired.  If you are not producing your own dreams right now maybe you want to spend time consuming dreams of others.  TED - Technology. Entertainment. Design talks from all over the world are curated and available to expand and spread ideas so choose yours at

6. Deal with pressure in a manner that makes you better than you were before like a coal to diamond.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Embracing Creativity and Lifelong Learning

If you take a look at top skills needed for 2020 (Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum 2016) you will see Creativity has moved up in importance.  In contrast, my kids who are both very creative get support at home for this skill but support diminishes as they move from year to year "advancing" through formal education.  Additionally, teaching at different levels along the lifelong learning spectrum, I see there is a dire need to exercise Creativity fitness and I am currently working on developing a series of brain workouts with Impact Hub Zagreb which we hope to launch soon.  In the meantime, I dedicate this post to the current generation of curious entrepreneurs in Founder Institute Croatia.  I had the pleasure of doing a workshop on Vision and Ideas on January 25, 2017 and as a follow up some of them (shout out to Pavel) I am providing some free online resources for those of any age to embrace and exercise for more personal and professional creative expression:

#1----Try out your word association skills at and I challenge you to keep the exchange until you reach 200 words.

#2----Go to and walk step by step through doodling your own adventures.

#3----Think differently about what you want to create by checking out  You simply select from a dropdown the function you want your product to have and the state you want to operate in and if this does not make sense to you even better.  The results will be that more surprising and inspiring.

#4----Change your thinking requires you to vary the words in your vocabularly.  You may visit a dictionary or thesaurus during your weekly activities (if not, make it a habit) but how about trying out a visual dictionary to not only expand your words but also your vision...

#5---Embrace the art of notetaking.  I use mind mapping (Tony Buzan) and concept mapping (Joseph Novak) but I suggest you buy a set of colored pencils/markers/pens and invest in a great notebook (I like spiral bound) and start taking notes wherever and whenever.  Take them while waiting for a friend at a coffee bar, while listening to colleagues at work, while watching your next youtube video. Date and sign all your notes.  Experiment with different styles and you will retain and recall more information than ever in a style that becomes younique (unique to you).  Resources just for notetaking;;;;;

Enjoy! And if you have feedback to share or links to more cool tools and tips put them in the comments below.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Making of an Idea Journal (2016 edition)

On this site you can view links to many of the different iterations of the Idea Journal assignment we regularly assign to students in the ZSEM Entrepreneurship course.  This year I think it is especially important to emphasize technique so we have reduced the number of entries which through the years have been in the range between 8 and 10 to this year's which is only 5 plus an introduction.

While I believe blogger is very easy to use as I have maintained this blog since 2010, I have to remain open to students choosing different online mediums to present their work.  One student in particular asked if he could do his blog using Tumblr and I not only agreed to but took it as a challenge to create one using that medium as well.  The point of the excericse as described to students is two-fold:

Students will have several exercises to demonstrate the process of coming up with ideas based on self-knowledge, market knowledge, problem/solution identification plus application of creative techniques,

The ideas generated through the individual student idea journals then become part of a database of ideas that teams of students can further pursue to research and develop into business plans for the remainder of the semester.

 The Steps to achieving their own idea journals this year include:

Setting up their own blog on blogger, tumblr or another free and publicly available medium
(my user name is ideaplaymaker and then the blog site is

and then adding original content they create to address the 5 idea generation challenges including:

#1 Entrepreneur Profile and Sustainable Development Goals which draws on work completed for the course by the student and by their peers to narrow down ideas that are inspired by the worlds most pressing issues according to the UN.

(image plus 3 paragraphs and 3 business ideas, see links for full entry)
#2 Mindmap Passions, Purpose and Gifts to generate ideas about your self

(image of your hand drawn mind map, plus written reflections on how this information could be channelled into different entrepreneurship endeavors)

 #3 Storyboard Business Ideas with Character 

(Selecting a character, six scenes they are in and what business ideas those scenes could represent. This one is straight forward as I did everything on a powerpoint slide and then converted it to an image and posted it with the type written list of 6 business ideas)

#4 I wish this was - ideas based on a location

(images of the space you have in mind, descriptions of its location and surroundings possibly link to its region on a map plus 3 business ideas of what it could be to you. Alternatively, students can post 3 images of 3 different locations and provide one business idea for each location. So 3x1 or 1x3 - either way generates 3 business ideas)

#5 Forced Relationships for Deconstruction/Reinvention

 (try this exercise with multiple word sets to come up with a minimum 9 new business ideas as illustrated in the image example)

From this example, over 26 ideas were generated.  Students will select some of their best and worst ideas to submit into an idea bank for the semester and then we will work on developing some of those ideas into full business plans.

Here are some links to student idea journals created this semester and based on this model:
(alphabetical order by last name)

Elisa Auge, France .
Yazid Dennoui, France -
Renato Jammoul, Italy -
Laura Juric, Croatia -  
Jorge Andres Martinez Valdez -
Tristan Mouysset, France - 
Sara Maria Miranda Peixoto, Portugal
Fulya Ulutas, Canada
Alex Zhu, Singapore/Germany -

and more to be added... 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Inspiration - UN Sustainable Development Goals for Social Entrepreneurs in Training

I recently participated in the European Forum Alpbach along with colleagues from the Impact Hub network.  We were challenged several days with ways we could individually and collectively address the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  During the forum we actively engaged in workshops to exercise some of our ideas.  My take away was certainly to activate my own network upon return.  Therefore, this semester in the ZSEM Entrepreneurship course, we will take up the challenge where students will create, innovate and build their own business around at least one UN SDG.

One example from the EF Alpbach, coming out of Impact Hub Zurich was Mosan - Mobile Sanitation founded by Mona Mijthab, an industrial designer based in Switzerland.  She sets out with her organization to address UNSDG#6 - Clean Water and Sanitation.

Example of the Entrepreneur Profile Assignment the Students will undertake.

While the UN Sustainable Development Goals are not without critics (see below), they do broadly identify key societal issues that can trigger students to evaluate their own values, beliefs and priorities.  As entrerpeneurs in training, students will investigate different entrepreneurs around the globe who are addressing market failures and filling needs not only wants.  Last year, the students in the course focused on areas that had economic potential for the development of Croatia and this year they will be challenged to develop business opportunities with Triple Bottom Line (TBL) impact: People, Planet, Profit.  Future posts on this blog will highlight some student work toward these ends.

Additional Readings for Students on UN Sustainable Development Goals (Pros-Cons)
Acharya, N. (2015). How The UN Plans To Use Innovation And Entrepreneurship For Sustainable Development. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Sep. 2016].
Easterly, W. (2015). The SDGs Should Stand for Senseless, Dreamy, Garbled. [online] Foreign Policy. Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2016].

Jack, A. (2015). Experts divided over value of UN sustainable development goals - [online] Financial Times. Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2016].

Renwick, D. (2015). Sustainable Development Goals. [online] Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2016].

United Nations Sustainable Development. (2015). Sustainable development goals - United Nations. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Sep. 2016]. 

Links for Students on TBL focused Entrepreneurs - Social Entrepreneurs - Ashoka Fellows  - Everyone a changemaker - New Zealand Foundation seeking to help young people in their pursuit of world changing ideas. - Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs - Take Part digital lifestyle magazine - TED - Technology. Entertainment. Design. Videos from conference series devoted to Ideas worth spreading.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Customers at the Bottom of the Pyramid

The World Economic Pyramid

Usually when I start my CRM course, we first think of consumers as those that the students making up the class can most identify with.  One assignment that has been ongoing for the last 5 years is attending and observing consumers at the annual Coffee and Chocofest.  This was not overlooked this year, however, as timing would have it my former student, Hira Wajahat Malik, was returning to Zagreb and came into the class (11 Feb 2016) to talk about her customer.  This customer was in stark contrast to coffee addicts and chocoholics the new group of students would soon engage with but represented the Bottom of the Pyramid.

I posed to the students a question: "Do you think you will ever have to understand a new customer in a new market?" Well, ofcourse I expected them to quickly answer yes but this opened them to unfamiliar territory that Hira would expose them to over the next hour and into a week long homework assignment.  The classroom went from just a few people familiar with the "BoP" term to 30 plus students diving deep into related issues --- what organizations and enterprises address customers at the Bottom of the Pyramid and how?.

Hira had spent a semester back in 2010 at ZSEM as part of an exchange program between her school in Pakistan and ours here in Croatia ( She took my Entrepreneurship course and worked on a business plan on developing a solar energy company.  To every teacher's dream, she is working on a related business today and was in Europe to participate on a training and partnership exploration.  She captured students by the way she matter of factly talked about how over 60% of the 220 million people living in Pakistan is off grid.  But her view of the Bottom of the Pyramid showed people living with mobile phones without access to electricity and sanitation but with desire for quality products and less means to demand them.  Her solution was to illustrate the isolated areas that would need more alternative energy solutions like solar energy and bringing different payment options to make it more affordable.

The students then had the challenge to find other organizations addressing Bottom of the Pyramid issues and document this with a video or article link.  The assignment took anywhere from 30 seconds to 60 minutes as the students later revealed.  The issues they found were related to health, hygene, access to water, women's issues, preserving cultural heritage, economic development.  We had a total of 30 out of 32 students engage with this optional task. We also then challenged students to prepare a creative presentation of their short research with little guidance and a lot of freedom.  Again this was optional and we got 6 assignments as a result.  The 20% of the students that were willing, able and interested in pursuing this last task included poems, collages, comparitive presentations on prezi.  In a future blog post update we will cluster the research the students around customer profiles, themes and locations and begin to profile their work here as some will develop them into full business cases for a graded element of the course.
Guest Lecturer, Hira Wajahat Malik, Teaching Assistant, Nina Alvir and students
 working in the class.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

CRM - Who is the Customer? #Learner

Customer Relationship Management is celebrating with me as a course I have taught for 10 years at ZSEM!  This semester started off with only half the class showing up on Day 1 but what a blessing to have 19 enthusiastic students and a large capacity room to play in.  Yes, play is part of our learning process.  But learn we did.  This post is a recap of the class for the other half that did not make it and for those who did to reflect on the experience.

We started class with a question...Are you satisfied with the room setup?  The traditional classroom style focuses attention on the professor and the front of the class where all students are in neat rows facing forward.  Tradition should be questioned in my book.  So if we have enough space and movable chairs why not shake things up.  I broke the class up into 3 groups of 6-7 and then they went about coming up with ways to rearrange the furniture and space to maximize learning goals they set.  This is how I say hello, let's move.

The logic is that we should use every opportunity to improve and know how to manage change that is in our control.  For those three hours each week we control the space and should use it to our advantage.  Its not simply about being on automatic pilot.  I do not want zombie students who just take their seats each week sitting in the same place waiting for me to spoon feed information.  I love to construct how we learn and customize what we learn to the industries students find appealling.  Right now, education is a common platform.  Understanding how to create and reimagine the learning environment can be taught by a power point presentation but it can also be experienced by getting up and making it happen.

The results of our experiment were fascinating and I could write a whole research paper on it but instead I will give you a peek into what happened in pictures:

Team 1. Chose to line up the tables face to face in a board room style.  They felt it would give maximum eye contact and balance of power but they had to negotiate around the setup of another team and battle a pole and unruly electrical wires.

The end result for  Team 1. was they added a podium, created signage, laid out folders and took their best shot to capture a setup that would foster debate and discussion.  On the other hand if they removed the podium it would be a great setup for some speed dating.

Team 2. Tried to experiment with engineering a triangle as all teams had the additional challenge of having enough seats so that everyone in the class that day could be seated in the work space. A pole in the classroom also restricted views and would leave some members feeling isolated.

The final result for Team 2. was demonstrated as a teacher or trainer could enter into the middle of the open triangle to move about and interact freely with the participants.  However, the team themselves after sitting in their creation felt that it was too rigid and preferred the space that Team 3 created.
And like Goldie Locks and the three bears....Team 3. seemed to be just right... a multi-level circle where everyone had enough personal space around them but could clearly see everyone and felt comfortable to share freely and openly in this configuration.

There are numerous articles on learning environments and I have written in this blog before on different setups used at conferences to achieve different results.  We will continue this dialog in future class sessions.  If anyone wants to read ahead if you are focused on customers as learners, conference goers, trainees, etc. Here is a quick reading list to get you started...
  1. Bob Pearlman - New Learning Environments for 21st Century Skills
  2. Lawson Reed Wulsin, Jr. - Classroom Design - Literature Review
  3. Jessica Lieber - 5 Ways Classroom Design Can Improve What We Learn and Who Learns It  
Contribute some of your own ideas to the comments below and thanks for visiting.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Entry #10 - Makers

The maker movement has created a new emphasis on tinkering and experimenting.  Playing around with objects to bring your ideas into 3d whether that be starting from a sketch and then putting it together by hand or using a 3d printer to materialize an idea.

Towards those ends we want to challenge our students to create something with their hands that came from their own idea generation.  The simple act of turning some thing useless into something useful has a magical effect and stimulates the idea and opportunity process.  Many students need practice in this area as it is not often used in the college classroom.  Tinkering belongs in the entrepreneurial process and creativity while well exercised in early education needs equal attention and practice in lifelong learning.

For my example, I took tape, paper, scizzors, magazine articles and old packaging and created an idea journal in a former cheese box.  This physical manipulation from one form to another is an important part of transformation and an exercise in value creation.  There are many tools to learn how to do new things and I am especially recommending ehow and instructables as places to learn how to make and experiment following simple instructions provided by members of these communities and others like them.  Have fun!

Entry #10 of 10 - Idea Journal 2015 - Teacher's example

Future Entrepreneurs

Teaching in higher education in Croatia for almost 20 years, I have mostly been in the private sector.  But I am happy when learners re...