An entrepreneur’s journey is often filled with challenges that could derail a potentially successful venture. Imagine learning from seasoned entrepreneurs how to handle or even avoid those sticky situations before they arise.
That’s the foundation for Dilemmas and Debates, an innovative course that tackles vital issues, and provides students intimate interaction with some of the College’s most successful entrepreneurs.
The course, taught for the first time this fall, epitomizes the College’s strategy when it comes to teaching entrepreneurship: Blending academic rigor with practical experiences. Dr. Michael Morris, the James W. Walter Eminent Scholar Chair and one of the nation’s top entrepreneurship professors, provides the academic emphasis while alumnus Marty Schaffel (BA ’74, BSBA ’76), the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Audio Visual Innovations, Inc. (now AVI-SPL), supplies a professional perspective.
The two worked together last year in Dr. Morris’ Corporate Entrepreneurship class. When Morris brought up the idea for Dilemmas and Debates, Schaffel was hooked.
“When I was a student here, we didn’t have anybody from the outside come and talk to our classes and tell us about the real world,” Schaffel said. “We were taught by people who strictly grew up in academia. I think there’s a valuable benefit to be had blending our great academic professors with our great success stories of our alumni.”
The course has tackled interesting dilemmas throughout the semester such as ethical issues in a startup, whether to begin your venture while still in school or wait, and the financial challenges entrepreneurs face when getting their companies off the ground.
Unlike a conventional speaker series, Dilemmas and Debates has an interactive dynamic that engages students. While Schaffel and alumni entrepreneurs detail their challenges related to the night’s topic, they repeatedly elicit feedback from students on how they would have handled the same situation. It places the students in the minds of the entrepreneur, and the difficult process that goes with making decisions that could have long-term consequences.
The course is not without its obstacles, Dr. Morris said. First, it’s essential to keep the panel focused on the night’s topic, and not drift into other areas –no matter how entertaining it may be. Second, the scheduling challenges of getting 2 to 3 entrepreneurs who are well-versed on a certain topic to Gainesville on the same night isn’t easy.
“It’s a bit of a logistical challenge,” Dr. Morris said. “Making the dates work and making it thematic around these dilemmas complicates the scheduling. But we’ve built a pretty good pool of entrepreneurs, especially now with the Gator100.”
What’s been most gratifying to Dr. Morris and Schaffel isn’t only the impact students receive from the class, but how much alumni have enjoyed the experience as well.
“Marty’s class was an excellent opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm ideas to find solutions to problems real entrepreneurs face,” said Wade Swikle (BS ’12, MSE ’13), President of 2 College Brothers Moving & Storage. “It’s given me a lot to ponder on what I can do to improve both my business and myself as an entrepreneur.”
Because of Dilemmas and Debates’ success, Dr. Morris said he envisions the course being a permanent part of the curriculum moving forward. That is welcome news to Schaffel, who knows it’s making a positive impact.
“Feeling like I’ve made a difference in the lives and futures of students is the greatest reward for my time and effort,” Schaffel said. “And everybody who has participated alongside me has walked away feeling the same.”