During our visit to ASU we met a lot of impressive people, but every time the name Gordon McConnell inadvertently came up, we were informed of how engaging and interesting the interview with him would be. Despite all the foreshadowing that led to the interview, nothing could prepare us for the intensity and sheer passion that Gordon spoke with. Gordon is the Associate Vice President of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Group (EIG) of ASU, located in the beautiful SkySong building. EIG was founded to accelerate high-potential startup companies, but has expanded to encompass entrepreneurship-focused activities across ASU and in the state of Arizona.
Gordon described himself as a “pracademic” (practitioner led academic) elaborating on how his past experiences in myriad fields including timber, music, heating and cooling systems, and venture capitalism have made him more capable of teaching entrepreneurship than somebody who has solely studied entrepreneurship from a theoretical perspective. In keeping with his controversial billing, Gordon described being an entrepreneur as being akin to using methadone, because one cannot help coming back to it.
He then began to discuss the nuances of running an accelerator program, giving a rapid-fire top 10 list things of things he’d learned over the years:
- Entrepreneurship is a mindset and a lifestyle, and can never truly be taught from a book.
- Entrepreneurship is colorblind. Your idea either works, or it doesn’t.
- Technical people (scientists, artists) are needed just as much as people with business know-how in order for projects to be successful.
- Projects with no strategic vision for the future are very unlikely to succeed.
- A lot of entrepreneurial success is a fluke.
- There are no rules to entrepreneurship (he referenced the story of the glock).
- Lean Launch Pad is not the most effective way of starting a business.
- It’s much easier to fail in the classroom than in the world, and for that reason, students should be encouraged to try out full-fledged entrepreneurship projects within the classroom setting.
- True entrepreneurship solves despair. Entrepreneurial projects such as parking apps solve despair, whereas social entrepreneurship projects such as urban hydroponics systems solve DESPAIR.
- Lifestyle entrepreneurs don’t exist, because despite their perceived lack of promise, they may grow to be as big as the app companies that are all the rage.
The Entrepreneurship and Innovation group is a great model for experiential learning, and the focus on exposing students to innovation principles and giving them the practical avenues to express those principles is something that I believe must be actively incorporated in our curriculum. In addition, the emphasis on teaching entrepreneurship at the college grassroots level, in first year seminars, is an idea that will make the proposed curriculum even more useful and impactful, because incoming first-years would already have been taught the principles of entrepreneurship, ready to apply them in their education.