A group of 10 St. Thomas entrepreneurship students, sophomores to seniors, are in the midst of a two-week cultural immersion in the Silicon Valley. Students in this first-ever “Study Abroad” J-term course are studying how products and services are brought to market in the global technology hub, learning a different way of thinking.

“Our job as educators is to inspire students to dream bigger, train them to creatively solve difficult problems and give them to confidence to do both,” said associate professor of entrepreneurship Alec Johnson, who’s leading the course. “We are a little land-locked in Minnesota; a different perspective in combination with new skills is needed to accomplish these goals.”

The course focuses on two specific learning frameworks: lean business canvas and design thinking.  After spending two days in a design thinking bootcamp in Minneapolis, students formed teams to create research plans to execute in San Francisco. During their time in California, students will spend time interviewing local citizens, researching existing competition and developing their business concepts.

The trip is bookended by stops at Mainsail Partners, a growth equity firm that builds bootstrapped businesses into market leading companies. Vice President Ryan Kruizenga is a 2004 Schulze School graduate who met with students their first day learning in Silicon Valley. At the end of the class, students will present their projects at Mainsail Partners, who will provide an investment critique and help the students understand how to move their projects to the next level.

Besides Mainsail, students will learn from places like Pivotal Labs, Plantronics, Shyp, LinkedIn, IDEO and Hand Up.

Each day students are blogging about their experiences and what unique things they’re learning that can be applied once they come back to Minnesota. Follow their thoughts here. You can also follow them online with the hashtag #SVTommies.

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About The Author

Clark Gregor has more than a decade of business marketing, communication and public relations experience, primarily in higher education, with shorter stints in corporate public relations and the federal government. At the University of St. Thomas he manages communications at the Opus College of Business and edits the university blog for graduate business programs, Opus Magnum along with other marketing efforts.

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