Failures, Flops, and Frustrations: Learning from Our Mistakes

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Dr. Michael S. Lehman, Professor of Practice

As entrepreneurship educators, we’re fortunate to work with bright and innovative students, forward-thinking colleagues, and institutions supporting programs that respond to market and economic demand. But despite all of these attractive ingredients, we encounter challenges on a regular basis. The more new things we try, the greater the probability of experiencing failures, flops, and a multitude of frustrations: new courses that aren’t as subscribed as we had hoped, cross-campus programs that don’t produce the level of interest needed to justify the investment of time and money, and creative spaces of innovation that are underutilized.


We teach our students that learning from mistakes allows them to propel new products and services forward. The same is true for entrepreneurship educators: we evolve our offerings based on our failures, flops and frustrations. It’s important that we share these experiences with colleagues. Organizations like VentureWell, with which I have been affiliated since 2003, provide the community to learn from one another.


Without further ado, here are three lessons from my personal “failure resume” as an entrepreneurship educator:


A failure that inspired a tiered approach

In launching the Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership $500,000 Student Seed Capital Fund in 2003, we were excited to offer undergraduate students access to seed capital in the form of a convertible note. It was a chance to secure “big” startup money for “big” innovative ideas. As we anxiously waited for dozens of applications to flood our inboxes, something unexpected happened: students came in expressing hesitancy, doubt, and concern. They weren’t ready for the “big” money; what they needed were some low-risk resources to vet their portfolio of initial ideas, which, after some grooming, could form the basis of a formal seed capital application.