Last winter, Dave Turner and I were privileged to be asked to help create and teach a course on “clean energy entrepreneurship” at Drexel University. I approached the class with the mindset that I was there to teach students the ins and outs of business start-ups and new energy sources, but I soon discovered that I was there to learn as well.
The experience gave me a renewed appreciation for just how intelligent, engaged and well prepared these students were about energy and entrepreneurship. I am not sure I am skilled enough to communicate all of the benefits I took away from this experience, but the following are three broad lessons that are worth sharing.
Teaching a Full Semester Course is Work
It did not take long to realize that a guest lecture appearance and a full-fledged teaching role are two different animals. First, we had to provide enough variety to keep the course interesting and informative. While I probably could have done an entire semester on Demand Response requirements in the PJM Interconnection, I was fairly certain that the students were expecting a broader perspective of the energy industry.
Second, we needed to bring a comparable level of depth and expertise to all of the different topics in order to provide a balanced perspective. With Dave’s help, along with a couple of guest lecturers (Jake from Own Energy and Dean from EnerTech Capital), the course turned out to be much more interesting than what I could have done on my own.
The Students Will Become the Teachers
In addition to the guest lecturers, we were also able to tap into another unexpected teaching resource – the students themselves. The student’s demonstrated an astounding grasp of the changes occurring in the energy industry, and its impact on business and society. I have never been surrounded by a group of students that were so bright, articulate, and hungry for knowledge. For most classes we simply started the conversation and they carried it through the rest of the class. For their final project we asked the students to develop a clean energy related business. We had no idea what to expect, and all I can say is WOW! Somewhere in that group of presentations there will be three or four successful ideas.
Recent Graduates are Valuable Resource
In the energy business, there is no substitute for experience but by the end of the course we realized that students, like the ones at Drexel, can also provide a new outlook and perspective that industry veterans cannot. This is especially true in an industry that is simultaneously struggling with an aging workforce and the influx of new technologies and business models that defy a status quo that has been in place for years. This appreciation for new blood was reinforced at a recent dinner I had with the Toronto Maple Leaf’s head coach, Mike Babcock, who is an EnerTech Capital Strategic Advisory Board member. We were discussing the similarities between building a business team and building the coaching staff and organization that supports a hockey team. Mike stressed the need for a balanced level of experience, and especially stressed the importance of bringing youth into the organization because that is where new ideas come from. He has done this in the hockey coaching world with great success and challenged me to do the same. Based on what we saw at Drexel, he was absolutely correct.
I am confident that the students we taught and learned from will be game changers when they graduate. Drexel University should be proud of the Close School of Entrepreneurship and the graduates it produces. I am certainly proud to have been a part of their program.