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A Lesson in Entrepreneurship with David Schonthal

By Joshua Baggett

Despite it being an especially cold day in Evanston (the wind chill was a biting -7 below), several members of the current MSLCE cohort recently had the opportunity to broaden our entrepreneurial knowledge at Entrepreneurship 101. The MSLCE exclusive workshop was led by David Schonthal, who is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Kellogg School of Management as well as Senior Portfolio Director at the consultancy firm IDEO. Schonthal shared his wisdom on topics including business model generation, customer acquisition, and how to approach problems that arise when businesses are in the start-up phase. Special focus was given to creating and adapting the Osterwalder Business Model Canvas, which is a common strategy used across lines of business.

To start things off, Schonthal shared a quote from the noted Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank, reminding us that “a start-up is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” This quote had particular resonance with me as someone who is interested in producing independent projects because it encourages growth through the trial and error method. “One of the best things you can do is learn how to get it wrong as quickly and as cheaply as possible,” Schonthal explained. There’s value in learning from mistakes, but there’s also a benefit to making a quick rebound from a failed model. 

Schonthal also stressed the importance of customer dynamics. Nearly everything about customer acquisition and cultivation can be risky and costly if approached without a solid understanding of who they are. A fundamental truth that most entrepreneurs tend to learn the hard way is that it is nearly impossible to change people’s behavior. And in those rare instances when it is possible, it will certainly be expensive. Instead, businesses and entrepreneurs must adapt their models to meet their customers where they are and not the other way around. 

For many of us in the cohort, it’s our entrepreneurial spirit that led us to join the MSLCE program. While many of us may not think of ourselves as entrepreneurs by sheer definition, we have much more in common than you’d think. Our mission to create and share work we are passionate about is what gives us our entrepreneurial drive and that was made clear through this event.