3ds superhero From a social travel app, a healthcare diagnostic device, to a digital marketing agency for social impact organizations, 3DS has seen how the right combination of bright students, open information, and accessible technology can fuel an environment for student companies to flourish. These Born in Dorms success stories demonstrate the rapidly evolving nature of the entrepreneurial landscape. The capital intensive nature of starting a company 20 years ago is becoming less of the norm in today’s economy – especially when it comes to technology-based startups. Due to environmental factors like globalization, new technologies, and the universal dissemination of information via the internet, the barriers to entry have shrunk. Less expensive avenues exist today that could not have existed in the business landscape of the past. Due to these environmental changes, fundamental assumptions about business practices have also evolved. Take areas such as funding, the workplace, and marketing for example. Today, early stage startups have greater access to funding than they did just a few decades ago. This stems from various factors including increased venture and angel investments, bootstrapping alternatives such as crowd funding, and the proliferation of incubators and accelerators. While funding is more accessible, the caveat, though, is that the number of startups vying for competitive resources has also grown. [1] Secondly, due to the changing nature of work, the workplace today is becoming less of a place and more of an activity. [2] Traditional notions of the workplace like commuting to and from an office or clocking in and out are giving way to more flexible alternatives. Companies now have the ability to rent coworking spaces to reduce overhead cost or allow employees to work from home via telecommunication and online collaborative tools. Lastly, the post-internet world gives businesses new tools to tackle marketing. Old-school avenues such as print or direct mail are still around, but they’re being gradually supplanted by digital strategies such as social media, Google AdSense, or cross-syndication of content.

The workplace is becoming less of a place and more of an activity.

All in all, the modern economy is shifting towards a new frontier, and starting a company today is significantly less burdensome than ever before. [3] However, with greater opportunity comes greater expectations. This new frontier requires more agility and places a greater emphasis on the ability to quickly acquire new skills. Luckily, technology has also brought about a greater accessibility of knowledge. Today, anyone with an internet connection can find specialized information on just about any topic – the power of information is no longer reserved for the few. The dramatic restructuring of the modern economy has boosted the importance of adaptability and self-directed learning. This is evident in the rise of self-directed online classes. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as Coursera and EdX offer free specialized courses taught by professors from leading institutions covering topics from the fundamentals of nano-manufacturing to manuscripts of Medieval Spain. Other for-profit educational models, companies such as Skillshare and Treehouse, offer monthly subscriptions for technical classes spanning from JavaScript to music merchandise design. The necessity for constant skill acquisition through experiential learning is a core component of entrepreneurship education. While the approach of learning by doing may not apply to all disciplines (i.e. brain surgery), entrepreneurship is one area in which the best way to proceed is through learning by doing.

Learning by Doing at a 3 Day Startup program. At 3DS, we love that university classes spark students’ interest in entrepreneurship and believe that knowledge in the classroom can be a catalyst for action. However, the classroom environment gives students limited opportunities to “practice” what they’ve learned. As a result, students miss out on the depth of knowledge obtained through experiential learning, and real-world action does not always take place. Like other educational entrepreneurship programs, 3DS complements theoretical classroom knowledge by offering real-world experiences. It’s important to note that the 3 Day Startup organization  is a living example of learning by doing. 3 Day Startup is a company founded by students who had a belief that experiential activities would teach us more about entrepreneurship and innovation than the classroom. To teach university students about entrepreneurship, 3DS produces the optimal conditions for learning by doing over the course of three days. Similar to an elaborate theatre production, 3DS provides the backdrop of a startup environment while also allowing participants the opportunity to learn the part of an entrepreneur.

3DS reproduces the conditions of a real startup environment. The startup environment is notorious for its high pressure decision-making, caffeine-fueled late nights, endless deadlines, sleep deprivation, and constant uncertainty. Welcome to 3 Day Startup. While a 3DS program does not force participants to pursue goals under duress, per se, it provides the motivation for action through unrelenting deadlines, mentors, and peer accountability. Even for participants who don’t plan to start a company anytime soon, 3DS creates a faithful representation of the modern workplace  environment. The norms in today’s work environment are unyielding deadlines and cross-functional teams with clear goals but no clear path towards success. Arguably the biggest takeaway from a 3DS program is the power of teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration.

3DS embeds cross-pollination – or collaboration with diversity in mind – into a program’s talent pool, increasing the disciplinary and interpersonal diversity of teams. In these diverse groups, the definition of success is ladened with uncertainty. The team shares the responsibility of developing benchmarks and goals, creating order out of chaos. The forces at play at a 3DS program reproduce real-world conditions more accurately than those found in a classroom. From the know-it-all engineer to the bossy leader who won’t take no for an answer, 3 Day Startup provides an authentic learning experience for its participants.

3DS offers students practice in entrepreneurship. Not only does 3DS set the stage for experiential entrepreneurial learning, it creates avenues of learning by doing by providing direct access to the experiences at the heart of an early stage company. 3DS gives students the general framework for success, but, ultimately, its up to the students to practice playing the part of an entrepreneur. Like in a theater, students can rehearse their lines (theoretical learning) forever, but the beauty of the performance lies in the actual performance. Participants must overcome stage fright and act out the part of an entrepreneur: building a prototype, executing a marketing plan, selling to a customer with the potential of being rejected. In the safe environment of a 3DS, the shy engineering student who’s never pitched before goes on stage, literally and figuratively, to pitch, and the process of doing is more valuable and transformative than any classroom knowledge alone. In fact, 3DS is ultimately a transformational experience, and the change and growth that washes over participants is a result of this “method acting” – a form of learning by doing. Students learn their individual parts (such as designer) as well as their role among the other cast members (the team), all with the end goal of moving the narrative forward towards company creation.
[1] Forbes’s A New Era For Entrepreneurs and Startups Has Begun
[2] Huffington Post’s The Changing Nature of Work (and What That Means for You)
[3] Capital Factory’s Thesis