Classroom Exercise Explores How Businesses Succeed or Fail

How can students understand the factors that improve or undermine a business’s success if they don’t experience them first-hand? This article, by Drexel University professor Chuck Sacco, gives us a look at a very successful classroom exercise that simulates what might go wrong in an actual business — whether it’s a flawed idea, bad timing, poor teamwork, execution that falls short or something else.

The five-week exercise zeroes in on analyzing three factors that can determine a startup’s success or failure: the quality and make-up of the team, the innovativeness and potential of the idea, and ability of the team to execute and communicate their value proposition to others.  It also gives the professor some leeway to change things around during the project, which gives the students practice in adjusting to change — something they’ll encounter frequently in the real world.

Very purposely, the teams are limited to a fixed set of resources (time, materials and team). This helps simulate the real constraints of a startup. It is also purposely setup so that every team uses the same materials to reduce variability and make it easier for teams to compare and contrast their respective efforts.

The exercise helps students better understand some of the possible root causes of startup failure and to see that several factors can be involved in influencing a startup’s destiny.  Professors might find it a fun and useful addition to the classroom, and students will enjoy the challenge and the friendly competition.