A free online course "Beyond Silicon Valley: Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies" launches through Coursera next week on April 28. Come back to Entrepreneur.com as we feature additional interviews with course experts and instructors.
Michael Goldberg was teaching entrepreneurship in Vietnam as a Fulbright Scholar in 2012, when he was approached by a government agency to run a seminar on entrepreneurial ecosystems. The National Agency for Technology Entrepreneurship had one request: they did not want him to focus on Silicon Valley, where access to angel investment far surpassed the resources available in transitioning economies. Instead, they wanted him to look closer to home – his home – Cleveland, Ohio.
The request surprised him at first, but made sense. Government and donor support had bolstered the growth of entrepreneurship in the city over the last decade. The topic resonated in Vietnam and Goldberg found himself traveling to other countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Turkey – using Northeast Ohio as a case study. When he returned to Cleveland, where he teaches as a visiting professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve's Weatherhead School of Management, Goldberg wanted to find a way to keep reaching students around the world and his first massive open online course (MOOC) was born.
The six-week class, "Beyond Silicon Valley: Growing Entrepreneurship in Transitioning Economies" features short video lectures and interactive sessions, and launches through Coursera next week on April 28. Entrepreneur spoke with him about the process and challenges of developing the MOOC.
Entrepreneur: What inspired you to teach this course in an online format?
Goldberg: I felt there was a hunger around this discussion of how to engage in entrepreneurship around the world. My idea was that I'd design this for an international audience. Frankly, a lot of the world fits into that category of a transitioning economy. I felt that there was an opportunity to reach students.
We got a $69,000 grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation which allowed me to create the video lectures. I interviewed 30 people in Ohio and around the world. It looks more like a documentary than a lecture. I realized that was going to be the most effective way to reach my audience.
Entrepreneur: Did you have a specific type of student in mind?
Goldberg: This is not a class about how to build a business. It's more about the ecosystem, having a broader understanding of how communities are supporting entrepreneurs. There's value for entrepreneurs and value for folks in local governments charged with supporting job growth. I wanted to attract a broad audience of people -- a combination of entrepreneurs, government leaders, folks in non-governmental organizations, folks involved in funding and private business leaders looking to give back. I was thinking less about traditional students.
Entrepreneur: Who has helped you put the course together?
Goldberg: It takes a village. I have three teaching assistants working on different pieces as well as a former 60 Minutes producer. Then there's our outside video partner and I also have some other internal people supporting it from our IT department. It's a very entrepreneurial exercise.
Entrepreneur: How long did it take to create this MOOC?
Goldberg: It's been a lot more hours of preparation than for a traditional class. I joke with my kids that this project is the “MOOC that ate Dad.” I have spent at least 30 hours per week on the MOOC since October when we received our grant to develop the course. As we get closer to launch, the workload has gone up even higher as we refine the syllabus, assessments and reading lists and plan for our weekly interactive sessions. There are just so many moving pieces. There's always something to do. It's hard to feel like you ever nailed it.
Entrepreneur: What are some of your main concerns in teaching the class for the first time?
Goldberg: Are people going to find it easy to engage in and understand? Will the way we've structured it in terms of this Cleveland case study be helpful to people? It's not a class where we say, "Here are the five things you need to do." We are reflecting on what we've done in Cleveland. So some of it is about tone and positioning. It's very nerve-wracking because it's very public.
Also, my customers, my students for this class, are all over the world. On the video lecture side, how do we use graphics and pictures to tell a clear story that can be understood by everyone? I am imagining that these are English-as-a-second-language students for the most part. We want to be as clear as possible in the presentation.
Entrepreneur: What's surprised you so far about creating the materials?
Goldberg: When you interview people and you think you know what they will say, you actually don't. You don’t want people to say everything is great. The learning comes from the struggle.
Entrepreneur: What are you hoping students get take away from the class?
Goldberg: I am hoping that by connecting with others who are trying to grow startup companies in less obvious communities, there will be some shared learning and shared support and encouragement. As a final project, I am asking students to profile a local entrepreneur in their community. The real value comes from entrepreneurs sharing their experiences, whether they’re from Laos or Turkey or Botswana.
This interview was edited and condensed.