A Venture Development Toolkit

A Venture Development Tool Kit

Traversing the Map of the Venture Terrain

In the next section of Module 2, you will be exploring a variety of resources available on the Internet that deal with venture development and analysis. You may wish to again reference the mind map provided at the beginning of this module as one possible map of the terrain you could follow in your EVA role. A jpg version of the mind map to print out and keep by your side is available at the link below as you navigate this section of Module 2 and the links to recommended web sites.

Module 2 mind map

We also provide links to a selection of resources from the Business Development Bank of Canada’s (BDC) web site, as well as other web sources that deal with the important aspects of identifying and assessing venture opportunities, and the subsequent steps of building a business plan.

The BDC is a financial institution owned by the Government of Canada with a mission to serve the needs of Canadian entrepreneurs.http://www.bdc.ca/en/about/overview/overview1.htm

Its web site lists its criteria for selecting business plans for venture funding. Understanding how financial institutions support the development and growth of business is an important step along to the way to designing and crafting a venture for success. The BDC venture criteria are listed here:


Opportunity Development

A learning technology venture can adopt so many forms that categorizing them all is a daunting task. Within the scope of ETEC 522 there are companies, societies, foundations, associations, programs, projects, initiatives and ideas, to name a few. The remarkable thing is that the “business” concepts that we explore in this course generally apply to all of them. The primary differences occur in their operating philosophies: how and for whom value is being generated by this venture, and what kind of value.

In the case of profit-motivated enterprises, the primary value generated is money, either for the owners in a private company or the shareholders when the company is publicly traded. To earn revenue any company has to sell products or services – it has to market propositions about learning that education-based customers will find valuable. Therefore it isn’t surprising that successful learning technology companies are often filled with educators or ex-educators who believe passionately about learning and the educational value of their products. Test this hypothesis for yourself: select any profit-driven learning technology enterprise and review the learning credentials of their executive team – it is usually impressive.

Another common form of incorporation in the learning technology world is as a non-profit society, where the value generated is some form of social wealth. This form of venture includes institutions, foundations, museums, and a host of other organizations integrated into communities. The investing customers of these ventures tend to be governments, philanthropists and representatives of the communities the organization serves.

A relatively recent new form of venture is a hybrid of for-profit and non-profit, usually called a social enterprise. This kind of organization is specifically designed to deliver cash profits to enable public good. A great example is “Newman’s Own” salad dressings, where the corporate profits are entirely directed to charity. The advantage of this model is to bridge across operational cultures. For example, a non-profit institution can establish a for-profit satellite specifically to fund (become an investing customer) for the mission of the institution. As well, a for-profit corporation can establish a non-profit subsidiary or extension as a means of ‘giving back’ to society. A common phrase in corporate domains is the “double-bottom-line” (cash profit and social value) or “triple-bottom-line” (cash profit, social value and environmental sustainability) vision for a company. While such a vision might sound altruistic, it comes down to good business: marketing a company as a good corporate citizen is a great way to build “brand” (the image and profile of a company to the external world) and solidify value propositions to enhance product sales. A good learning technology example here is Apple’s “Learning Interchange” (http://ali.apple.com/) which provides a best-practices exchange for educators. Poorer examples include when companies provide “free” professional development programs for teachers as a front to marketing their products.

Most learning technology ventures start as a concept that is researched, incubated and prototyped somewhere. The incubator could be somebody’s garage, a ‘skunkworks’ group (this is a term for an officially-sanctioned development activity in a company that is never-the-less “below the radar” or operating secretly) within a company, or a project within an institution. At some point during incubation a decision is made to launch a real venture. The issue of non-profit, for-profit or social enterprise is usually decided at that point, more often based on the experience and inclination of the parents than on the actual potential of the venture-to-be. Therefore there is good reason for parents to introduce their venture-to-be to sets of experts beyond their immediate experience in order to determine the best path for birth and growth.

That last point is probably the most important single factor leading to the success of any venture. Find great advisors! Not just on the concept and birth of your venture, but on every aspect of its growth and evolution. Just as no person is an island unto themselves, nor is a venture. Anybody that believes they can make a new venture work without the continuing advice and support of a network of friends, advisors and experts is deluding themselves badly. Find a way to attach smart people to your venture. In the corporate sector such people are usually put on a Board of Directors, but advisory boards and other structures to concentrate intelligence are always worthwhile when the people are right and their opportunity to participate is sincere.

Use the web to take a look at the Board of Directors (sometimes called “corporate governance”) of some prominent learning technology companies (e.g. Blackboard, Skillsoft, eCollege). Take a look at the biographies of the directors to get a sense of the value they bring to the company.

Another resource that outlines the attributes of successful business plans can be found in this article:

Sahlman W.A. (1997). How to write a great business plan. Harvard Business Review. July-August 1997.

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