First published by Springside Chestnut Hill in March 2022

Let’s face it. The world faces enormous problems. The pace of change is accelerating. Technology is rapidly advancing every industry, and the impact of globalization is increasing. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and facing unprecedented climate challenges. The pace of change is not likely to slow down, and with it will come new problems that need to be solved and new needs to be fulfilled. 

So, how are we going to solve these challenges, and who will lead us into the future? We all certainly have a part, but mainly it’s going to fall on today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders—hopefully, bright, entrepreneurially minded leaders equipped to solve big problems.

As educators, it’s our job to equip today’s students to be the “entrepreneurs of their lives”—to use their skills, initiative, and, most importantly, a strong “entrepreneurial mindset” to solve problems, build innovative solutions, and help make the world a better place. If we’re going to bring about positive change, entrepreneurs need to be everywhere, embedded in the threads of companies, government, non-profits, and all types of organizations. 

We all have the potential to be entrepreneurs, whether in big or small ways, if we look at problems around us, recognize opportunities to solve those problems, take action, and build community. 

For our students, we can encourage this approach by helping them focus on and develop the key traits and characteristics of entrepreneurial thinking. What if they were more curious, resilient, and apt to take action? What if they were more likely to seek opportunities, use creative problem solving, and have more resilience and resourcefulness? And what if they were more creative, more communicative, more collaborative? What might be the positive outcomes?

The result should be more individuals equipped with the tools to see problems, recognize opportunities, develop creative solutions, take action, and more. If done well, there will be more students able to collaborate, experiment more, go out of their comfort zone, and persevere even when things look tough. 
This is why Drexel University created a new school, the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, to help college students become the entrepreneurs of their lives. The first school at a university fully dedicated to teaching this subject, it goes broader and deeper into entrepreneurial skill development, with the fostering of an entrepreneurial mindset at its core. Part of our vision at Close is that every student at Drexel will have at least an appreciation of entrepreneurship. We also want students to “start something” and be ready to launch their careers in any size organization with the skills to tackle the problems of today and tomorrow. 

To achieve this, we focus on helping students develop what we call their “power skills.” Using a tool called the Entrepreneurial Mindset Profile, we help them develop an entrepreneurial personality—characterized by self-confidence, optimism, proactivity, and passion—and a set of skills, including persistence, future focus, flexibility, and originality. 

None of these things is specifically focused on starting a business. While many of our students will do that, we’re really aiming to help them develop themselves, to build towards a career, and to use their skills to do great work, whether working on a startup, in a startup, or for an established organization. 

But maybe college isn’t early enough. That’s why the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy is committed to developing an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset in its students, Pre-K-12. The CEL program enhances the school’s liberal arts curriculum with learning opportunities and classes that empower students to shape their futures and the world.

It’s impressive that SCH’s approach to entrepreneurship is essentially an approach to problem solving. Like our program at Drexel, the CEL program prioritizes the development of key traits that comprise the entrepreneurial mindset, including opportunity seeking, creative problem solving, resiliency, and resourcefulness. Equipped with this mindset, students are prepared to take on exciting challenges rooted in their passions and graduate with a competitive advantage. 

Educators and families alike can all find ways to educate, support, and develop the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders. This is why entrepreneurship programs such as those at Drexel and SCH are essential to empowering students to shape their futures and the world. 

There’s nothing more optimistic and empowering than being entrepreneurial. From their earliest years through to the start of their careers, we need to work on equipping our students with a mindset that enables them to face and solve the world’s most significant problems—the ones that will make the difference in our, and their, future. 


This is more of a continuing series of tips for B2B startups that are trying to develop pilot projects.

Often, organizations want to be early adopters of key technologies and solutions to get ahead of their competition. This actually needs to be one of your key selling points. But be careful not to get trapped into any type of exclusivity agreement that locks you into that major deal and thereby effectively shuts down your overall go-to-market strategy.

So how do you get around exclusivity?

First avoid it. Make the case that it will kill future market opportunities and makes the survivability of your business very low. Focus on shared opportunities, first-to-market capabilities, and perhaps creating a custom version of your offering that won’t be like what you may eventual sell to their competitors.

Second, if you are being pressed hard and want to get the deal done, then try to severely limit the scope on the basis of geography, time (e.g. six months), industry scope, and other factors that reduce the scope of the exclusivity.

Third, if you can’t negotiate something reasonable then consider walking away. It may not be worth your effort to get locked into something that will harm your startup and make you uninvestible. Investors will see that deal and know that you’re not a company that they can put their money into as you’ve limited  your growth opportunities.

Always read any contract presented to you and make sure that you don’t exclude yourself from your market with unnecessary and cumbersome exclusivity language.  

Pricing your Pilot Project

This is more of a continuing series of tips for B2B startups that are trying to develop pilot projects.

The issue of “What should I charge for a pilot?” is one that comes up frequently for startups. What’s particularly challenging about this is that a startup may not even yet understand its business model, its revenue structure, its cost model or other attributes that will help it eventually determine whether it can be a profitable entity.

So how do you price a pilot project? 

One approach is to think in terms of “value exchange”. That is, what value are you receiving back from the customer that is going to assist you in determining product and services viability along with feedback on your business model. With this approach, you can offer a substantial discount because of the tangible and intangible benefits you are receiving from the pilot project. You are asking the customer to spend considerable time on a new product, to try things that may not work, to live with the frequent changes that you’ll be making, etc. With the value exchange approach, you can compensate them in some way for their time and effort by giving them a discount.

It’s difficult to put a one-size-fits-all model around this so one way is to diagram it out and put a price on the activity/feature they are receiving and then to guesstimate how much value you are receiving back in terms of feedback, testing, dealing with bugs, etc. Here’s a simple way to map it: 

Your product and services

Your list price to customer 

Value receiving from customer

Your net price to customer





Implementation services 




Net cost




This gives you a framework to at least consider how you might move forward with coming up with an agreeable price and something that provides more than just an “out of thin air” price. With this approach, you can be transparent with your pilot project customer and show them that you appreciate the value you are receiving back from them and how they are contributing to the overall project.

Finally, for SAAS business models, you may want to put a time limit on the discount but still considering giving the customer a long-term (or even lifelong) discount because of their early adopter status. This can help keep them engaged for the long-term and create a strong partnerships that benefits both parties. 

Getting legal

Every startup that will be entering a formal agreement with another organization must have legal representation. What’s critical at this stage of your existence is that you have a lawyer that recognizes the financial constraints of early stage startups, understands the concept of relative risk (that is, risks you may have relative to your financial ability to completely mitigate those risks) and is willing to allow you to do as much legwork as possible in order to reduce costs and to get to a fast end-result. You want a lawyer that recognizes you’re not a small version of a big company and that you currently don’t have the financial resources and people resources that you (hopefully!) will have someday.

Know, however, that lawyers are like any other business in that they are working to make money for themselves and their firm. You should work to find firms that may offer discounts or offer predetermined amount of hours for a specific dollar amount. Another approach is to look for law firms that allow their partners to offer pro-bono (free) services with one client a year. You can also leverage law clinics offered by universities that have law schools. These programs provide free services with the work performed by law students but supervised by credentialed attorneys. 

Beyond helping you with basic transactions such as company formation and contracts, your lawyer should also be your strategic partner. This is why you don’t want a lawyer with no experience in working with startups. You want someone who knows your market, knows the investment scene, knows the value of your solution and knows what’s most important when putting together a deal. The best lawyers are the ones that are focused on helping you grow, as your growth means more work for them in the future. 

Choosing your attorney is one of the most important early decisions that you will make. While you don’t need a lawyer to do everything and there may be some things you can do yourself, make sure you have your lawyer do the hard stuff that requires their knowledge and experience.

Finding ideal candidates for pilot projects

This is more of a continuing series of tips for B2B startups that are trying to develop pilot projects.

Not all organizations are created equally. Some are new, some are old. Some are big, some are small. Some are conservative in their approach to business, some are more experimental. One of the best reference points for this is Moore’s technology adoption lifecycle which indicates that organizations are on a continuum.

With this theory, some organizations are early adopters and will experiment while others are later adopters who won’t try something until everyone else has. Note that this is not equally applied the same in any organization. Some units within the same organization may have more flexibility and be earlier (or later) adopters than other units. Consider divisions, geographic regions and even smaller units such as departments and then assess them independently. Additionally, some large companies have innovation departments that may be open to listening to you just purely out of their curiosity and openness to new ideas which could lead to interesting opportunities. 

You also will want to consider the overall health of the company. It is very important to find out if company is struggling financially, potentially making their buying decisions a struggle unless your solution is focused on saving them money in the short-term. They will have much bigger issues to deal with during a time of struggle so consider your timing and research your potential client before spinning your wheels on trying to get a pilot project that will be better run another time.

Do your research and don’t make assumptions about which organizations you think are ideal candidate for your pilot project. 

What do you want them to do?

This is more of a continuing series of tips for B2B startups that are trying to develop pilot projects.

A pilot project has some noticeable differences from the more standard sales and implementation processes you’ll encounter once you’re out of startup mode. In particular, as a startup, you are asking your pilot customers to engage very highly with you on the overall pilot program objectives, sales process, implementation process, critical assumptions, and use results.

Unlike a traditional sales approach, selling the value of a pilot project has some unique aspects. While you need to sell your value proposition, you want to be upfront and honest about the fact that this is a pilot and that you’re looking to establish mutually agreeable pilot program objectives in order to validate a number of assumptions. Your customer is likely getting into this with you because they want to be early adopters yet they still must have some solid business reasons for doing this with you. It essentially comes down to agreeing on “shared risk”.

You also want to get feedback on your sales process. Don’t underestimate the value of this as you are learning a substantial amount about your future. Potential ways of getting feedback include

  • Interviews with management
  • Interviews with users
  • Surveys
  • Online chat / Slack / Trello

Once everything is agreed to (see more later about contracts and deal terms) you then start the implementation process. Again, this is another significant learning opportunity for you. Get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Find out what’s confusing to the customer. Find out what else they can do to better get up and running. These are critical learning points for you.

You also want to have a solid plan for evaluating use results. Don’t be afraid of bad news and learning about what the customer truly finds valuable (or not!)

Final point: you likely want to have multiple pilot projects going in order to have multiple data points. Many startups make the mistake of assuming their first pilot or two are the models for everything. Unfortunately that’s usually not the case. Remember that you are validating your entire approach to the market and not all customers are created equally. You may have some luck with very early adopters but as you move beyond them then you need to continually evaluate your situation and ensure that what you are building, selling and implementing truly has product-market fit. 

Finding your way

This is more of a continuing series of tips for B2B startups that are trying to develop pilot projects.

A big question for B2B startups is, “how do you find your way into an organization?”

This topic brings up a wide range of considerations such as who is the person most interested in your solution, where are they in the management hierarchy, what decision making authority do they have as it relates to your solution, and what budget (if any) have they allocated for it. These questions are only scratching the surface as in later posts you’ll see that we get into process issues in the organization including legal sign-offs and procurement processes. A most critical consideration in the short-term, however, is finding your key supporter (often called “sponsor”) who will help you shepherd this project through the organization and will help you to find others that you will need to secure the deal and then even others who will ultimately implement and support it.

But words of caution: it’s very important to think like the customer and consider things such as individual reputation, budget, capability, capacity, among others. Who is going to bat to you and what is their motivation? What happens if your sponsor leaves the organization? Is your solution something they urgently need or are they lying to you to be nice and just dragging you along until they wear you out? 

Sometimes it may be beneficial to reach out to the CEO or someone else in upper management. They may not respond to you directly but there is a chance that they will redirect you to the right person and that person will feel obligated to help you. However, this too can backfire. The person directed to help you may not be interested in what you are doing, and they can feel threatened or under undue pressure because upper management asked for this favor. 

Even worse, consider the people in the organization with influence who may want to shut down your idea even if others are on board. You may also need to consider that you have a “sponsor” in the company for your solution but there could be another “sponsor” for a competing solution.

Regardless, start by finding your sponsor and then diligently map out all the key players who you need to get your pilot project underway.

Sales Tips for B2B Startups (yeah it matters)

My friend, Todd Cohen, is famous for saying that “everyone’s in sales.” And he’s right. As a founder or co-founder, you are the lead salesperson in the company. Entrepreneurs sometimes think that sales is someone else’s job, but it isn’t. It’s yours. This is especially true for people who are not technical co-founders; most of what you must do is sales and customer development.

B2B pilot projects become great vehicles to not only prove out your technical elements and core value proposition of your startup but they become great ways to better understand what you’ll be facing when it comes to selling at scale someday. Remember all the pain, delays, issues, and more that you faced when trying to get your pilot? Well, those likely don’t go away much. It may be somewhat easier if you become a brand that people have heard of, but even then, you’ll still encounter the many challenges of being successful in sales.

There are many terrific books on sales and selling. At the startup stage you likely don’t have the luxury of time to digest all that you need to be good at sales. So here are a few very important tips:

  • Know that the entire pilot project, from start to finish, is part of the sale.
  • Listen more than talk with your prospective customer.
  • Recognize who you’re talking within the organization, where they stand, what power they have.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others in the organization. Sometime a manager may want to help you but doesn’t have the political capital.
  • Document everything you do. It will be important for later repeatability as you on-board others to help you.

Sales isn’t a dirty word and entrepreneurs must get used to (and love!) being in sales. It’s the lifeblood of every organization and one of the most critical elements of your startup.

Five Tips for Working with Startups

If you are an established organization that is considering running a pilot project with a startup, then you are seeing things from a somewhat different perspective than the startup. You know your industry, your business model, your priorities and your budget. Yet here’s this scrappy little startup telling you things that you may (or may not) already know and trying to convince you that they are critical to your future and that they see things out there that you may not yet be aware are problems.

For the organization, it’s important to remember a few key things regarding startups:

Startups are not small versions of big companies. Startups don’t have the time, money, resources, processes or anything that you are used to in a larger organization. Don’t treat them like a big company. Recognize them for what they are.

Startups have made a series of critical (and sometimes fatal) assumptions. Startups are often nothing more than a series of assumptions that must be validated by the entrepreneur. This includes assumptions about their ideal customer, their value proposition, their revenue model and more. You may not be their right customer, but they need you to figure that out.

Startups need you, but you also need them. Through pilot projects, startups gain valuable insights into technical, process, and quality requirements and the workings of an actual organization, which helps them become savvier and more adept at business development. But the organization can also gain much from the experience by identifying important trends, tapping into new technologies and identifying potentially future organizational talent.

Gaining insights. Done correctly, a pilot project can help you gain valuable insights into your industry and give you market intelligence that you don’t currently have. Hopefully the startup is doing a significant amount of market research and see you and your competitors as fruitful opportunities. Might you gain a competitive advantage by deploying an upstart solution? A pilot project can help you determine that.

Access to the startup world. It’s increasingly important for established organizations to get and stay connected to startup ecosystems. Pilot projects become a great way to do that. Ask the entrepreneur to provide you a perspective on this, what meet-ups you should attend and what other resources are available to larger organizations to help you tap into some great minds in the ecosystem.

Startups and established organizations can create symbiotic relationships with mutually beneficial outcomes. Working together to achieve common goals and moving beyond the traditional vendor/customer relationship is critical to finding mutual success.

Goal setting for the entrepreneur

Goal setting and planning for early-stage entrepreneurs is very tricky, especially when you’re still trying to validate and de-risk your business model. You’re being told that you should have a plan but how’s that going to work when you still need to figure out where you’re heading? My advice is to think about your goals and plans in terms of granularity. You pretty much know what you’re going to do today and you can get quite granular in detail. The further out you go, however, the less granular you’re going to be. So try this: start with a set of three-month must-happen goals. Break those down by monthly objectives and then break those down into weekly tasks. Get the current week tasks into to daily schedules. Load everything on your calendar. Wash, rinse, repeat.