Venture Lab: free Stanford University online courses

I devoted some of my time to self-education in September-December using the opportunity provided by Stanford University Venture Lab‘s online courses. In this post I would like to briefly describe my impressions and share some useful materials from the courses. Venture Lab courses are somewhat different from other online courses in that they take place during a specific time with specific deadlines, and you need to enroll in order to participate.

I tried three courses: Technology Entrepreneurship, Crash Course on Creativity, and Finance. As they are very different, I will tell you about each one separately.

Technology Entrepreneurship

This is probably the best one. Although, there are multiple opinions on whether entrepreneurship can be taught, there are a lot of useful materials.

Lectures certainly vary in content. Some are quite theoretic and contain, for instance, large charts showing, how probability of team’s success depends on the number of members or on their background. Others are more about anecdotal. There was, for example, a story about history of skateboarding culture. I didn’t know that it originated from dry Californian summer during which many Californian pools were empty and people started using them to ride inside instead of swimming.
Aside from theory, there is also a team work that is highly encouraged and is in fact an integral part of learning process. Working in teams you are supposed to do market research, create and test the business model. Participants are very diverse. There are people from Pakistan, Belarus, Serbia, Russia, Canada and many other countries. You can pick any of already existing teams (hundreds of them) or create your own and invite other students to join.

If it is too late for you to participate, you might still benefit from these materials:

I think it takes about an hour a week or so to keep up with the lectures. But if you want to do more, for example communicate on forum, read recommended books, and actually try to apply ideas to some project, it will take longer, of course.

By the way, if you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend you these recent notes from Peter Thiel’s lectures. They also happen to be in Stanford. Computer Science dep. It will save another hundred thousand dollars. 😉

Finance

Finance is a completely different story. Right from the first slides of the first lecture, you will see lots of formulas and concepts that will be challenging to grasp if you don’t have a background in economics or finance. I would say that you might benefit from the course if you have a strong real-world motivation and understanding why you need to invest you time in learning it. You will certainly need to do it in order to read a book and understand the principles behind calculations because lectures are certainly not clear enough to be sufficient. I personally decided that it’s not a priority for me and quit.

If it is too late for you to participate, you might still benefit from these materials:

A Crash Course on Creativity

Creativity is, once again, a completely different story. Lectures are often 2 minutes long which is a huge relief from hour-long lectures on Finance. Assignments also seem lightweight. For example, coming up with many unusual usages for a brad loaf.

The biggest problem with Creativity is that its sole purpose is to make you think about familiar things in different ways, but if you are interested in this kind of things, you are likely to be already familiar with most of the ideas Tina Seelig talks about in her videos, such as re-framing and brainstorming (which has been proven not to work in most cases BTW). It is, however, fun to meet new people from around the globe and interesting to see the submissions from other teams to various creative assignments.

I have neither tried “Designing New Learning Environment” nor “Start-up boards” courses though as these are quite specific.

So, here is my experience. I hope you find some materials useful. Happy holidays!

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