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How OpenForge’s Startup Wars platform is helping students get in the entrepreneurship game

Four professors explain why they’ve integrated the virtual simulation into their classrooms.

The Startup Wars business simulation platform. (Courtesy image)

This article is sponsored by OpenForge and was reviewed before publication.

Learning the ropes of entrepreneurship can be a catch-22, says Shu Yang, Ph.D., assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Hofstra University.

“Students learn best by doing,” Yang said. “But if they start [a business] before they’re ready, they’re going to face failures that come at a high cost.”

Yang, who taught management for a decade before shifting to entrepreneurship, said that for years, data-based Excel simulators were the closest thing to giving students experience running a startup. That is, until last year when Jedidiah Weller, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based mobile app development shop OpenForge (currently a fully remote company), reached out to Yang via LinkedIn imploring her to try his interactive entrepreneurship simulation platform, Startup Wars.

“It’s a video game, sort of like SimCity,” Yang said. “It gives students a chance to learn and fail virtually, so it’s less intimidating — and it’s much more fun than homework.”

Startup Wars is a hands-on educational platform that simulates the experience of starting a business. With content and difficulty customized by the professor, students engage in the process of building a company, such as developing a business model, hiring employees, tracking spending and revenue, and receiving feedback from the actual market. The platform’s customization enables students of all levels, from undergrads with no experience to grad students in the process of launching a startup, to safely dip their toes into the world of entrepreneurship.

Working with Weller since the inception of the Startup Wars platform, Lori D. Kendall, senior lecturer and academic director of graduate certificate in IT business strategy and entrepreneurship programming at Fisher College of Business within Ohio State University, also found traditional simulations to be unsatisfying: “There are a lot of options, many terrible,” she said. “They are theoretical. Dry. Numerically driven. They don’t put students in the seat of making decisions.”

In Kendall’s experience, one of the biggest hurdles for young students exploring the idea of entrepreneurship is coming up with an idea. Startup Wars eliminates that part of the process, putting them in predetermined scenarios so they are able to start thinking like an entrepreneur without the pressure of deciding exactly what they want to do.

“This is how we all learn,” Kendall said. “We work at someone else’s startup. We work for a founder, watching, learning. It’s easier to develop your own thing if you’ve had a chance to watch someone else do it first.”

Like Yang, Kendall believes students learn best when they are able to see the real consequences of their decision making, which in an entrepreneur’s real life would play out over the course of months. “That part of the experience is much more realistic in Startup Wars than in other programs,” she said.

Startup Wars simulates starting a business. (Courtesy image)

Much of Weller’s momentum in the adoption of Startup Wars has been his co-creational approach. Weller works closely with his network of entrepreneurs and professors to update the platform with features and scenarios based on their real life experiences and classroom feedback.

This has been an exciting relationship for Jeff Whalen, Ph.D. and STEM entrepreneur in residence at the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship at Florida State University, who has enjoyed seeing his and his student’s ideas come to life throughout the platform’s iterative development process.

“Jedi has been incredibly flexible in terms of collaborating with professors to develop realistic and customizable simulations, not just a box product,” Whalen said. “The speed at which he’s been able to launch new features has been meaningful to us teachers and exciting for students.”

Another early adopter of the Startup Wars platform is John Wilson, Ph.D, a teaching professor at Drexel University’s School of Entrepreneurship — the only independent school of entrepreneurship in the country. Based on his 20 years of experience working in the tech industry and as an entrepreneur, Wilson said that the Startup Wars simulation is “the most aligned with what real-world entry into entrepreneurship is like.”

Wilson has spent time discussing the benefits of the platform with Weller on his YouTube channel, while also integrating it into both his undergraduate and graduate classrooms.

“The content is robust and works for all audiences,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the platform’s versatility empowers professors to introduce entrepreneurship to an undecided college freshman, prepare a student ready to launch their business, or encourage lifelong learners to refresh or hone their skills — “and, it’s fun.”

Want to give the Startup Wars platform a try? Click here to get a free demo.

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Companies: OpenForge / Drexel University
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