The University Education and PresenTense

by Ariel Beery

In my opinion, there are few things more enjoyable and more rewarding than teaching a person new skills that can help them make an impact on the world. Over the past five years, since we established the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism (and with it our program for social entrepreneurs in communities around the world), I’ve had the privilege to teach hundreds of entrepreneurs and organizational professionals tools and tricks for how to start social ventures.

But it wasn’t until this year that our unique curriculum was honored by being included among college courses – available only to honors students, no less. In the fall semester of 2012, the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (known as the IDC, and one of Israel’s leading undergraduate institutions) offered A Practical Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, which I taught.

The main challenge I faced in adapting PresenTense’s curriculum to the University classroom had to do with breaking one of our main pedagogical assumptions: practice before theory. In general, PresenTense’s curriculum rests on three insights that we had following a significant period of research, trial and error. As we learned, entrepreneurs need,

  1. Time before money (to access mentors, subject matter experts, etc., so they can spend their money wisely)
  2. Practice before theory (to try things out before they can dig deeper into any one approach)
  3. A supportive community (to leverage social capital for the introductions, ideas and investments required)

The PresenTense curriculum, therefore, uses the flow of Design Theory to guide the learning but ensures entrepreneurs get the basic tools, insights and connections by leveraging seven different educational modules. Only one of these is delivered in a classroom, through a workshop.

Taking this into account, you can imagine how concerned I was when adapting the course to the needs of the college classroom, and especially the challenge of teaching individuals who may or may not be entrepreneurs themselves engage in the entrepreneurial process around solving social problems in their community. And the grading, I loathed the grading.

Believe it or not, I think it turned out well. You can check out the syllabus, its readings, etc., at this link – but more importantly the question that should come to mind is whether these honors students felt that they learned something. Here is a short video they produced after the course was done and their grades were in – watch it and judge for yourself:

If you’re interested in learning more about our more academic courses – either because you run an academic program and are interested in providing this course to your students, or because you want to learn more about the pedagogy PresenTense uses to train entrepreneurs around the world, feel free to drop us a line or use the comments below.

And finally, thank you to the wonderful students (and the wonderful staff) at the IDC for this opportunity. It was a ton of fun, and I hope some of the ventures the students thought up, developed and started prototyping during the course of the semester will bear fruit for Israel and the world.

Ariel Beery, a founder and former Global CEO of the PresenTense Group, is now the CEO of MobileOCT, a medical device start-up based in Tel Aviv that is advancing the discovery of cancers in epithelial tissue.