Betting on the best ideas

New teaching method improves odds of launching a successful startup

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More than a year ago, Wake Forest senior Logan Harvey enrolled in his first entrepreneurship course. He was not business-oriented, but was intrigued by friends talking about a class that offered a chance to work in teams, develop an idea and produce a prototype solution that could meet a consumer need.

“As part of my class, we had to keep an idea journal. I carried a little black book everywhere I went, and it helped me see the world differently,” said Harvey, a politics and international affairs major.

“Whenever I would notice a problem or talk to someone who was frustrated or upset about something, I would jot it down. My mind became more oriented to problem-solving, and it influenced my entire life.” Logan Harvey ('19)

The notebook Harvey kept was the first step in a new method for teaching students how to discover their best startup ideas, called IDEATE. Designed to improve the odds for success, IDEATE was developed by Dan Cohen, a professor of practice and the executive director of Wake Forest’s Entrepreneurship Program, and Greg Pool, who directs Wake Forest’s Startup Lab.

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen

Greg Pool

Greg Pool

“As with poker players, inexperienced entrepreneurs have improved odds of succeeding if they start with a better hand. This means determining, before they play their hand, if their idea is sound,” said Cohen. With IDEATE, the endgame is to launch a successful startup that builds a student’s confidence in their ability to identify business ideas that will work.”


IDEATE, Wake Forest’s innovative, new teaching method, was one of four finalists for the 2018 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Teaching and Pedagogical Innovation Award from the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers — winning recognition from among more than 100 submissions.

The importance of beginning with a sound, tested idea in entrepreneurship is important. Thirty-four percent of startups fail within the first two years and 56 percent within the first four years. IDEATE has been proven to yield higher-quality, more innovative ideas when compared to classes taught using traditional teaching methods.

The first two steps of the method, Identify and Discovery, involve helping students think about what makes an idea valuable, then learning to identify a true “headache problem” and how to know if it really is worth solving. After generating ideas, the next steps are to Enhance, Anticipate, Target and Evaluate the ideas that emerge. This includes identifying the target market, profit potential, and the student’s ability to build the product or service.

IDEATE in the workplace


Research shows female employees receive more favorable performance ratings when their levels of innovative work behaviors are lower than when they are higher. Rebecca Gill can talk about how IDEATE can help.

“Being a problem identifier and problem solver changed my mindset,” said senior biology major Kimiko Morris. “It has made me feel I have an active role in society. Solving problems is a way for me to make change happen. As part of my class, we needed to come up with 100 ideas and to push each one to be better. It was a hard experience, but the more I did it, the better I got.”

Identifying problems and seeing potential solutions to solve them are leadership skills, not just business skills, said Paúl Pauca, faculty director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. Unlike many colleges and universities, the study of entrepreneurship at Wake Forest falls within the undergraduate college rather than the business school. Students from a wide variety of disciplines, whether they plan to start businesses or not, have made entrepreneurship the most popular minor on campus.

“Creating something, re-figuring out the right idea, validating it — these actions help students in any field of study develop a belief in their own ability to meet the challenges they will face ahead and complete a task successfully.” Paúl Pauca, faculty director of the Center for Entrepreneurship

“We give them the tools but they must, through hard work, learn to make connections between one thing and another,” said Pauca, who is a computer science professor. “Those who learn to identify problems and create solutions using a variety of lenses have an advantage in the workplace, graduate school and in life.”

“I knew early on that the business school track was not for me,” said Claire Brown, a junior communications major. “Choosing an entrepreneurship minor was about learning to think on my feet and develop an innovative, creative mindset that I could translate into any field. The program has been a confidence builder. I’ve learned that I do have good ideas.”

Data show that for students like Harvey, who plans to launch his startup after graduation, generating more ideas is critical to finding the most promising one of the bunch. IDEATE teaches students how to generate more and better ideas, but also how to carefully evaluate and thoroughly vet them. With IDEATE, more student ideas are turning into successful concepts and more concepts are developing into ventures.

“Anecdotally, we know that professors and educators are sometimes frustrated with the lack of quality ideas from students,” said Pool. “The IDEATE program is easily replicable, and our hope is this teaching method can be the next step forward in helping students identify the ideas most likely to go from concept to venture.”

The Center for Entrepreneurship complements and enriches the liberal arts education by educating and inspiring entrepreneurial leaders through engaged teaching, coaching and mentoring. Students hone their analytical and critical thinking skills by experiencing the entrepreneurial life cycle from start to finish.

Learn more about Wake Forest’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the minor in entrepreneurship.

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