In 2012 I had the opportunity to spend close to a year in Santiago, Chile teaching and mentoring University students in the skills of digital entrepreneurship. I was in the country as part of the Start-Up Chile program, which has the mission to make Chileans more innovative, creative and risk-taking while connecting them to an international network of entrepreneurs.

During my time in Chile, I was inspired by the book The Startup of You by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. The book basically argues that to succeed in a rapidly changing world and fiercely competitive global economy we all need to develop entrepreneurial traits and treat our careers like a startup. I think this is excellent advice as the new career trajectory seems to include a mix of salaried employment and project-based contract work.

While most of us aren’t likely to become the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Richard Branson — three highly entrepreneurial outliers — we can learn a lot from successful entrepreneurs and apply their insights and attitudes in our own careers.

We Are All Born Entrepreneurs

Before the Industrial Revolution most of us were entrepreneurs by default. But the rise of industrialization and its massive factories and bureaucracies required a new kind of employee and managers, which gave birth to our modern education system and the standardization of learning. Today, many of our natural entrepreneurial traits are schooled right out of us to prepare us to be good employees.

This system may have worked during the peak of the Industrial Age, but today developed economies are moving away from industrialization and toward a more fluid, innovation-based economy. In this new economy a different set of entrepreneurial skills are need to thrive: namely critical thinking, persistence, adaptability, creativity and initiative. These are now the most important indicators of success in the 21st century economy. Fortunately, we can train and improve our skills in all of these areas.

I highly recommend watching the inspiring short trailer for The Startup of You to get idea of just how radical this shift toward an entrepreneurial economy is for our careers.

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Why Learn Digital Entrepreneurship Skills?

While many of the online courses, tools and resources for entrepreneurial education that I mention in this post can apply to any kind of entrepreneurship, I want to focus on digital entrepreneurship because that is the fastest growing area of entrepreneurship. If you’re in any kind of business today, whether brick-and-mortar or digital, you’re going to at the very least need to use the Internet as a platform for marketing your products or services.

Believe it or not, the skills behind digital entrepreneurship can be learned and developed as you grow in your career. Sure, risk-taking and uncertainty doesn’t come easily to most of us but technology has recently dramatically lowered the difficulty of assessing a good business idea and gradually building your customers without taking on huge amounts of  risky debt. Many employees are also required to manage innovation and become intrapreneurs who behave like an entrepreneur within a large organization.

There is a ton of content on the Internet for entrepreneurship but I have found these entrepreneurial resources the most useful for getting started:

  1. Lean Canvas – Your Startup Blueprint – The new business plan for the digital age. A faster, more effective way to map out and then communicate your business model. I recommend you do this for any creative project or business you want to develop in order to focus and crystallize your ideas.
  2. The Lean Startup Movement – Eric Ries’ highly influential book The Lean Startup is the blueprint for building new business models and products by engaging directly with customers in the process of building your business. The Internet makes it very easy to create your minimum viable product (MVP) and then get it in front of an audience for feedback.
  3. Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner – One of the single best resources for digital entrepreneurship from the epicentre of Silicon Valley. Stanford generously offers over 2000 videos and podcasts featuring entrepreneurship and innovation thought leaders.
  4. The Startup Library From Y Combinator – An authoritative library from the world’s most highly regarded startup incubator in Mountain View, California. Following their Hacker News website is also highly recommended.
  5. Mixergy – Andrew Warner asks all the right questions in his interviews with successful digital entrepreneurs. Many of the interviews are free but the premium membership is well worth the $25/month.

10 Free Courses in Entrepreneurship:

I believe the best way to learn entrepreneurship is from successful entrepreneurs who have done something similar to what you dream of doing. If you have been thinking of starting your own business but you don’t know where to begin then these online courses can help you get started.

If you’re not quite ready to go out on your own, these free online courses can also help you build valuable digital entrepreneurship skills that you can use to identify opportunities in your current organization.

1. The Lean LaunchPad: How to Build a Startup (Udacity)

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Highly-regarded industry pioneer Steve Blank, author of the  best-selling book The Startup Owner’s Manual, teaches you the lean methodology for building a startup.

You get to learn his famous Customer Development process that shows you how to identify and engage the first customers for your product and how to use your customer’s feedback to optimize your product, marketing and business model.

This course is self-paced so you get started right away.

2. Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The 1st Step in Entrepreneurship (Coursera)

Find out the best practices for identifying opportunities based on real customer needs and building true value for customers with the excellent Business Model Generation approach. The course starts by defining and teaching the entrepreneurial mindset and will help you develop your functional skills to see and act entrepreneurially.

By the end of the course, you will have a solid foundation in entrepreneurial essentials such as how to write a business plan, develop a business model, raise funding and ultimately turn your ideas into a profitable venture. This step-by-step course attempts to demystify the startup process.

The next session of this free 6-week long course from the University of Maryland begins September 30th, 2013.

3. Startup Engineering (Coursera)

If you have an Internet startup idea but you don’t have any technical or coding skills then this course can help you develop the skills you’re going to need to build an online business. You will learn the fundamentals of software engineering and agile development so you can start building your own applications.

If computer science and coding isn’t something that you’re really passionate about, I still recommend this course because it will give you a foundation of knowledge to successfully outsource development or manage a team of software developers to build your startup idea.

The most recent session of this 12-week course from Stanford University began on June 17th, 2013 but you can still join and follow along (or wait for the next session).

4. Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Businesses (Coursera)

This is a course directed at people without an academic background in business who want to learn how to managed the growth of an existing business. The course focuses on the 4 P’s framework for business growth: planning, prioritization, process and pace.

In this course you will learn the right methods and tools so you can avoid the common mistakes entrepreneurs make when expanding their businesses. Once you’ve completed this course, you can also take the second part of the course, which focuses on human resources and people challenges that companies face as they grow.

The next session of this 5-week long course from the University of Virginia starts on Jan 20th, 2014.

5. Foundations of Business Strategy (Coursera)

Develop your ability to think strategically using the tools of strategic analysis to position your business venture to maximize value creation. This course is taught by Michael J. Lenox, the author of the excellent Strategist’s Toolkit and while it is highly academic, it can help you understand how to gain a competitive advantage for your business.

The course focuses on real-world examples and case discussions of innovative Fortune 500 companies, including Apple, Google and Disney.

This 6-week long course from the University of Virginia began on September 2nd, 2013 but you can still join.

6. Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations (Coursera)

An excellent course for independent entrepreneurs and “Intrapreneurs” who work within organizations to manage creativity, innovation and disruptive change. You will learn how to manage creative people when innovation is the goal in a business, school, government or any other complex organization or institution.

This course teaches innovation as a process of generating, assessing and then implementing useful and valuable ideas. Having good ideas is the easy part, the hard part is communicating them to stakeholders and managing the execution.

Unfortunately, there are no upcoming sessions announced. You can get notified by email on the Coursera website when the course is offered again.

7. Entrepreneurship Course: Start Your Own Business (Open Learning)

This new course on entrepreneurship from Taylor University focuses developing a new product or service and generating your first revenue. You will learn important entrepreneurship and business skills like business communication, innovation, networking, teamwork, managing money and sales.

This extensive course will also teach you the latest research on motivating, inspiring and leading people. To complete this course you are required to start a business and start generating revenue.

This 18-week course is self-paced and it requires about 10 hours your time each week.

8. Global Entrepreneurship Program (Global Entrepreneurship Institute)

The Global Entrepreneurship Program is a free 10-week online course where you can earn a certificate from the Global Entrepreneurship Institute, a non-profit organization that educates and supports entrepreneurs with a focus on developing countries.

This program is provided for entrepreneurs who don’t have access to expensive educational programs and business advisors. The focus is on developing innovative businesses with activities across national borders. Course participants get access to live online lectures, assignments and an online learning center where you can view video lectures and interact with participants from over 60 countries in the discussion forums.

You need to complete a brief application to access this course. It is free but there is a small charge for additional mentoring.

9. Starting Your Own Business 101

While not specifically geared toward digital entrepreneurship, this free course from international non-profit organization MyOwnBusiness is useful for understanding finances, leasing space, taxes and the necessary permits required to run a business.

You’ll find useful tips in video interviews with successful entrepreneurs, complete quizzes to test your knowledge and get helpful advice on how to avoid the common entrepreneurial pitfalls that new business owners face.

You can take this course at your own pace and if you complete all the work you will receive an official certificate of completion.

10. Technology Entrepreneurship (NovoEd)

I like NovoEd because their focus is on group action labs, collaboration and applied learning. In their introductory course on the fundamentals of technology entrepreneurship you will learn how to identify high-potential commercial opportunities and gather resources such as talent and capital.

Once you’ve established the fundamentals of technology entrepreneurship  you are guided through how to sell, market and scale your new technology startup. NovoEd has recently teamed up with the prestigious Babson Global Entrepreneurship program to offer a whole range of entrepreneurship-focused courses. I highly recommend browsing the NovoEd website for their other entrepreneurship course offerings.

The next session of this 8-week long course begins on September 16th, 2013. 

Entrepreneurship Is Learning By Doing

A big part of entrepreneurship is just believing that you can actually do it. These courses can help guide you along the way but it is also important to build a network of entrepreneurs that you can regularly reach out to for support. Fortunately, an added advantage of taking one of these online courses is that you can meet other students and entrepreneurs (often in your own city) with similar interests.

I also highly recommend going to local entrepreneurship meetups, subscribing to the local Startup Event Digest and even checking to see if there is a Startup Weekend event in your region to participate in. If you’re really serious about following the path of digital entrepreneurship, you should look into applying for a startup accelerator. I believe these accelerators are laying the foundations for a new 21st century education system based on mentorship and learning by doing.

Thank you to web designer Serge Kij for the great photo at the top.