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Kauffman’s Founders School helps entrepreneurs “cut through the noise”

Startup founders have a lot of advice and information to digest daily. When hearing from friends, investors and mentors, watching videos and presentations and reading articles and books, all about the different challenges in building a successful company, it can be hard to know what’s what.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation wants to help by taking entrepreneurs back to school, but on their own terms and their own time. Through the work of Wendy Torrance, a director at the Foundation, and vice president Thom Ruhe, the entrepreneurial nonprofit has created Founders School. The school offers an online curriculum of curated videos featuring hand-selected experts that are paired with questions for the founder and their team, exercises and suggested readings—all free, and free to use at any pace and time.

“There’s a lot out there, but it’s very difficult to cut through the noise,” Torrance (right) told Silicon Prairie News. “What are those really important things entrepreneurs need to know? What’s really critical? Those are the pieces we sought out.”

She took many of the lessons learned from running the Global Scholars Program—which provides entrepreneurial training for recent graduates through a competitive international application process—and brought back many of its experts to try and fill a need for entrepreneurs’ hectic schedules. Instead of wading through a glut of information, Founders School attempts to bring the most essential startup information to the forefront, in concise lectures.

So far, courses include Intellectual Property, Powerful Presentations and Entrepreneurial Selling—all with various modules included. Torrance said they will continue to roll out new series and have about 10-12 priority topics scheduled to tackle, including ideas for customer development, surviving the entrepreneurial life, marketing and the design and product creation process. In the future, there may also be a linear way to navigate all the information, such as chapters.

“We put it all into context and provide curation,” Ruhe (left) told Silicon Prairie News. “So much out there was really uncurated. It’s been left to the individual to find pieces relevant to them. We tried to be responsive to needs in the market and did an analysis of what was available, trying to fill a void.”

He sees it fitting right in with the Foundation’s other educational programs, following Ice House‘s focus on the entrepreneurial mindset and FastTrac‘s building of core skills. He also believes the School will be leveraged into other Kauffman programs, and eventually, other programs outside the Foundation.

While the entirety of Founders School takes place online, entrepreneurs will be able to interact with some of the experts. Founders School Live had its first event today (Friday) at the Foundation, opening up an audience to interact with an expert who either has or will be a part of the site’s content.

“We’re bringing in experts to KC to do events where they can talk about the subject and interact in person,” Torrance said. “And we’d like to see it happen in other locations eventually.”

Both Torrance and Ruhe want feedback from entrepreneurs—what they need, what is and isn’t working—about the Founders School as they go through the courses. In the end, the goal is to answer critical questions entrepreneurs have every day.

“Entrepreneurs will be motivated by questions they have or gaps they have,” Torrance said. “I encourage them to explore topics they think they know about, too.”


Here’s an example of one of the lectures, centered on trademarks:


Credits: Wendy Torrance photo from Kauffman.orgThom Ruhe photo from LinkedInVideo from YouTube.

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