Tag Archives: Venture Lab

Certificate from Stanford Venture Lab

In a previous post I discussed about online education. Among the final reflections that I shared, one was about the certificates:

Certificates: all three courses are not official Stanford courses, though the instructors send a “Statement of Accomplishment” after satisfactory performance and completion of the course. I guess that with time more institutions will go towards this model. I even think that official certificates will be delivered for these kind of online education.

I have started to receive the certificates from those courses that I completed. The first one in arriving was from “A Crash Course on Creativity“. Note that in fact it is called “Certificate of Accomplishment”, not being an official certificate from Stanford:

Statement of Accomplishment of "A Crash Course on Creativity", Stanford Venture Lab.

Statement of Accomplishment of “A Crash Course on Creativity”, Stanford University Venture Lab.

You may note the remark at the bottom of the certificate:

PLEASE NOTE: SOME ONLINE COURSES MAY DRAW ON MATERIAL FROM COURSES TAUGHT ON CAMPUS BUT THEY ARE NOT EQUIVALENT TO ON-CAMPUS COURSES. THIS STATEMENT DOES NOT AFFIRM THAT THIS STUDENT WAS ENROLLED AS A STUDENT AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY IN ANY WAY. IT DOES NOT CONFER A STANFORD UNIVERSITY GRADE, COURSE CREDIT OR DEGREE, AND IT DOES NOT VERIFY THE IDENTITY OF THE STUDENT.

Some more questions to debate:

  • Would that stop you from taking a course?
  • If you had not completed some other studies before: would you go for these courses? Would you build your student records based on this kind of certificates?
  • If you were an employer: would you recruit somebody which key skill was acquired through such kind of course? (“it does not verify the identity of the student”)

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Wild brainstorming (about sleep deprivation)

One of the exercises of the online course I took, A Crash Course on Creative Thinking, was related to brainstorming. Within groups we were supposed to tackle the problem of sleep deprivation, “Not getting enough sleep”.

Those who know me are aware that I tend to sleep between 4 and 6 hours on week days, rarely more, thus I could easily relate to the topic of the exercise, but I had never seen it like a problem. It is more like I viewed sleeping time as time not dedicated to doing something else, to accumulating experiences…

The thing I liked more about the exercise was the challenge posed by the teacher, Tina Seelig, “your team should submit at least 100 solutions for the problem you are solving”. So there we were, having to come up not with few solutions to a problem we didn’t even see as a problem but having to provide at least 100 solutions to it! I loved it.

In the course Technology Entrepreneurship we had done an exercise to facilitate brainstorming by intentionally looking for the worst business ideas. Coming up with the wildest ideas, ideas that we knew would not work. In this same course on creativity we had to produce a video connecting and combining different objects to create a new sport (see the video here). So with these ideas, looking for the wildest, even worst ideas, connecting and combining them, we launched ourselves into the brainstorming…

Setting the target in 100, a wild absurdly high number, made it even easier than if we had been asked for 10 solutions, which would have probably led ourselves directly into evaluating ideas as they came in order to keep only the best ones.

See the result in the following Prezi prepared by Luis, one of the team members:

Fruitful day, good night sleep

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Summary of (my) 2012

Let me share with you a brief recap of my 2012. (1)

Seychelles

Finally engaged.

I defined 2010 as a learning year, 2011 as a year on the run… I would describe my 2012 as a year of change:

  • I proposed to Luca and we’ll getting married in May 2013.
  • Luca came to live in Toulouse together with me last September, 4 years after having left Madrid to become a lawyer in The Netherlands.
  • My boss at the beginning of the year, Werner, moved to Germany thus I started reporting to his boss. A colleague, Paula, moved to another department and I had to fill the gap for some months trying to learn a complete new field for me. Yet another colleague, Rosa, moved to another country, and I will partially take over her role… and this implies managing a small team of 3 from January 1st.

I guess that all these changes didn’t give me the stability needed to fulfil all the objectives I had set myself at the beginning of the year… but don’t think 2012 wasn’t rich of events and fun. Have a seat in the roller coaster and run with me:

Sports. I wanted to do plenty of sports… in the end I run some 1,500 kilometres. I competed in 9 races, including tonight’s San Silvestre and two marathons: Paris and Berlin. I set personal best times in marathon (Paris, 3h45′) and 10k. I was not able to do so in half marathon due to an injury in the summer. Injuries forced me to run some 300 kilometres less than in 2011.

The year 2012 caught me running in Toulouse, Paris, Berlin, Torrelodones, Madrid, Sevilla, Rijswick, Papendal, Huelva, Asturias, Gaillac… so in a way it was also a year on the run. I also played some paddle, swam some days (including at North Sea, latitude 58º…) and got started with golf!

Learning. This year was also heavy on the learning side. It could have been much heavier if I had reached all my objectives. On the job I had to learn a great deal about configuration management in Airbus and will have to continue to do so, about leading and managing teams, about A400M aircraft systems…

Off of the job:

  • I subscribed to 4 online courses from Coursera and other platforms at the beginning of the year. I kept up with Codecademy for some 2 months while could not finish any of those courses (on valuation, corporate finance, game theory and model thinking). However, at the end of the year I took on some other 3 courses from Venture Lab and this time I did complete all 3 of them!
  • Languages: I started studying Dutch at the beginning of the year and I kept up with it for some 2-3 months… 2013 will force me to re-take it. French…
  • Toastmasters: I almost didn’t attend to my club meetings. I took part in the contests, though. having good experiences in the Spring winning both speech and evaluation and not so good in Autumn, not winning any, though being able to compete also at the area level.

Reading. At the beginning of the year I wanted to read at least 15 books. I started well, but in the end I have finished just 10 while being half way through other 4. Check out “my 2012 reading list“, including just the finished ones.

Investing & helping others. I again set myself high objectives for saving and investing. This year however, the engagement changed the focus of the savings: from stock market to a preference for cash, at least until all the wedding expenses have been paid out. On the charities side: this year I directed 0.9% of my net income to different NGOs (soon I’ll make a similar contribution, check out which ones will I support this time).

Travelling. This year either with Luca, with friends or alone, I visited Monaco (flying aboard a helicopter again!), Seychelles (where I proposed to Luca!), Asturias (twice), Huelva, The Netherlands (Papendal, Rijswick), Berlin – Nürnberg – Munich, Sevilla (twice), Madrid, Scotland, Corsica, Nancy, Geneva… those were the leisure trips; the job made me go to Madrid another 20-25 times (?), that made it tiresome and difficult to combine with other things.

Javi 2.0. For another year I kept it up with the blog. I recently reached 300 posts. I’m not sure whether I’ll always write about 100 posts per year, but if life keeps getting more interesting and I’ve got the time, count on it.

Change of plans due to the bad weather in the mountains, heading south to the coastline, re-calculating the route.

Flying back from Corsica.

Flying. Last year I took on flying lessons. I was slower in this front that had wished to, though it wasn’t always easy to find time slots to fly with so many trips on weekends. I recently surpassed 20 flight hours and started with go-arounds in the airport. Without any doubt, the trip to Corsica with a colleague was the best flying experience of the year. I’ll hopefully start with solo flights at the beginning of 2013 (beware!).

Other reasons for joy…

  • It goes without saying it: Luca came to Toulouse!
  • My sister, Beatriz, completed her masters in Political Sciences. My father spent some 5 months in Bolivia working for NGO teaching children a bit of maths and who-knows-what (he is doing similar work for NGOs now in Madrid), mom kept on giving massages and Jaime had roller coaster year with the A400M!
  • Some friends and relatives got married… Fernando, Diego, Héctor, Sergio, Ceci.
  • Newborns: Clara, Lenny…

Now it’s time to rest, celebrate and soon to update the objectives setting for 2013. I believe I’ll give myself a more relaxed set of personal goals to cope with job changes, personal changes and else. One thing I am sure of: 2013 will be, again, the best year of my life!

I wish you the same: the best for 2013, enjoy it!

(1) This post is becoming a classic of the blog (like those talking about aircraft discounts, best and worst posts, charities I support, etc). You can see my 2010 and 2011 recaps.

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Online education

At the beginning of the year I started some online courses: Coding with Codecademy, Valuation and Corporate Finance with Coursekit (which was later acquired by Lore), and Game Theory and Model Thinking with Coursera.

Together with other life and work commitments, it became tough to follow the courses and in the end I dropped them.

In autumn I received an email from a friend pointing to another online course: “Finance” from Venture Lab platform. I took a look at it… In the end I subscribed to 3 course from that platform: “Finance”, “Technology Entrepreneurship” and “A Crash Course on Creative Thinking”.

They were simultaneous and finishing them has been quite challenging; but this time, yes, I completed all of them.

I wanted to share with you some thoughts about the courses:

Finance: we could say that this was the more boring course for the general public (even though 32,500 students from all over the world subscribed to it… I don’t know how many completed it, probably less than 10%). It started with basic theory of interest and time value of money to get more into the fine details of term structure, building bond portfolios, risk measures, CAPM.

Every week there were about 1h30′ of videos to watch (some quite dull) and exercises to complete (not so easy to solve). On top of that, at mid-way through the course there was a project on bond portfolio (term structure calculation, immunization against rates changes, portfolio building) to be completed between teams.

Team working with different time-zones proved difficult in this project. But the possibility to discuss ideas and results, coupled with the online forum with dozens of students posting questions, problems, hints, etc., proved very valuable for the learning process.

A part from that, there was a textbook (“Investment Science” [PDF, 7MB], by David G. Luenberger) that could be consulted and, of course, Google ready to be posed all kinds of questions.

What did I learn? On the finance side: CAPM, time value of money, etc., were things I had already studied in the past, but not so the term structure, immunization and creation of bond portfolios, the detail and theory behind CAPM, etc. Other take away has been learning to use Microsoft Excel Solver Add-in to solve systems of equations (I hadn’t use it in the past).

Technology Entrepreneurship: Above 34,600 people from all corners of the world subscribed to this course. So many people with good ideas dream with setting up a company. I believe that is the best thing out of this course. You can feel the energy and passion in some of the teams.

The course consists of some weekly videos by the instructor (Chuck Eesley) and some assignment. The videos are great. Full of models, studies, cases, interviews to entrepreneurs, VCs, etc. Very rich content can be found there. The whole set of videos is available in Youtube, starting with the first video here.

This course was 100% practical and very fast-paced. You had to form a team and really get into launching a real product if you wanted to get the best out of the course. Assignments were due very one or two weeks, and included creating a business model canvas, identifying an opportunity, building a low-fidelity prototype of the product, testing the value proposition with customers, building a higher fidelity prototype, creating a marketing page and testing it… At the end of the course mentors for the team were also available.

Our team started out quite well. We all had a similar idea and completed the first steps (I posted about it), but later on we lost some momentum. It was a pity, but it also reflect how difficult is to form and work in a team in a start-up, especially as we were not seeing each other (based in the USA, France and UK). I guess that is one take-away of the course. Another lesson is related to the time you’re willing to commit to it. If carrying out the exercises took some time, starting a company will be a totally different undertaking… a full-time job.

From this perspective, it is good also the last assignment of the course, the “Personal Business Plan”. With it you can reflect on personal priorities, what you’re willing to do, how do you see yourself in some years time, etc.

A Crash Course on Creative Thinking: As I already explained in a previous post, I joined this course because I thought it could be fun and it consisted mainly on forcing yourself to be creative, to do things that you would normally never do. I was surprised to see that almost 41,600 students subscribed to it (more than to any of the previous 2 courses.

This course was light on videos and reading materials. It mainly consisted on completing the assignments. For that you had to break your comfort zone some times and always be on the look out for ideas. Some of the exercises included: observation of shops, filming a video combining objects to create a new sport, brainstorming for 100 solutions to a given problem, creating stories…

What did I learn? From the learning side I could mention the innovation engine model of the instructor,  Tina Seelig, or the 6 thinking hats from de Bono. But more important than that was the idea of combining solutions, setting wild objectives such as coming up not with 10 ideas, but 100!

General reflections:

  • Videos need to be engaging. It would be also good if the materials were available for reading in all cases.
  • Team working proved difficult online: different time zones, tight deadlines, not being able to meet each other…
  • Feedback from other students: some exercises required other groups to rate your work. This was a two-sided sword. Sometimes you would get good insightful comments and others a bad rating without feedback.
  • Time: “online” doesn’t mean easy, nor short, quick… If there are exercises to complete, videos to film and edit, projects to prepare… it will require time (the same as if the instruction was given offline).
  • Certificates: all three courses are not official Stanford courses, though the instructors send a “Statement of Accomplishment” after satisfactory performance and completion of the course. I guess that with time more institutions will go towards this model. I even think that official certificates will be delivered for these kind of online education.
  • Market place: One of the courses included a survey after course completion. Among the questions two caught my attention: they were related to the reasons behind having taken the course. Was it the topic only? The teacher? The institution? Once you can have access to the best teachers, the best universities, the most innovative courses from your home, some things will change. When laboratories or practical exercises are still needed the old system may still have an edge. But who would pay thousands of dollars to study finance from the best Harvard teacher when you can get it free from Stanford or Columbia. The certificate, yes… and what is more: what will be the place in this market for smaller universities without a name in the global market place?

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Hotel Room Sports (Creativity)

At the beginning of the year, as a yearly goal I decided to keep on learning new things. One of the actions I took was signing up for some courses (in Coursera platform).

The courses were great, the way of learning is very encouraging: with videos, small and bigger assignments, online forums, students from all over the world helping each other, aspiring career starters and retired people wanting to learn something new together in a global class.

I followed them for some weeks but finally I was unable to keep up with them and dropped. I felt frustrated for that.

Some weeks ago a friend forwarded some information about some other online course from Stanford University Venture Lab. I decided to follow a couple of them, including “A Crash Course on Creativity” taught by Tina Seelig.

Those of you who know me well might think “a course on creativity, how unlikely of Javier?”. Well, I decided to join it because I thought it could be fun… and some of the assignments are fun!

In this post I wanted to first raise awareness of this kind of free education and, secondly, to share the video I took last weekend in Seville for an assignment. Enjoy:

What was the assignment about?

“Your challenge is to use TWO HOUSEHOLD ITEMS of any type – to come up with a brand new SPORT. Use your creativity to generate something you have never seen before.

 You will be evaluated on your creativity and presentation. Deliver a drawing, photo, or video demonstrating the sport. Feel free to include a short description.”

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