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How To Pivot In The Face Of Unexpected Events

Normally when I give this talk to my students, I’m speaking about small obstacles that require just a little change in perspective or direction to overcome. BUT since I’m writing this during the Covid-19 pandemic, while remote-teaching full time, I think we all have a new perspective on things. The question is how do we adapt, and how do we do it quickly?

For your students, the things that usually throw a wrench in the works are you or your administration producing a school rule that prevents them from pursuing their business idea or running it in their envisioned way. In my case, I usually have to bring up that any company dealing with food products is not allowed to sell them at the same time our cafeteria is open, per county policy. They subsidize the school cafeterias and in exchange, no competition allowed. Even our vending machines are turned off in the morning and during lunch! Other common hurdles my student businesses have to deal with are a location getting shot down, a product they wanted to sell not being available, shipping being way more expensive than they thought, or providing some sort of event that requires insurance.

We also find bigger problems that come up, such as the market research revealing that their target market isn’t really interested or isn’t willing to pay the asking price. Sometimes the cost to produce a product is too high and the business owners can’t make a profit based on what competitors are selling the same thing for. Right now, my students are facing the unprecedented problem of not being allowed to have human contact! How about that for a challenge?!

In each of these cases the student businesses are going to have to ask themselves a couple of questions:

  • How big a deal is it?
  • Can we find an alternative to substitute into the place of whatever is no longer available?
  • Do we need to find a different target market?
  • Do we need to rethink our marketing mix?
  • Do we need to think of a different product or service to offer?
  • Do we need to abandon ship and follow a different business idea?

Your job as their guide is to make sure they don’t go to the mindset of “Oh well. We tried” and then they throw in the towel and give up. One of the main reasons we ask them to come up with multiple business ideas in Section 1 of the student workbook is so they have a Plan A, and then a Plan B and Plan C to fall back on if they truly have hit a wall on their first idea. One thing I really love doing with my classes is asking student businesses to share their challenges with the class. Put it out there and see what the class throws back in terms of solutions. You get 2 major benefits out of this: a) your students get to problem-solve challenges that maybe don’t come up in their own businesses, and b) you probably help multiple businesses out since they will likely have similar problems and get to see the process for overcoming it first hand.

Of course, you are always there to weigh in with your opinion and solutions, but I recommend you to try and restrain yourself to see if they can figure it out on their own. If your students can generate a solution to an unexpected problem, as a group, without your input, you will teach them more in that one instance than they probably will learn in an entire semester of traditional classes. That is the true value of the Simple StartUp project. Students finding problems, and then solving them when they don’t have a method or specific example to follow. Let students figure out that you are not the only source of information and answers. I know it’s bittersweet when your students realize they don’t need you anymore, but isn’t that the goal of education? To produce career and college ready individuals, capable of problem-solving their way through all of life’s challenges.

If you have any cool stories of students overcoming challenges and solving a big problem, please share it with the community at or

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