Introduction to Entrepreneurial Design Thinking Continues Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Stef Alicia McCalmon
April 15, 2020

In February, Columbia Business School's Venture for All (VFA) and the University's Government and Community Affairs teams welcomed the third cohort of “Introduction to Entrepreneurial Design Thinking” students. Taught in partnership with the New York City Department of Probation’s Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON) initiative, students learn contemporary design thinking concepts and tools, which they apply to generate innovative solutions to solve important community problems. The course culminates in a pitch competition for one of two grants of up to $10,000. Past winners have developed programs that address food justice, recidivism and STEM education in their local communities.

VFA students come from across New York City, from diverse educational and economic backgrounds, and have had varying access to the technology needed for virtual instruction. Empathy and flexibility are critical to understanding the different circumstances necessary to accommodate and support the students. 

That level of support was especially important this spring when halfway through the course (taught Thursday evenings at the Business School) the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of in-person instruction. The VFA program had to make that unique and difficult decision to maintain the safety and well-being of all involved while transitioning to remote instruction as seamlessly as possible.

For the remainder of the course, lectures were recorded and posted to YouTube for students to access at their convenience, the Thursday evening class time became 20-minute phone appointments, the term was extended by one week and the pitch competition was moved to a virtual format. VFA's efforts to remain flexible and responsive to the times, whether in-person or online, has made the transition an overall success and participation has actually increased. Now the program also has a model for online administration of the course that can be replicated for future cohorts.

The pandemic’s short- and long-term effects will become more apparent over the coming weeks and months, and entrepreneurs like the VFA students will play a key role in confronting these challenges with innovation and design thinking.

More information about Venture for All can be found on the Columbia Business School website.

Stef Alicia McCalmon leads instruction of the Introduction to Entrepreneurial Design Thinking program. She is an award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and marketer working at the intersections of entrepreneurship, media and advocacy. She’s the founder and CEO of SAM, a media company and consultancy that uses storytelling to advocate for and advance equity initiatives led by or supporting people of intersectional identities, including Black women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and low-income populations.