Our Faculty Spotlight series highlights educators within the VentureWell network who are doing transformative work—faculty members who are catalyzing change in higher education and inspiring students to impact the world through invention. This month’s spotlight is Annette Kendall, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Missouri. Dr. Kendall helps students identify an entrepreneurial pathway through technology innovation, and works to elevate women innovators in the technology industry. In the Fall of 2019, she received a Faculty Grant to create a new program that provides mentorship to women technology entrepreneurs, helping them develop technology-focused ventures, patent best practices, and secure investment.
how did you become interested in teaching entrepreneurship?
While I was completing my PhD at the University of Missouri in Columbia, I had the opportunity to teach the Agricultural Business course in entrepreneurship. That one semester got me hooked. I fell in love with the students and their passion for making the world a better place. It was during that semester that I discovered my own passion for inspiring and empowering people to believe they could become entrepreneurs.
what is your favorite thing about teaching?
My favorite thing is to see the students come alive and grow in confidence and self-belief. I had one student who started off the semester with such anxiety about speaking and presenting in class that he offered to do double the work in order to make up for participation points. I worked with him over the course of the semester, giving him notice in advance of when I would call on him in class so that he could have a pre-prepared answer ready. Gradually, he started speaking up on his own and by the end of the semester, he weighed in on an issue that meant the class began asking him a ton of questions to hear more of his perspective. I actually had to call time on the conversation so I could teach! I have many stories just like that.
where would you like to see the field of entrepreneurship in five years?
I would like to see entrepreneurship become more accessible to a greater number of people. Entrepreneurship is an opportunity for people to gain more control over their lives, particularly those who are more likely to be discriminated against when applying for jobs. My personal goal is to create pathways for neurodiverse (a concept where neurological differences are normal, rather than deficits) students to attend and graduate college with a view to creating their own venture. Current statistics suggest 1 in 54 children are being diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum in the U.S. and that 80% of those children face a future of unemployment or underemployment for their entire lives. We know that given the right environment, neurodiverse individuals have great potential for innovation due to their unique perspectives and ways of seeing the world.
what are the challenges you’re tackling in your work today?
I think the biggest challenge is to stay self-motivated. I’m someone who feeds off the energy of those around me and working from home doesn’t allow for those serendipitous hallway or water-cooler interactions with people that provide energy or inspiration.
how have you pivoted your courses or teaching style during the pandemic?
I teach an experiential Entrepreneurial Mindset course that includes visits at mystery escape room or working with children at a preschool. Going online meant I had to find new opportunities for this type of learning; thankfully, I found an online mystery escape room that my students really enjoyed. Another thing I did was order some electronic kits from Adafruit, a 100% women-owned company that manufactures learning electronics and products for makers of all ages and skill levels. The students used discussion boards to help those who were having trouble getting their gadgets to work. It was a great way for the non-tech students to develop some confidence in this area.
what books on entrepreneurship and innovation have you been reading lately, and how have they been insightful to you?
I read Deep Work by Cal Newport over the past summer and it dramatically changed the way I approach my work. Newport talks about the importance of developing the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, a skill that is becoming increasingly rare in a world in which days can disappear in a frantic blur of email and social media.
Unsafe Thinking: How to be Nimble and Bold When You Need it Most by Jonah Sachs was another game-changing book I read over the summer. Sachs argues that in today’s world, “safe thinking has become extremely dangerous” and tells the stories of various “troublemakers” who were willing to step out of their comfort zone and challenge corporate culture, enabling them to build creative and better performing companies.
what’s your most useful classroom activity or assignment?
I have an assignment in which students spend an hour thinking about the impact they wish to have on the world, and then meet with someone they don’t know in the class and spend another hour with them sharing insights from their time reflecting. Some students regularly express real anxiety when given the assignment, imagining the experience to be awkward, or that no one will want to meet with them. Others imagine it will be of little value and question why they need to spend an hour on each part. On completion, students were surprised to realize they’d never really thought too much about the impact they wish to make on the world but that yes, they did have a real desire to do so. They also realize they’ve never sat down with someone to talk about what they want to do with their lives from this perspective and report that the meetings they had were surprisingly enjoyable and energizing.
Looking for more classroom exercises? Check out these resources.
Our Faculty Grants provide up to $30,000 to support the development of programs and classes aimed at helping students hone the skills needed to create novel STEM-based inventions and bring their ideas to market.