November 15, 2012

Building Entrepreneurship Online

A new collaboration between EDC and HP sparks businesses across the world.

Natalia Echeverri believes that her idea can catch fire. An aspiring marketer in Argentina, she has launched a small business that helps other small businesses use networking, sales trainings, and social media to get noticed. The more she helps her clients succeed, the more her own enterprise will grow.

But though Echeverri is dedicated to making her business work, she knows that many entrepreneurs like herself have had similar convictions—and failed.

“All entrepreneurs are worried about how to do it right, and you want to learn from the mistakes others have made,” she says. “You have to find knowledge about how to overcome the walls that the entrepreneurial environment puts up in front of you every day.”

Echeverri is finding the skills and knowledge she needs in a new massive open online course (MOOC) from EDC and HP. Called the HP Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (HP LIFE) e-Learning program, the online course provides entrepreneurs around the world with information and practice in using technology to grow their small business—for free.

Already, HP LIFE e-Learning is changing lives. Since the program’s launch in June, Echeverri and more than 21,000 like-minded entrepreneurs have registered on the site and have found valuable lessons about how to use technology to build successful businesses.

The program is a suite of online, self-paced topic units covering four main areas: finance, marketing, operations, and communication. Each topic unit links business concepts with technology skills that participants can quickly apply to their own businesses. In one unit, participants learn how to create Facebook ads to promote their businesses. In another, they build spreadsheets to help manage finances, time, and production efficiently.

Rebecca Stoeckle leads the HP LIFE project team at EDC. “The program is an innovative and interactive way to help entrepreneurs solve business challenges with technology solutions,” she says. “Like other MOOCs, this program is changing expectations and opportunities for entrepreneurs around the world.”

Supported by HP and the German marketing firm 21 Torr, the EDC team developed a course structure that welcomes participants who are new to online learning environments. Photo novellas of aspiring small-business owners populate the topic units and frame the various business challenges. Participants can also use interactive tools to practice technology skills, and then share their successes in a series of moderated discussion forums.

All participants who complete a topic unit receive a certificate acknowledging their new skill. And participants who complete multiple topic units are eligible for further mentoring opportunities, such as recorded webinars and one-on-one e-learning sessions with HP LIFE facilitators around the globe.

The curriculum builds on the foundation of the original HP LIFE program, which used a face-to-face training model to promote best practices in small businesses. The e-learning approach allows the team to keep the topic units current, and provides more opportunities for participants to discuss their ideas with each other.

Project Director Jim Vetter points to the thousands of participants who have registered for the program since its launch in June. “What kind of resources would you need to reach more than 20,000 entrepreneurs in 189 countries using a face-to-face model?” he asks. “It’s amazing to see that kind of reach and impact after only a few months of the program being available.”

Stoeckle notes that designing a course that is relevant to a restaurateur in Mexico City and a photographer in Nairobi has multiple challenges. Each participant has different needs depending on the country, market, and industry that he or she is pursuing. Moreover, each user brings different attitudes, experiences, and expectations to the technology.

And of course, technology itself is changing rapidly. “By the end of 2013, we may well have more users accessing the course on their mobile phones than on personal computers,” says Stoeckle. “So it is essential that we design with the participant, not the individual tool, in mind.”

Echeverri, the branding and marketing entrepreneur in Argentina, is taking care to implement the skills she learns in the HP LIFE modules. She is also participating in the online forums that serve as a broad community of aspiring businessmen and businesswomen across the globe.

“HP LIFE is a good way to learn about which weak points we have and how we can improve our businesses with simple tools,” she says. “It is also good to interact with people from every part of the world within the HP LIFE community.”