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Entrepreneurship in Action: Moroccan Business Owners Exchange Ideas with Voyagers

For their final field class of the voyage, students enrolled in Colorado State University Professor Chris Blocker’s product design class spent the day networking and collaborating with six Moroccan entrepreneurs at New Work Lab, a small business incubator and co-working space in Casablanca.

Throughout the semester, students have been working on their own product design projects, taking an idea from start to finish. During this process, students developed an understanding of specific tools of the product design process such as journey mapping, branding, and user-experience.

“This group of students has been very engaged throughout the semester and they are equipped with knowledge about important design tools. I want this field class to be an exchange where they can share their tools with the entrepreneurs but also learn about the process of starting a business from people who are actually doing it,” said Dr. Blocker at the start of the day.

The morning began with a brief presentation and overview of New Work Lab (NWL) from the managing director of the center. She explained that NWL is groundbreaking because “venture capital firms aren’t really available in Morocco,” so there are very few opportunities for small business owners to grow, scale, or incubate their businesses from outside investors. This lack of resources is a barrier for startups, which is where New Work Lab steps in, offering a range of services from business boot camps to funding to incubation.

Following the introduction, six local entrepreneurs introduced themselves and gave an overview of their businesses to the Semester at Sea class. Businesses ranged from a mission-minded female-run food truck to a rural student co-working space to an eco-tourism travel agency. After hearing about their businesses, students broke up into smaller teams to work with the entrepreneurs.

Voyagers came into the field class prepared to teach the local entrepreneurs about their design tools and exchange ideas for improving their businesses. Cornell University student Rose Gorski noted that the field class “helped me understand my tool and concepts we are learning in class better. I felt like in class I understood [service blueprinting], but not to the depth that I do now because I was able to teach it to the women we were working with and actually apply it to something I cared about.”

“One thing I appreciated from this field class was that I felt like I did something for someone. Most of my other field classes felt like I was learning a lot, but not doing a lot. In this case, I actually taught a design tool, service blueprinting, to our entrepreneur,” said University of Colorado Boulder voyager Alma Rojas. “She seemed really happy about it and took a photo of what we developed so she could follow up on next steps later.”

Olivia Raymond of the University of Miami echoed Rojas’ thoughts. “This field class made me feel good because it was beneficial for us but also for the entrepreneurs. Sometimes it feels like we are a burden on these field class visits, but this one was a real exchange. At the end of lunch, it was awesome to hear from the local entrepreneurs that the feedback and ideas we provided were actually useful for their businesses.”

Not only was this field class beneficial from an academic perspective, but students came away with strong local contacts and good networking connections. One voyager, Jordan Thomas from George Mason University, may have even lined up some summer plans.

“I’m a marketing major so the most impactful part of this field class was putting into perspective things that I want to do in the future. I loved working with my entrepreneur and I might have even secured a future internship with them. A lot of the tools we learn in product design can be applied to different parts of business, like my tool which was storytelling, which really is just another form of marketing.”

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