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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Robots, Programming, and Education

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Ever since Orbotix was founded, we’ve been talking about robots and education and how Sphero could play a role. Last week, my friends at Orbotix rolled out a new program called SPRK which stands for Schools, Parents, Robots, and Kids. They’ve already got six lesson plans up with more coming.

To get a feel for the potential of Sphero in education, take five minutes out of your day and watch the video below. At the minimum, it’ll make you smile.

Recreating Law School

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Ah Latin - we love latinI spend a lot of time hanging around CU Law School. I know it’s a strange place to find a venture capitalist and entrepreneurs, but it happens to be the epicenter of entrepreneurial activity at CU Boulder. I wrote a chapter about this in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City explaining why and how CU Law has taken a different approach to the engagement of the of a university and the entrepreneurial community.

Step back and think about it a little. A surprising number of entrepreneurs have legal backgrounds. A legal education is a great grounding in systems thinking, which can be applied to many businesses, especially as their scale up dramatically. And, in a world that needs less lawyers and more entrepreneurs, repurposing some of the brightest non-technical graduate students to be entrepreneurs is a neat idea. See – that’s not so strange.

Phil Weiser, the Dean of the CU Law School, is a good friend. Phil also totally groks entrepreneurship and is aggressively applying it to the vision, the curriculum, and the operations of CU Law. Following are some thoughts of his that recently appeared in an article in the ABA Journal titled Five initiatives that legal education needs.

Just like every other corner of the profession, legal education is grappling with a New Normal that was barely appreciated as recently as four or five years ago.

Even as law schools welcomed incoming classes this year, the mood has changed. And it’s no secret why.

Applications are down nationally for the third year in a row. And larger law firms aresignificantly cutting back on their entry-level hiring. The American Bar Association is also starting to focus on changes to legal education, recently releasing a draft report (PDF) from the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.

Change is happening, and that’s a good thing.

The upside of today’s New Normal is that law schools have the opportunity to develop a new generation of lawyers who are more purposeful than ever before about how to develop and navigate their careers. These graduates will be legal entrepreneurs. By that, I mean lawyers—whether working in government, nonprofits, law firms, consulting firms, or businesses—who take ownership of their career paths and develop the tool kit necessary to add value and succeed wherever they work. Developing legal entrepreneurs, however, requires a commitment to innovation and experimentation that until recently has not been traditionally associated with legal academia.

To underscore the range of emerging innovations needed in legal academia, consider the following five initiatives now taking place in legal education:

1. Build an entrepreneurial mindset. Training law students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset is foundational for the New Normal. The reality is that large law firms are employing fewer and fewer law graduates, and the early interview week model is not what it once was. As such, law schools need to reorient their students’ thinking about their careers. An entrepreneurial mindset is a must in the New Normal, and law students need to heed LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s teachings in The Start-up of You. How law schools will transmit those lessons to a notoriously risk-averse group remains to beseen. But the age of law school as a risk-free option for people who expect a job to be handed to them at the end is over.

2. Challenge employers on entry-level hiring. Challenging employers to think differently about entry-level hiring and summer jobs is a critical to adjusting to the New Normal. The marketplace for legal talent is incredibly traditional, and the resistance of employers to experiment is a formidable challenge to creating new opportunities for recent law school graduates. Most law students would welcome the chance to work at any number of successful law firms or in-house organizations in a temporary capacity over the summer or even upon graduation—even at lower rates than traditional summer associate or associate positions—because such jobs can offer valuable opportunities to build marketable skills and develop important networks, connections, and references. And such opportunities present firms with the chance to use the talents of these students or recent graduates. But a big impediment to developing such an opportunity is that firms often believe that they cannot provide them if they are not prepared to offer a long-term job when the student graduates. A number of law schools are taking this issue head on, such as the Cardozo New Resident Associate Mentor Program and, in Colorado, where both law schools (the University of Colorado and the University of Denver) are collaborating on a Legal Residency program that encourages law firms or other employers to hire a recent graduate for 12 to 18 months, offer a quality experience, and provide apprenticeship outside of the traditional associate track.

3. Compress law school education and couple with experience. Law schools can couple a 2.5 year degree with a quality experience. The opportunity to graduate in 2.5 years, which can be achieved through accelerated schedules that permit saving a semester, is increasingly appealing as tuition costs has risen greatly over the past decade. Law schools encouraging such paths can work with partners like Cisco’s general counsel Mark Chandler, who is welcoming paid interns for seven months at Cisco from June 1st after their second year until the following January, enabling students to graduate not only with less debt, but with more experience.

4. Provide multidisciplinary training. Law schools increasingly are providing their students with multidisciplinary training, including but not limited to key business skills. The New Normal means that “thinking like a lawyer” is not enough; we need lawyers who can “think like clients.” For lawyers to understand their clients, they need to learn their businesses. This concept applies to those working in the public sector as well as the private sector; lawyers with domain knowledge of the fields they are practicing in are simply more likely to succeed than those without such knowledge. This means more nontraditional courses, more interdisciplinary courses, and more “boot camp”-type experiences.

5. Engage with the community. Law schools need to engage with their communities, get to know their success stories, and reverse-engineer them. The reality is that law firm hiring is not coming back, and a core challenge for law schools is to develop nontraditional opportunities—such as ones in business development, compliance, human resources, and public policy—for law school graduates with the right skill sets. The challenge is that developing such partnerships and opportunities is a long game. But the forces that shaped today’s New Normal were a long time coming; the actions that will enable law schools to adapt will take time as well.

Experimentation, innovation, and the New Normal. In 2008, most law school deans were living in the Old Normal. Today, all law school deans know that they are in a New Normal. The reality is that the shaping of today’s environment took place over a long period of time, even if we did realize it while it was happening. As such, developing a new model will not happen overnight. But momentum is building. The broad outlines of the New Normal—the need for a more entrepreneurial mindset, more community engagement, more multidisciplinary training, and new (and nontraditional) employment pathways—are now taking shape through experiments all over the country. The exciting part of this emerging paradigm is that it is still very much a work in progress, and law schools have the opportunity to develop creative partnerships and innovations to support our students in a changing and challenging environment.

NovoED MOOC on Raising Venture Capital

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I’m spending the new two days filming the content for a MOOC on raising venture capital. The content is based on my book with Jason titled Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. After exploring a few different MOOCs for this, I think NovoED is the most interesting platform.

I’ve been impressed with the quality of the courses that currently exist. Several of my friends have done courses, including Chuck Eesley, a professor in Stanford University’s Management Science & Engineering group. Among other things, he’s got a great NovoEd course starting in a month titled Technology Entrepreneurship as well as a superb reading list for anyone interested in entrepreneurship.

Matt Blumberg finished filming the course around his book – Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business - a few weeks ago. I got a preview of a few segments – it’s excellent and exceeded my expectations for what NovoED was planning to do.

I’m looking forward to yet another experiment in content creation, this time around a MOOC. In addition to creating the content, I’ll be an active participant / teacher in the course when it comes out.

I’ve often talked about how I learn things by doing them. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m fascinated with what I perceive will be a radical transformation over the next decade in how education works. I’ve been participating in it already through experiments like Techstars, which has completely changed how I think about entrepreneurial education. Creating – and participating – in MOOCs in another step in my learning process as I form a view about what is really interesting here.

Startup Weekend Edu in Boulder (10/5 – 10/7)

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I’ve been involved in Startup Weekend events since Andrew Hyde held his first event in Boulder in 2007.  As you know I’ve recently joined the board and have enjoyed watching the organization flourish.  One interesting development is the growth of industry-focused events and it’s especially exciting to see Entrepreneurs and Educators collaborating Education-focused Startup Weekends.  A team of organizers in Boulder has put together a Startup Weekend Edu for next weekend (October 5th-7th) in Boulder and I’d love to see the tech community come out in support of entrepreneurship that focuses on making the lives of students, teachers, parents, and administrators better.

The judge panel is pretty impressive. Glenn Moses (Denver blended learning guru) and Dan Domagala (CIO for the Colorado Department of Ed) both signed on as judges, and Congressman Jared Polis will be joining SWedu-ers on Sunday morning. They need a few more sponsors for meals and have plenty of room for attendees. Please forward this out to your network and, if you haven’t confirmed your attendance, please do that now!

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Simply Awesome Leadership in Computer Science Education

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I woke up this morning to a post from Fred Wilson titled The Academy For Software Engineering. In it Fred announced a new initiative in New York City called The Academy For Software Engineering. Fred, and his friend Mike Zamansky (a teacher at Stuyvesant High School) helped create this with the support of Mayor Bloomberg’s office and Fred and his wife Joanne are providing initial financial support for the project. If successful, it will have a profound impact on computer science education in the New York public high school system.

Fred’s looking for additional support. I haven’t talked to Amy yet about magnitude, but I’ve already committed via Fred’s blog and sent him a note separately. If you are interested in education in general and computer science / software education in high school in particular, I’d strongly encourage you to reach out as well.

I’ve been working on this general problem (dramatically improving computer science education, both in K-12 and college) for a while through my work at the National Center for Women & Information Technology. More than ever I believe we have a massive education pipeline problem – whether you call it computer science or software engineering or something else. There are several fundamental problems, starting with the curriculum and lack of teachers, but including a total miss on approach and positioning. I expect efforts like The Academy For Software Engineering to take this on directly.

I’m involved in the nascent stages of two projects in Boulder going by the code names “CodeStars” and “The Software School.” I’m excited about each of them and Fred’s initiative and leadership just pumped up my energy by a notch.

Fred / Joanne / Mike (who I don’t know) – thank you! And Mayor Bloomberg – we need a lot more politicians like you who speak their mind and get things done.

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