Teaching Business Associations by Swimming with the Sharks
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been posting about gamification and prediction markets. But I wanted to shift my focus this week to teaching and pedagogy because I’m busy reviewing some materials that I think will make my fall courses more timely and interesting. Teaching the introductory Business Associations class is enjoyable – as students spend the semester gaining a better understanding of many financial and legal concepts, it is a very rewarding enterprise. While I enjoy it, some of the doctrines in business law are technical, require glosses on a statute, or are otherwise difficult for students to grasp because of the finance concepts involved, so making the doctrines relevant, timely, and engaging can be a challenge. When there’s an opportunity to tie in some of the more technical details with popular culture or media, I like to jump on it.
For those of you not familiar with the television show, “Shark Tank” features various entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas to a panel of “sharks” – well-known and successful venture capitalists who are looking to invest their own money into a business. (There is a disclaimer that says that the sharks are investing their own money, presumably to avoid running afoul of the securities rules on public solicitations). The sharks rotate, but they have a variety of expertise and also a variety of colorful personalities. Sometimes the sharks pass on the investment and the entrepreneur leaves the stage sheepishly; other times they jump on an investment and compete for the opportunity to partner with the entrepreneur, with high fives ensuing. With most of the pitches, the entrepreneur is asked about revenue stream and opportunities for future growth. The sharks also inquire about what the business is worth and what equity share the entrepreneur is willing to part with.
I have the feeling that showing a few clips from “Shark Tank” makes the cases that we are reading more accessible to students. Since the businesses presented on the show are usually small and have business plans that can be understood by the viewing public, the investments are ones that the students can get their heads around easily. They understand the transactions presented on the show, and understand intuitively why one might not want to sell a large share of their company. I’m planning to show a couple clips from the show at the start of the fall semester, along with a “role play” where some students play entrepreneurs, others play attorneys and a third group plays venture capitalists.