In his recent Reddit AMA, visionary and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk wrote: “It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree—make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
Whether you are contemplating starting a business for the first time or starting a new type of business, the most important tool you can have in your toolbox is knowledge. As a follow-up to Angelique O’Rourke’s recent article Top 10 Free Online Classes for Small Business Marketing, here are 11 highly rated free online courses on various topics related to starting a business. Together, they provide a broad entrepreneurship education from which anyone can benefit.
Note: Some of these courses are available in a self-paced format, while others are scheduled to run periodically. On some platforms, even after a scheduled course has ended, you can still enroll and take the course on a self-paced basis.
1. Essentials of Entrepreneurship: Thinking and Action
Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur? This course from the University of California, Irvine Continuing Education department, will introduce you to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, including the entrepreneurial process and how to recognize business opportunities. The goal is for people with little to no knowledge of entrepreneurship to emerge with tools they can use to assess their readiness to start their own business.
2. Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies: The First Step in Entrepreneurship
This course, which was rated the top entrepreneurship course and one of the top three business courses offered by massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera, is perfect for those who may have a great idea, but don’t have a business background. As the first course in Coursera’s “Entrepreneurship: Launching an Innovative Business” specialization, and as a general introduction to entrepreneurship, industry, and markets, it is well worth a few hours of your time.
3. Entrepreneurship 101: Who Is Your Customer?
“You have an idea for a product, but do you know who will want to buy it?” That’s the fundamental question explored in this course, which is offered by MIT on the edX MOOC platform. In this course, you will explore case studies of real MIT entrepreneurs, as well as perform various exercises that will help you identify and select the right customers for your business.
4. Degreed’s Entrepreneurship Learning Pathway
This is not a course per se, but rather a curated collection of articles and videos from resources around the web. It is organized into 12 self-paced lessons, starting with an overview of entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurship process, and progressing through various foundational topics and practical applications.
5. How to Build a Startup
What better way to learn about entrepreneurship than from a successful entrepreneur? This course is taught by Steve Blank, who has built several Silicon Valley startups, authored two books on entrepreneurship, and teaches around the world. In this course, you will learn about the Customer Development Process, which teaches entrepreneurs how to develop and test their ideas using data from real customers.
6. Thinking Outside the Box: Creative Entrepreneurship
Creativity and its partner-in-crime, innovation, are two of the hottest in-demand skills today, especially for entrepreneurs. As the business landscape changes and new ideas and technologies disrupt the status quo, creative thinking is what distinguishes the winners from the less successful. This six-week course will lead you on a journey from developing creative habits to applying those habits to an entrepreneurial project.
7. DQ101: Introduction to Decision Quality
The ability to make good decisions is one of the hallmarks of a successful businessperson, and a successful leader. Decision Quality (DQ) is a practical tool that entrepreneurs can apply to help them make better decisions in all aspects of their business, and their lives. Whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned veteran of running a business, this course can help you learn how to improve your decision-making process.
8. Design Thinking for Innovative Problem Solving: A Step by Step Project Course
Design thinking is another idea that has taken the business world by storm. This powerful approach to problem-solving can help you better connect with your customers and drive meaningful innovation in your company. During this eight-week course, you will apply the entire design thinking process—from brainstorming to prototyping, to testing your prototype—to solve a real problem facing your business.
9. New Venture Finance: Startup Funding for Entrepreneurs
Many would-be entrepreneurs have great ideas, but don’t have any clue how to get those ideas funded. This short (four-week) course will introduce you to the vocabulary of investment and teach you how “speak the language of raising start-up capital.” You will also learn how to create an investor pitch that will put you on a good track toward raising the funding your business needs.
10. Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship: Pitching Your Business and Yourself
This course provides a short introduction to what makes an entrepreneur, and to how entrepreneurs can tell their stories so that they can attract both funding and customers. As a final project, you will make a 1-minute video elevator pitch for your business and yourself. This course is offered through Skillshare, and you have the choice of either just watching the videos (free) or paying $8 per month for the full course experience.
11. How to Develop Breakthrough Products and Services
Finally, this graduate-level course is for the more advanced entrepreneur who is seeking the skills to develop “major innovations.” It teaches the user innovation paradigm, which is an innovation process that focuses on the needs of the end user. The courseware lets you work through the materials at your own pace, with readings, video lectures, and assignments from the actual course, which was taught at MIT in 2012.
Whether you are a student studying business, a new entrepreneur just starting out, or someone who has been in the game for a while, it is always a good time for you to enhance your knowledge and upgrade your skills. Whether you choose to read books, take free online courses, or join a local entrepreneurs group, the most important thing is that you never stop learning.