Inquiry-based Entrepreneurship Education: Reflections on Creating and Instructing SPICE’s Design Thinking-Guided Online Program for Adult Learners

The Stanford-Hiroshima Collaborative Program on Entrepreneurship for MBA students was launched in 2019.
At the Hiroshima Prefectural Government Offices, with Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki and Professor Katsue Edo from HBMS At the Hiroshima Prefectural Government Offices, with Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki and Professor Katsue Edo from HBMS; photo courtesy Hirotaka Tokuda


At SPICE, we offer synchronous online courses that provide interactive learning experiences and foster the development of globally minded critical thinkers. When I joined the team in June 2019, I was immediately drawn to SPICE’s mission of making Stanford University’s scholarship accessible to students beyond this institution. In line with that mission, I designed and launched SPICE’s first university-level online program for adult learners in Japan: the Stanford-Hiroshima Collaborative Program on Entrepreneurship (SHCPE; pronounced as SHU-PPE). Like our other online courses for high school students, SHCPE provides a unique opportunity for the MBA students in Hiroshima to connect virtually and engage with entrepreneurs, professionals, and scholars from Silicon Valley.

In October 2022, I had the privilege to revisit Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki, a fellow Stanford alumni (MBA, 1995), whose vision has played a pivotal role in creating SHCPE. SHCPE, a course to help nurture entrepreneurial thinking, was an innovation of the Governor’s vision to design and implement a social challenge to help accelerate Hiroshima’s regional growth. The Stanford-Hiroshima collaboration reached its fifth year benchmark since SPICE started to collaborate with the faculty of the Hiroshima Business and Management School (HBMS), a graduate program of the Prefectural University of Hiroshima. Notably, HBMS is the only higher education institution in Japan’s western region which offers a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. During my visit, I also met with my HBMS collaborators, Professors Katsue Edo, Narumi Yoshikawa, and Yasuo Tsuchimoto, to brainstorm ideas for the future of SHCPE.

Leveraging Stanford Scholarship in Course Design

As an instructor at SPICE, I aim to create courses that utilize the academic research at Stanford University and make the material accessible through program development. By integrating inquiry-based learning approaches into the curriculum, my goal is to create an inclusive and dynamic learning environment that promotes collaboration and creativity to enable learners of all ages to foster their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Specifically, I draw on the concept of social constructivism and utilize the framework of design thinking, which has been adopted in educational contexts by Stanford scholars. 

Constructivism theory, widely applied in the field of education, posits that individuals, or “learners,” actively construct knowledge from their experiences and interactions with the world around them. Learners are considered as active participants, rather than passive recipients of knowledge. This approach often involves hands-on, experiential activities, problem-solving tasks, and collaborative learning environments. Design thinking, an interdisciplinary approach to engineering and product design that became viral in Silicon Valley as a method to generate innovative ideas, is deeply rooted in constructivism. Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, also known as the, is considered as an epicenter to popularize design thinking as a methodology. While the mechanics of design thinking are not the focus of this reflection, it is important to note that this approach encourages us to create innovative solutions by challenging assumptions, redefining problems, and understanding users and their needs, which aligns with the constructivist approach to learning.

Inquiry-based Curricula to Spur Entrepreneurial Mindsets

Due to its emphasis on collaboration, creativity, exploration, and problem identification, design thinking has gained increasing traction in educational contexts in recent years. Research has shown that the application of design thinking trains learners to turn from seeking for “the perfect answers” to engage in iterative, experiential learning that explores imperfect solutions. This inquiry-based approach enables learners to create innovative solutions by challenging assumptions, redefining problems, understanding users and their needs, and developing user-centric solutions. There is also research that design thinking can empower students to hone these skills through interactive learning modules and become change agents. Employing design thinking as a teaching pedagogy, I co-founded SKY Labo in 2016, a Japanese non-profit organization to empower girls through STEAM x Design Thinking education.

My experiences at SKY Labo inspired me to take an inquiry-based approach to spur innovative thinking and risk taking in the curricula I design at SPICE. SHCPE is one of the courses where I apply the principles of design thinking. The curriculum challenges the adult learners to construct knowledge through observation, investigation, and discovery. The participants, generally representing working professionals from Hiroshima in their 30s to 50s, are tasked with honing their collaborative and critical thinking skills using various pedagogical tools provided throughout the course. Entrepreneurs and professionals from Silicon Valley are invited as lecturers and discussants, and their life stories serve as tangible case studies that students can engage with and utilize as a resource.

Zoom screen SHCPE

Through an interactive and student-centered learning experience, the adult learners in SHCPE  are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, experiment with new ideas, develop empathy, and embrace ambiguity. Students are organized into teams and tasked with facilitating bi-weekly modules, including interviews with guest speakers. These interviews are designed to encourage  critical thinking about entrepreneurial competencies and mindsets, with each team leading a class-wide discussion at the end of the module. In their reflective activity, many participants report developing a mindset that enables them to see challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement. This learning process is supported by guest speakers who share stories of grit and perseverance, further instilling a “growth mindset” in the students. Overall, SHCPE has been successful in attracting highly motivated adult learners. Since 2019, 92 individuals successfully completed the program.

Capturing the Impact of SPICE Programs Through Research

As I developed the curriculum for SHCPE, my guiding question was, “What impact can a short-term, inquiry-based curriculum have on adult learners, particularly in promoting collaborative and entrepreneurial thinking?” To achieve this, I integrated four hypotheses drawn from existing research: 

  1. The course will promote students’ tolerance towards ambiguity by cultivating their ability to explore imperfect answers. 

  2. The course will encourage students to be more open to taking risks and learning from their mistakes or failures.

  3. The course will foster empathy among students by promoting diverse viewpoints and inclusivity towards one another.

  4. The course will empower students by promoting their self-efficacy as agents of change.

Moving forward, I will continue my collaboration with HBMS to capture the learning that takes place in SHCPE. The SPICE/Stanford and CASEER/University of Tokyo Seminar Series in 2022 provided a valuable opportunity to share my research design and receive feedback both from the faculty and students. With the developing collaboration between SPICE and the Center for Advanced School Education and Evidence-based Research (CASEER), spearheaded by Dr. Gary Mukai and Professor Hideto Fukudome, I look forward to exchanging research ideas, sharing knowledge, and advocating for evidence-based educational practices. My hope is that this study will provide insights into how Stanford scholarship can be effectively implemented in cross-cultural contexts and create impact beyond the University.


Collins, Hilary. “Can design thinking still add value?” Design Management Review 24.2 (2013): 35-39.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House, 2006.

Fosnot, Catherine Twomey, and Randall Stewart Perry. “Constructivism: A psychological theory of learning.” Constructivism: Theory, Perspectives, and Practice 2.1 (1996): 8-33.

Goldman, Shelley, and Zaza Kabayadondo. “Taking design thinking to school: How the technology of design can transform teachers, learners, and classrooms.” Taking Design Thinking to School. Routledge, 2016. 21-37.

Kijima, Rie, Mariko Yang-Yoshihara, and Marcos Sadao Maekawa. “Using design thinking to cultivate the next generation of female STEAM thinkers.” International Journal of STEM Education 8.1 (2021): 1-15.

Leifer, Larry J., and Martin Steinert. “Dancing with ambiguity: Causality behavior, design thinking, and triple-loop-learning.” Information Knowledge Systems Management 10.1-4 (2011): 151-173.

Rittel, Horst WJ, and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning.” Policy Sciences 4.2 (1973): 155-169.

Scheer, Andrea, Christine Noweski, and Christoph Meinel. “Transforming constructivist learning into action: Design thinking in education.” Design and Technology Education: An International Journal 17.3 (2012).

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