Into the Deep End: From Brainstorm to Prototype in 72 Hours

Colleges are preparing students for jobs that don't exist yet. Enter "3 Day Startup." The fast-paced, 72-hour, immersion experience challenges students to develop an idea for a new company by using entrepreneurial approaches to problem solving and, for Davidson students, the broad, transferable skills they've learned in the classroom, in internships and around the world. Cam Houser '00, the organization's co-founder and CEO, will bring the third annual Davidson 3 Day Startup to campus Sept. 29-Oct. 1, operating this year out of the college's own emerging entrepreneurial space, The Hub@Davidson.

The program is open to recent alumni (classes 2013-2017) and Charlotte area university students. Application deadline is Sept. 25; visit (an external site managed by to learn more or to apply.

Here, Houser answers a few questions about the pace of change in today's world, his own education and how the liberal arts and entrepreneurship fit together.

How do you "teach" entrepreneurship?
It's through practice. It's learning by doing. A lot of people deliver theory, but what we do is to present the practice in a very elegant and proven way. And it evolves over time. Think of the example of iOS software. The programs we run now are very different from the programs we ran at the beginning. It's an iterative process. With 3 Day Startup, we're building a space where young people and students can do three things: design products, pitch investors and sell to customers. They can practice.

The business press has written a great deal lately about the value of a liberal arts education. How would you characterize that value in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation?
The rate of change in the world is increasing–product innovation, communications, technology, globalism. Successful entrepreneurs and startups don't just cope in a world that's changing fast, they thrive. Learning how to think and learning how to learn works a lot better in today's world than gaining rote skills that are going to be out of date very soon.

What aspects of your liberal arts education do you rely on most?
The hard work piece. Definitely the network that I built. And the critical thinking piece. The ability to step back and see a macro context and see what's happening at a larger scale is crucial. When I graduated with a master's degree in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin in 2010, 3 Day Startup was essentially just a student organization. Now we're in 30 countries and we've served 12,000 students in 150 different higher learning institutions, including MIT and Harvard.

In presenting 3 Day Startups, how do you navigate the tension between the speed of entrepreneurship and the more measured pace of academic scholarship?
The pace of academia is different than our pace. We're the people who think that we can change the world in three days. The fact that we've been around a while makes that a little easier now. We just want to partner with higher learning to help students have entrepreneurial minds for today's world. We also recognize that peer-reviewed academic scholarship is what creates knowledge, and that takes time. We are very much indebted to academic research and teaching.

What was your major?
I studied English. The ability to express an idea well is hugely important. There are great ideas that are not well-expressed and go nowhere. And there are ideas that, because they are expressed well, are able to catch fire.

How has Davidson's approach to entrepreneurship evolved in the past three years?
To me, it's been really great to see all of the activity that's been happening at Davidson. It's still got a way to go, but Davidson's been intentional about figuring out how it's going to happen there. I'm excited about The Hub@Davidson, and I'm honored to have some formative role for the next generation because I care about Davidson so much.

What skills and mindsets do Davidson students bring to the entrepreneurial table?
Davidson students understand that you've gotta put in the work. No one is coasting around Davidson. It's just a great fit.

At the end of three days, how do you know you've succeeded?
At 3 Day Startup, we are definitely throwing them in the deep end of the pool. Students sometimes look at these mythical figures like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, but they look at it up close and they can see it's not this dark art or black box. We are successful when they see we can all be entrepreneurs in our approach to life and work.

John Syme


  • September 20, 2017