EcoMap Recap USABE 2024

EcoMap ReCap: USASBE 2024

Officially themed Forging the Future Together, the USASBE conference also embraced an unofficial motif: AI's current omnipresence in student entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education.

The EcoMap team kicked off the 2024 conference calendar by attending its first ever United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) conference in Birmingham, Alabama.

Kevin (me) and Markise (him) at the EcoMap booth

The conference was buzzing throughout with insights from entrepreneurial educators living all around the world – drawing attendees from Belgium, Morocco, and Japan to name a few – while putting the spotlight on the innovative spirit of Birmingham.

Officially themed Forging the Future Together, the conference also embraced an unofficial motif: AI’s current omnipresence in student entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education.

In fact, twenty-nine different sessions included those buzzy letters “AI” in either the session title or description. And the demand met the supply.

Attendees flocked to breakout sessions named Ideating on AI in the Classroom and Using AI creatively to explore markets and create MVPs, as well as a packed keynote lunch panel on AI Challenges: Future Trends for Entrepreneurship Education & Practice. Most sessions combined high-level AI knowledge along with practical takeaways educators could use in the classroom setting.View the whole conference agenda here.

One sparsely attended session on Friday afternoon that I joined left the presenter to remark, “I guess I should’ve included ‘AI’ in the name…”

USASBE as an organization is embracing AI through its own value offering to members. Julienne Shields, USASBE CEO, proudly introduced its latest tool that entrepreneurial educators can take advantage of: the Syllabus Matcher. Members can upload their own syllabus to the system in order to let this AI-enabled tool curate a list of personalized resources based on the description that would be most relevant for that course.

Syllabus Matcher available for USASBE members

While there was not just a single takeaway about AI and its use in entrepreneurial education, one common refrain was that AI should be used as a tool – not a panacea. There are many instances where AI can augment or enhance the educational experience, but there is harm in treating it as a replacement for the human ingenuity required to be a successful entrepreneur. The sweet spot is found when the two are blended.

In order to see an example of this in action, be sure to read the end of this blog for a step-by-step showcase of how this graphic was created.

Created with a blend of artificial and actual intelligence

But not everything in the world of USASBE directly dealt with AI. Two of the keynotes really put humanity at the center of their stories and left the audience inspired by their entrepreneurial journeys.

Photo of a white woman with curly brown hair and cropped mom jeans standing in front of an oak-colored kitchen

Lindsey Wrege, Co-Founder/CEO of 321 Coffee posited that collegiate entrepreneurs should “dream big and start small”. Inspired by her experience of growing up with highly capable friends with disabilities yet that demographic facing an 80% adult unemployment rate, Lindsey spent her four years at NC State ideating on how to build a company founded on inclusion. As she noted, “321 Coffee started with a couple folding tables and a home coffee brewer set up anywhere that would welcome them.” Today 321 Coffee currently employs 50+ individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) across multiple locations in front of house positions.

A photo of a smiling white man with brown hair, blue eyes wearing a dark suit with a blue shirt and red tie.
Faris Alami, Founder/CEO of ISM Inc.

Faris Alami, the Founder/CEO of International Strategic Management (ISM) Inc., encouraged the audience to “leverage what you already have” in the ecosystem around them. Born in Gaza and raised in Kuwait, Faris illustrated resilience as he navigated turmoil after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. His journey brought him to New York City to Tucson to Detroit, demonstrating entrepreneurial ingenuity in retail and eventually e-commerce while adjusting to a new language and culture. It’s impossible to do his incredible story justice in just a few sentences, but I encourage everyone to check out the Resilient Entrepreneur Canvas (REC) which is a take on a certain canvas familiar to most entrepreneurial educators. Download it for free here.

The conference’s capstone was the closing gala, “An Enchanted Evening in Alabama,” which not only celebrated the success of USASBE 2024 but also the vibrancy of Birmingham, also known as The Magic City. This event was a testament to the power of community and the shared vision of forging ahead in entrepreneurial education.

We’re already looking forward to USASBE 2025 in Las Vegas, NV.

A banquet hall at a conference center, with a laser light show and dancing in the background, and groups of people sitting at tables in the foreground
The dance floor was full at the USASBE Gala

Overall Impression: Reflecting on USASBE 2024, one can’t help but feel invigorated by the entrepreneurial educators’ passion for integrating cutting-edge AI technologies into their curricula. But behind the technology, it’s important to remember humanity. Humans have problems that need solving. Humans have ambitions and goals. Humans buy from other humans.

This tech-forward mindset aligns perfectly with EcoMap Technologies’ vision of empowering students and educators by helping them find the most relevant information that they are searching for. Not to just provide information for its own sake, but rather so it can be utilized to advance a personal goal or solve a problem.

AI is just a means to that end.

If you are interested in learning more about how EcoMap can help you support your ecosystem, you can sign up for a demo through the calendar below.

AI In Action: Always Iterating

Did you appreciate the futuristic-looking design used in this EcoMap ReCap post?

An AI generated image of a futuristic city with networking mapping patterns in red and yellow. A banner reads "EcoMap ReCap 2024 ESABE Conference"
Thank you, Allen Iverson

AI made it.

Well … mostly.

I want to take you on a screenshot journey of what it took to actually get this design from iteration to publishable through the use of ChatGPT and DALL-E. It wasn’t as seamless as you might think, so my hope is that this is insightful as you navigate through AI’s capabilities and limitations in this specific use case.

an example of Kevin's experience asking DALL-E to generate the previous image

It starts with a request. I outline to GPT what I want to create and ask it to clarify what additional information it needs to generate a graphic. It’s helpful to feed GPT as much relevant info as possible (including additional URLs or files) to train it.

Kevin providing DALL-E with more information

I respond with the necessary details and get excited for my perfect image to be generated …

DALL-E's first result

On first glance – this looks awesome! On second glance … what the heck is up with this spelling? “ECOMP REAP: 2024SAM USSBE CONFERENCE”. That doesn’t sound like what I attended.

Kevin attempts to get DALL-E to refine its work

I try to be encouraging and helpful. I love the imagery, but I try to correct its spelling with specific instructions with the text I want. The end result … more misspellings (THE FORGING THE FUTURE TOGER AA USABE CONFERENCE).

Another attempt with DALL-E

I ask it a semi-rhetorical question and it responds with a fairly different motif … which I actually like better! The spelling is closer, but still off.

Surely we must be getting closer to the perfect AI-generated image.

More prompts

Like a professor trying to coax a lazy yet brilliant student’s best effort, I offer more positive encouragement. Success is surely on the horizon. I offer very specific points of feedback for the text and am positive this will be the last iteration … and now it gets worse! So much worse. Completely different motif, wilder gibberish spelling, and I’m losing my patience. Even DALL-E knows it screwed up, recognizing it made an error and providing another image unprompted. That image wasn’t any better.

Wasn’t AI supposed to make this work perfectly in seconds? No more Mr. Nice Guy.

even more prompts!

I re-upload the image that I want it to use as the basis for getting the perfect version just right. How many times do I have to tell you exactly what I want for you to get me what I want?! Are you artificial intelligence or artificially intelligent? I think of the phrase that will surely help – “Please double check your work”.

Still more prompts
and more

🤷‍♂️ I give up. Clearly AI will not get me 100% of the way there. Even while acknowledging its mistakes, DALL-E can’t seem to fix them. You know what they say about the definition of insanity.

Kevin finally takes the one he likes best and puts it in Canva. This photo shows  the image generated by DALL-E being edited in canva.

A new, final idea emerges. I took my favorite image of the bunch and uploaded it to Canva. Using the color matching tool, I created a rectangle block that matched the color of each respective section in the ribbon in order to give me a blank canvas for my text. And viola. We finally have the EcoMap ReCap of the 2024 USASBE Conference that I was looking for.

So what did we learn here?

One, that DALL-E’s image generation has the the conceptual brilliance of a graphic design prodigy yet the spelling capacity of a drunk eight-year old.

And two, much like the theme of USASBE, AI will only get you so far. In the same way that I was never going to be able to design something as cool as this graphic, DALL-E was never going to be able to give me the exact text I was looking for, no matter how much I spelled it out.

The ultimate result was found at the intersection of AI and human ingenuity (plus other no code tools).

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