Practical Entrepreneurship Education for MBA Candidates

Submitted by: Patrick Cheung (Canada), MaRS

Summary: There are currently two major issues affecting management education today: 1) Current entrepreneurship education is broken. 2) Too much “thinking” and not enough doing among MBA graduates. This idea addresses both points by creating a real-world, cross-functional entrepreneurship program that fosters practicality and immerses students in an environment that breeds innovation and future success.

Full Description: Create a mandatory one-year cross-functional entrepreneurship program that not only engages MBA students, but those in the faculties around them. This program would be open to all other graduate students (opt-in), and allow them to create teams of 4-5, work together to identify a point of pain in the current market, and create a business that addresses that problem. Students would have four months to do the market research and put the business plan together, and then spend the next four months creating a demo of the product and generating customer interest. Over the course of the eight months, students would also attend classroom sessions once a week that cover topics that are more relevant to startups like Osterwalder business model generation, entrepreneurial sales/marketing, and investor pitch, etc.

At the end of the year, students would present their ventures and the top five (as judged by the faculty and industry experts) would be offered seed money, connections, and incubator space on campus for a year to further grow their business. Those who did not make the cut would write a report to document and understand why they failed and what they would do differently next time.

This would be a huge improvement over many existing entrepreneurship programs, where teams of MBAs get together and create business plans that never progress past the ideation or concept stage, either due to a lack of diversity in skill sets within the group or a lack of interest in actual implementation.

The latter issue stems from a more systemic problem, which is that the element of practicality is sorely lacking in current North American management education. Right now, if you take a cross-section of MBAs and ask them what they want to do, a majority of them would likely say “strategy”. This is natural, because in the cases and examples they learn from, the majority of decision makers are C-suite or senior executives, so students get used to making high-level strategic decisions and are thus underwhelmed and less willing to contribute in a more tactical manner when they get into the real world. This is further exacerbated by the B-school culture, where ivory tower consulting firms like McKinsey are looked upon as rock stars, while firms that handle implementation are deemed a second-tier afterthought.
Putting a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship which stresses bootstrapping and a DIY kind of culture, would ideally create a paradigm shift in the current mindset and help students realize that many of the activities required to run a successful business are in fact tactical in nature.

Thus, the impact of this initiative would be twofold:

  1. Growth in entrepreneurship – Track how many students go on to start their own businesses out of school vs. entering industry – has this number risen? Out of those who are in a start-up, how many are successes?
  2. Satisfaction from corporate recruiters – Are candidates who have been through this program contributing more to the company?

This idea is fairly easy to implement. The program would begin with a pilot of MBA students who wanted to join an entrepreneurship stream and an initial partnership with another faculty like computer engineering or digital media (ideally something where a product can be created in a short period of time without a large capital expenditure). The necessary faculty and infrastructure would likely already be in place, since most modern MBA schools have entrepreneurship courses already, and all that would be left would be to engage successful entrepreneurs from the local business community to act as team mentors.

The campus itself would need a diverse student body to create the necessary cross-functional teams, and be located near a large city, so that the local business community would offer funding and customer traction opportunities. The university would also need to provide incubator space, which is simply extra office space that could be easily converted.

Obtaining seed capital would be another consideration, this could come from the university endowment, a partnership with a local VC firm, angel investors, etc. With the trend moving towards smaller seed funds and Y-Combinator type operations, this should not be particularly difficult. Standard terms could also be set to make the seed financing a convertible loan so that there is also an upside if the venture does take off and if so, create a renewable pool of funds for future years.