Entrepreneurship Course Helps Marry Ideas to Business Fundamentals
What initially was an intensive summer course on entrepreneurship will expand into an enriched 20-week evening format in a new program aimed at Silicon Valley professionals and nonbusiness grad students.
by Cathy Castillo
As a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford Medical School, Samuel Mazin had a new idea to improve radiation therapy for cancer treatment. "I was very excited about it," he recalled, "but I had no clue how to pursue it."
Then he discovered the business school's Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship. Mazin and his classmates studied business fundamentals with 18 faculty, heard firsthand accounts from 46 Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, were mentored in developing their project ideas by Stanford MBA students, and were coached on pitching their ideas.
Two years later Mazin is working full time on building his idea into a business.
"It gave me the tools and confidence to pursue the venture," he said.
Since its founding in 2006, the Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship has spread the learning experience across four weeks. In January 2011 the GSB will launch a new program, based on the same basic model but spread over approximately 40 evening sessions held twice a week into May, designed to attract working professionals from Silicon Valley as well as nonbusiness Stanford graduate students.
Called the Program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PRIE), the new program has the same goals as its summer counterpart. "Our goal is to expose participants to the fundamentals of business while also engaging in the practical aspects of identifying, evaluating, and moving entrepreneurial ideas forward," said Peter Reiss, faculty director of both programs.
The January class will be open to Stanford master's and doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars, as well as men and women from Silicon Valley with strong technical backgrounds. Participants should have high proficiency in their field, perhaps even some business experience, but must not have had previous graduate business education, Reiss said.
"This new program will provide graduate students from nonbusiness fields the management knowledge and skills they need to become leaders in established and startup organizations," said business school Dean Garth Saloner. Saloner, along with university President John Hennessy, developed the original idea for the summer program as a way to help graduate students in nonbusiness disciplines to collaborate and benefit from the resources of the business school.
"The program is designed to get emerging entrepreneurs out of their daily environments and expose them to different ways of thinking and interacting," said Aimee Slobin, associate director of both programs. The new program "provides participants from diverse backgrounds with the opportunity to learn about business fundamentals and bring a venture idea to life in a collaborative environment."
Before they arrive, participants are invited to submit a description of the project they would like to pursue. Roughly a dozen are selected as class projects, and diverse five-member teams are formed. Guests from Silicon Valley offer advice on the projects. An advantage of the program beginning in January will be that MBA students will be available to be integrated into the coursework throughout its duration.
Past summer program participants say they benefited both from the quality and variety of interactions with faculty and students and from interacting with dozens of guest speakers from the business world. "Understanding the fundamentals of important topics in business, such as accounting, finance, marketing strategy, and economics, is an enormous asset no matter what career path I choose," Mazin said.
"The guest speakers did a great job of conveying the true entrepreneurial spirit," said Ken Schulz, who participated in the summer program while pursuing his PhD in microbiology and immunology at Stanford. "It's one thing to be told, 'Do what you love.' However, when you hear one story after another about how people turned their passion into a business -- as opposed to trying to find the next pet rock -- the point really comes across."
The new PRIE winter program will be housed in the school's Knight Management Center, which is scheduled to open just weeks before the first session in January. Deadline for applications is November 15. Details and the application information are available at www.gsb.stanford.edu/prie.