Entrepreneurial Mindset Is a Catalyst for Diverse Careers

Stanford Business, Summer 2018: The school’s entrepreneurship curriculum and programs

June 01, 2018

Entrepreneurship is one of Stanford’s defining characteristics. As early as the 1930s, Stanford graduates were starting companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Varian Associates. By the 1950s, Stanford’s dean of engineering and then provost Fred Terman was helping to lift Stanford’s stature by recruiting and encouraging entrepreneurial students and faculty.

A report completed a few years ago found that there were around 40,000 companies started by Stanford alumni around the world, and that these companies had annual revenues of over $2.5 trillion.

The spirit of possibility and innovation continues to pervade the Stanford campus. At Stanford GSB, the rate of student entrepreneurship runs roughly double that of any other MBA program. Last year, 16% of our graduating students started a company or nonprofit venture, and in a recent study that identified the 100 most successful start-up companies founded in the last five years by MBAs, 28 were from Stanford GSB, a striking number given our small class size.

This record not only reflects Stanford’s culture of innovation, it is a testament to the GSB’s outstanding entrepreneurship curriculum. This past year, our business students could choose from 60 elective courses related to entrepreneurship, with a range of approaches and viewpoints. In Formation of New Ventures, students focus on the skills needed to launch and effectively manage an entrepreneurial company. In Fern Mandelbaum’s course Entrepreneurship from Diverse Perspectives, the emphasis is on exposing students to the issues facing women and underrepresented minorities in building and financing entrepreneurial companies.

Experiential project-based learning plays an important role as well. Last year, roughly 190 students from the business school and other Stanford schools took Startup Garage, a two-quarter course that exposes them to design thinking and entrepreneurial frameworks. Students work in small collaborative teams, mentored by practitioners, to build out and refine business plans. Stanford GSB also maintains the Stanford Venture Studio, which enables teams of graduate students from across Stanford to hone their skills in idea validation, early testing, launch, and fundraising. This year, more than 250 teams spent at least one quarter working in the Venture Studio.

One team of students, Himanshu Gupta and Max Evans, both MBA/MS ’18, started ClimateAI, a for-profit, mission-driven venture that uses artificial intelligence to model the impact of climate change on businesses. Himanshu, who served as president of the Sustainable Business Club here, and Max recently raised their first round of funding. Another team, Michelle Wu, MBA ’18, and engineering school student Eric Loreaux, MS ’19, founded Nova Approval, which leverages machine learning and natural language processing to automate the regulatory affairs process for medical device and pharmaceutical approval at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Other students take the entrepreneurial skills they acquire at Stanford GSB to larger, more established organizations. While still a student, Rebecca Odin, MBA ’17, cofounded Nimble, a company using predictive analytics to change the way school districts identify and hire teachers. Earlier this year she joined the strategy and operations team at Deloitte Consulting, where she is advising clients about how to innovate in their respective markets.

One question I am asked with some regularity is whether our strength in entrepreneurship has a downside. After all, we are a school of general management. We aspire to train leaders of many types of organizations, across many industries. It is important to recognize that the skills students acquire in our entrepreneurship courses — how to identify market gaps, develop innovative ideas, take risks, work in cross-functional teams, and lead projects — are broadly valuable. Indeed, most of our current students will graduate having taken at least one entrepreneurship course and will later work in an established organization. Many are likely to move between established and entrepreneurial firms as their careers evolve.

A similar set of observations are relevant when it comes to technology. Our location in Silicon Valley provides a rich opportunity for students to learn about technology. Of course, only a fraction will take jobs in traditionally defined technology companies. Yet the fluency they can develop will be broadly valuable in an era where virtually every industry is grappling with how technology might improve business models or enable new products and services, as well as the risks and ethical issues that can arise in deploying new technologies.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem at Stanford also continues to evolve, with new ideas, people, capital, and knowledge. We are seeing an increasing number of new ventures that seek to address social and policy concerns, in addition to traditional consumer or enterprise needs. We are also seeing increasing interest from our students in starting ventures across the United States and around the world. I am confident that the culture of innovation and risk-taking that has helped to define Stanford for the last eight decades will support even broader positive impact on people and organizations in the coming years.

This letter from the dean was published in Stanford Business magazine in Summer 2018.

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