Dennis Rohan founded his first venture, a software company, in the infancy of the computer industry. Stanford invited him in 1973 to teach part time as lecturer in Information Sciences and Decision Sciences. Today, after teaching, cofounding and leading 7 successful companies as CEO for 33 years, he is the lead instructor for S321 “Create a New Venture: From Idea to Launch.”
His early teaching in Information Sciences was an outgrowth of his PhD work at Yale, early software company involvement, and research conducted in optimization at Chevron Research. He has lectured in these areas in both the MBA and Executive Programs. Subsequently, working as an entrepreneur and as strategy consultant at SRI International his teaching focused in on the strategic applications of information technology. In the 1980s he was involved in researching the economics and technology of energy, leading to the creation of a class and a new venture.
By 1990 Dennis was fully engaged as a successful entrepreneur. In 1991 he introduced a new course, “High Technology Entrepreneurship,” which was further co-developed and co-taught with Professor Holloway. As the class evolved, it became apparent that there was a need for a more extensive project class. This led to the creation of S356, ”Evaluating Entrepreneurial Opportunities,” where students teams could simulate the experience of researching the idea, testing its viability, developing an operating plan, and exploring financing for the venture.
Approximately 150 students per year were competitively admitted to S356 based on the quality of their idea and team. The teaching approach employed included mentorship by both faculty and experienced entrepreneurs, extensive market and field research, guest speakers, a structured evaluation process, case analysis, peer review seminars, a written plan, and final oral presentation to investors. Although the purpose of the class was education, not incubation, a number of students have applied their learning to create new enterprises. Dennis says that the quality and enthusiasm of the students and the talented faculty members with whom he co-teaches were essential to the success of the course. In 2012-13 he developed S321 “Create a New Venture: From Idea to Launch”, based on the longstanding S356 course structure.
Dennis has created pathfinding companies in software and services. All were known for their early market and technology leadership and have subsequently either been acquired by major companies (Cisco Systems, Dow Jones & Co, McAfee), brought public, or remain as profitable private growing organizations. Each venture was unique, requiring special contextual knowledge and teams, as well as financing methods that ranged from bootstrapping, industrial partnerships, and VC funding to private equity.
Some of the more notable ones include: Infometrics Inc., one of the first publicly traded software companies, Global Internet Software which provided the foundation software for internet security, acquired by Cisco Systems; Wireless Security which provides the security software for WiFi access, acquired by McAfee; and FX Development software to facilitate foreign exchange trading and risk management, acquired by Dow Jones & Co. The ventures were noted for their exceptional management teams, and many of the former executives and employees have formed and grown their own companies.
Dennis continues to be involved as a board member and investor in several companies, and he enjoys his role of mentoring and coaching former and current employees and students.