Can Business Schools Teach Entrepreneurship?

Opinion

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we’re looking to them for advice rather than for something more tangible like a job or money.” Miller is a co-founder of 3Play Media, which delivers high quality transcription and web video captioning at low rates.

Even those who did not know what to expect of the effect of the entrepreneurial environment seem to have been pleasantly surprised at MIT Sloan. “I underestimated how much excitement you can generate in others and in yourself by just being around people who are interested and excited in innovation. I feel rejuvenated,” said Chris Mather (Sloan 2010). Mather added two of his current classmates at MIT Sloan to his new venture, which is building an enterprise solution that combines social networking with knowledge management in an organizational setting.

Learn and Compete

The environment, while very important, can only take a new venture so far. Entrepreneurs must test their ideas in different forums. Being at MIT provides entrepreneurs with this highly important outlet in the forum of competitions and courses. The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, now in its 20th year, was cited by most of our interviewees as vital in the initial formation and expansion of their businesses.

Akshay Nanduri, Sloan 2009, said “I utilized the $100K as a way to develop a business plan and get comfortable with an industry I was not familiar with.” Nanduri, with a background in mobile and Web technology, co-founded a new healthcare venture, RefleXion Medical. RefleXion Medical is developing a novel radiotherapy solution for cancer treatment.

“If there was no $100K then this probably wouldn’t have happened. Getting the feedback and exposure and support was incredible,” said Aidrus and Shih of ClickDiagnostics. ClickDiagnostics was the winner of one of the tracks of the $100K Competition in 2008.

Coursework, both standard (accounting, finance, and economics) and entrepreneurial, were cited as being highly beneficial. Courses in New Enterprises, Energy Ventures, Developmental Entrepreneurship, and Technology Sales offered at MIT Sloan give entrepreneurs the opportunity to form teams, develop ideas into business plans, and figure out how to sell. The ClickDiagnostics team was formed out of a Developmental Entrepreneurship class, and Nanduri worked on the seed of RefleXion in a New Enterprises course. Vyduna said that he uses the basics of micro-economics in his daily business activities. “I, fortunately, took the coursework very seriously while at Sloan and am very glad I did,” he says.

Don’t Get Too Smug
Does this mean everything is hunky dory? No. Everybody we interviewed had suggestions on how to improve and build on the entrepreneurial ecosystem at MIT Sloan. “I wish I had more classmates wanting to jump into a new venture right after school,” said one of them. Another budding entrepreneur said, “More specific advice rather than the generic type that we hear in some courses would be more beneficial.” “Having more access to IT infrastructure and incubation space similar that on the West Coast will provide more resources to cash strapped students,” added another.

But on the other side of this issue, Miller said, “I don’t think you can ask schools to hold someone’s hand too far. The entrepreneur has to really want it and do it himself or herself, otherwise it’s not their company.”

How to Keep it Going
The entrepreneurial “gene” (or perhaps it’s a virus) is, from our conversations and observations, is clearly alive and thriving at MIT Sloan. There is, however, a constant need to keep students motivated, excited, and involved. It is up to students to push themselves and their peers to find their inner entrepreneurs, and up to administrators and professors to listen and keep improving the curriculum. It is this community of students, faculty, classes, and competitions that help students become and grow as entrepreneurs.

But can this community of entrepreneurs be renewed as new students—many with no interest in entrepreneurship—arrive on campus every year? As one anonymous student put it, “Absolutely. Students here are like stem cells, put us in the right environment and we can do whatever the f*** we want.”

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Carter Dunn and Mahesh Konduru are first-year MBA students at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Follow @

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