Babson MBA Program Boldly Expands to San Francisco, Where Entrepreneurship Goes “90 Miles Per Hour”

9/30/10Follow @wroush

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about half of the curriculum is classroom-based. And it’s definitely not an executive MBA program—these tend to be more compressed and less demanding than regular MBAs, Tadapelli says. “The perception is that executive MBAs are ‘MBA lite,’” says Tadepalli. “If you talk to our students, they’ll tell you they have to work very hard. The curriculum is rigorous and team-based, and the focus is on training general managers.”

Babson isn’t a new player on the West Coast. In 2001, it rolled out a 27-month on-site MBA program designed especially for Intel executives in Portland, OR. That program opened its doors to non-Intel students in 2005, and has been “very successful,” according to Tadepalli; in fact, it still has about 90 students. But Babson officials felt the curriculum originally developed for Intel might work even better in other regions. After Tadepalli took over as dean in June 2009, he commissioned a study to find the next geographic target.

“We had about twelve levels of criteria, both macro and micro,” Tadepalli told me in an interview at Mission Bay, where Fast Track was renting seminar rooms for one of its face-to-face sessions. “The macro level was dealing directly with the entrepreneurial climate in each city: the number of new startups over a period of time, the number of companies above a certain revenue base. That gave us some indication of the number of potential applicants. Then there were the micro factors, such as the number of Babson alumni in a given area, the kinds of support the alumni were willing to provide, and whether they would open doors and help us publicize the programs in those cities.”

Raghu Tadepalli

Raghu Tadepalli

When Babson tallied up the stats, it found, not too surprisingly, that San Francisco was at the top of the list. (More surprising, perhaps, was the second-place city: Miami, which will, in fact, be the next location Babson sets up shop, according to Tadepalli.) To hear Tadepalli tell it, there is an almost physical pull among Bay Area entrepreneurs for practical business training that will help them get their ideas to market faster.

“In San Francisco there is a very large proportion of what we also have in Wellesley, which is mid-career people who are ready to switch,” Tadepalli says. “I was having lunch with one student who has his own startup company, and he is in the program because he wants some of the skills that the company needs in areas like finance and marketing and operations. There is a sense of urgency. This San Francisco group is very impatient. They want to get the information as quickly as they can and use it as quickly as they can.”

Portland, where Fast Track was born, came in seventh in the regional comparison Tadepalli commissioned. So the plan is to shut down the program there and use San Francisco as the permanent base for Babson’s West Coast operations. In fact, when I met him in late August, Tadepalli was in town to lease a long-term location for “Babson West.” The new campus will probably be in San Francisco’s startup-saturated South of Market neighborhood.

Making sure students come to campus to interact with faculty face-to-face at least every six weeks (18 times over the course of the program) was an important part of the San Francisco program’s design. But Peter Wilson, executive director of the Fast Track program, says something equally important happens during the periods between classes. “The fact that you’re still working full-time makes this into a live learning laboratory,” he says. “You get an idea in an online class on Monday, and on Tuesday you’re … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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