The Best Entrepreneurship Courses in America
Spine Sweat Experience, Indiana University Bloomington Inventor’s Studio, Rensselaer Polytechnic InstituteiPhone Application Programming, Stanford University Introduction to Community Entrepreneurship, University of VermontBusiness, the Economy, and World Affairs, Baylor UniversityThe Ultimate Entrepreneurial Experience, Babson CollegeRestaurant Entrepreneurship, Cornell UniversityNew Business Venture Development, Washington State UniversityNuts and Bolts of a Business Plan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Students who enroll in this class at Indiana University better know what they are getting themselves into. After spending months preparing their business plans, the students--who are all spring-semester seniors on the brink of graduation--pitch their ideas to a panel of entrepreneurs, angel investors, and venture capitalists. The panel decides their grade. Those who get A’s can earn thousands of dollars in “reverse scholarship” money to cover the past four years of tuition. It’s a tempting prize, but those students who don’t make the cut (and that’s most of them) are not allowed to graduate until the next semester. Professor Donald F. Kuratko calls the experience “a true lesson in risk-reward.”
Professor Burt Swersey thinks brainstorming is silly. “Some people think you can just sit there and think of good ideas,” he says, but the engineering students in his Inventor’s Studio class at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, will do no such thing. Before Swersey allows students to get their inventive wheels spinning, they must first spend weeks on intensive “problem-finding.” Once they identify a distinct problem to tackle, they get to the fun stuff: solving it. The goal is for each student to finish the class with a patented invention; Swersey holds more than 15 patents himself. Among start-ups incubated in the Inventor’s Studio are an organic home insulation company and a fire extinguisher training program.
Finally, a college class where playing with your cell phone is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. In the iPhone Application Programming course at Stanford University, students learn how to build their own mobile applications under the instruction of two Apple engineers. “It’s about as innovative as it gets,” says Kayvon Beykpour, 20, a computer science major who served as a teacher's assistant for the class this past semester. To spread academic interest in iPhone apps, Apple launched a free iPhone Developer University program in the fall, which ameliorates the cost of software, development, and distribution for colleges that want to incorporate iPhone technology development into the curriculum.
University of Vermont professor Kathleen Liang provides each of her students with the capital to start their own businesses. Sounds generous, right? Well, she only shells out $1 per student and she asks for double that back by the end of the semester. “Students have to be creative and gather the resources around them,” she says. Since 2005, her students have raised over $14,000 (profits are donated to charity) selling things like tie-dyed t-shirts, coffee, flower seeds and knitted hats. One group of students went to a local apple orchard and bought bushels of still-good fruit off the ground for a fraction of the price. Back on campus, they sold apple pies, crisp, caramel apples, and cider. The lesson: It’s not how much you have, but what you make of it.
Affectionately nicknamed “Prof Daddy” by his students, Blaine McCormick puts a new spin on the 250-year old teachings of Benjamin Franklin in his introductory business class at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The class is high tech, incorporating teleconferenced guest speakers, online video games, and podcasts. But at the heart of the class is a big old book: The Autobiography of Ben Franklin. “It’s the greatest entrepreneurial story in print,” McCormick says. Students memorize Franklin’s maxims and are challenged to apply them to their own business ventures. The key to entrepreneurial success hasn't changed so much over the past few centuries, McCormick says: “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.”
Modeled after the NBC reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” the “Ultimate Entrepreneurial Experience” course at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, is a ten-week competition that pits students against each other. Each class poses new challenges: analyzing entrepreneurial case studies, persuading local restaurants to cater the class for free, and even showing up to do presentations wearing pajamas. “The students learn how to handle uncomfortable situations,” says Professor Len Green. Those who fail the challenges, do not work well with others, or come unprepared to class get fired, just like on the show. The last-standing students don’t get high-salary jobs with Donald Trump, but they do win bragging rights and a ride around campus in a luxurious limo.
No textbooks are required to attend Giuseppe Pezzotti’s “Restaurant Entrepreneurship” class at Cornell University, but students can expect to drop $350 throughout the semester on fine dining, cocktails, and tipping wait staff. Pezzotti brings his class to upscale restaurants in Ithaca, New York, and in New York City to get a first-hand taste of what it takes to succeed in the fine dining industry. Among restaurants his students have visited and critiqued: Ruby Foos, Smith & Wollensky, and Daniel Boulud. Sure beats the cafeteria.
In this course at Washington State University, students prototype and find the market for their own original products, so it makes sense that their field trips take them to the motherland of innovation: Silicon Valley. There, students visit successful ventures as well as some in the early stages of incubation. Professor Debra McCarver says the experience itself is no vacation. "That's not how it works in this class," she says. "It’s demanding." But that doesn't mean students can't ask for help. Indeed, one of the key elements of the class involves matching students with mentors who are successful business owners.
Attracting high school students, undergraduate engineering majors, and MBAs, this six-session course drills down the basics of how to write a successful business plan no matter what your background. MIT’s Joe Hadzima, a managing director of Main Street Partners, a venture development and technology commercialization firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has taught the class for the past 20 years by. He brings successful and not so successful entrepreneurs to the classroom to explain the basics of building a business plan from the ground up. “If you get the right people, define their tasks, and then get the hell out of their way, great things will happen,” Hadzima says. Most of the easy-to-follow course materials are available for free online, and visitors are always welcome to sit in on the class.