Ideas at Work

Approaches to teaching entrepreneurship are often varied, innovative, and experimental—just like entrepreneurial ventures themselves. And like any venture, they often start with a great idea. Below are ideas from several entrepreneurial campuses that might be adaptable to other programs:


Kelley School of Business

Indiana University in Bloomington

A hallmark of Kelley’s Johnson Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation is its Spine Sweat Experience, the capstone to the school’s undergraduate entrepreneurship degree program. Now in its 15th year, the course for seniors takes a no-nonsense—and often grueling—approach to teaching what it requires to be a successful entrepreneur.

To enroll in the course, students go through an interview process to show they have solid ideas that they’re serious about moving forward. Once accepted, students spend the semester conducting market research, refining strategies, and receiving feedback and launching their businesses.

For their final exams, students take up to 25 minutes to present their ideas to a panel of investors, who then grill the students on every aspect of their businesses. “If a student says that his revenues went up by 18 percent, the panel will demand to see the research that backs that number up—right then,” says Donald F. Kuratko, who created the course. “The students have to know their businesses inside and out.” 

The panel gives each student an A, B, C, or F—the only grade students receive for the course. There is no D, Kuratko explains, because a D is no better than an F in terms of creating a viable business. If students fail, they must rely on a different major to graduate or retake the course over the summer.

About 20 percent of students fail, usually due to lack of preparation. “We offer to help show them the weaknesses in their plans, but it’s voluntary,” says Kuratko. “If they don’t want to do the work, they can blow us off.” Those who retake the course learn their lessons—100 percent pass the second time around.

Students who receive As get another reward—each panel member writes them a check for US$1,000. Students who pass are honored at an evening celebration. Students in last year’s “Spine Sweat” capstone were particularly dedicated, Kuratko says—two students received A’s, and all passed.

Kuratko named the course after something his father told him. “He said, ‘Unless students go to bed at night feeling their spines sweat, they don’t understand entrepreneurship.’ In our course, by the end of April, our students tell us that they’re lying in bed at night with their spines sweating because if they fail, they might not graduate!” he says. “It’s a great challenge, and when they succeed, it’s something to be proud of.”


Villanova School of Business, Villanova University, Pennsylvania

Each January, VSB’s Center for Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship accepts 40 students into its Silicon Valley immersion program—called “Villanova in the Valley.” Students and faculty spend a week in Silicon Valley in California speaking to VSB alumni working at large tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, as well as smaller startups. The week ends with a celebration and networking event, where students occasionally land summer internships at the companies they just visited.

The school originally scheduled the trip at the end of May, but found that timing took away some of its momentum. “After the trip, students worked, were the best man at a friend’s wedding, or toured Europe—Villanova in the Valley became just one thing they did that summer,” says center director II Luscri. After the school moved it to January, during the week right before the spring semester started, the energy surrounding it increased. “Now, the trip is the last thing they do before the semester starts, so they come back filled with excitement.” In addition, some students land summer internships with Silicon Valley companies, positions that would be filled by May. The center is now considering taking students on similar trips to Los Angeles to meet alumni working in the film and television industry, and to Washington, D.C., to visit Capitol Hill, in conjunction with Villanova’s Center for Marketing and Public Policy Research.  


London Business School, United Kingdom

Many London Business School students develop business ideas during their programs, and each year about 12 students are accepted into the school’s incubator, where they’ll spend the next year launching their businesses. But while the majority of those ideas grow into successful businesses, some will not.

That’s one reason why the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship recently started its Entrepreneur-ship Fellows Program for graduates who enter the incubator. In addition to mentorship and a small stipend, the program gives the fellows a formal title and position for the year that they can list on résumés, says center director Jeff Skinner. “Even if their ventures don’t work out, they’ve accumulated valuable skills. This program gives them an additional year of ‘résumé air cover.’”


Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, College Park

While many centers run formal entrepreneurship courses and competitions to encourage students to fresh out their best startup ideas, the Smith School wanted to establish a program that engaged students in a more informal way. For the last six years, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship has held “Pitch Dingman” every Friday, inviting anyone to pitch their ideas to experienced entrepreneurs during set off ce hours. During this time, 15 to 20 students are often lined up waiting to talk to a mentor. That adds up to more than 200 students each year, says center director Elana Fine.

“They don’t need a formal presentation—they can just take 15 minutes to tell us their ideas,” she says. “Practitioners don’t determine whether their ideas are good or bad. They just help them plan the next steps to determine whether the idea is worth pursuing.” Center staff also follow up with visitors to offer services to help move their ideas forward. This year the school will expand Pitch Dingman to three campus locations, including the Dingman Center and the schools of engineering and public policy.


Gabelli School of Business, Fordham University, New York City

Sometimes entrepreneurs need only small amounts of money to move their ideas forward. That’s why the Gabelli School’s Center for Entrepreneurship established a fund through its Fordham Foundry incubator that offers microloans from $500 to $5,000 to help entrepreneurs take small steps such as buying new technology or launching a marketing campaign. To develop and manage the fund, the school received help from its partner company BNP Paribas, a global bank based in France.


Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) Mexico City, Mexico

In 2004, one of ITESM’s largest campuses constructed a new facility, where campus leadership decided to dedicate office space for an international company to move into the building for one year. That was the start of a program that ITESM now calls “Landing,” in which the school gives state-of-the-art companies offices on campus and helps them navigate the Mexican culture and business climate. In return, the companies advise students, collaborate with faculty, and help the school develop academic programs.

“We make sure that each company we choose has a significant project for students and faculty to work on,” says Luis Arturo Torres, director of ITESM’s Garza-Lagüera Institute. In the last few years, Landing has taken off—at any given time, more than 100 companies are “landing” at one of ITESM’s 15 technology parks in cities across Mexico. And when they’re ready to move on, some leave behind working labs and software for the school’s classrooms—and even hire the school’s graduates. Torres points out that the off ce spaces are small, but they’re not intended to be permanent. “The idea is only for them to come to get used to the region. They move to larger locations as they start to grow,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation.”