Big Ideas on Campus

An intriguing selection of courses, collaborations, and school initiatives that showcase fresh ways of thinking about education.
Big Ideas on Campus


he ultimate goal of a business degree is to help a graduate land a job or start a business. Here are a couple of school-sponsored initiatives that not only allow students to run the shop, but also encourage them to pay their success forward.

Five years ago, Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph partnered with Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (RMCF) of Durango, Colorado, and entrepreneur Steve Craig on a program that provides hands-on learning and leads to business opportunities for graduates. Craig, a real estate developer and namesake of the Craig School of Business at Missouri Western, asked faculty to create a program that would enable new graduates to become entrepreneurs within six months of graduation.

The resulting program is an applied entrepreneurship class open to seniors and alumni. It culminates in a competition, where students present a business plan for a franchise. Proposals are judged by faculty, university officials, RMCF executives, previous winners, and successful entrepreneurs. Since the program’s inception, students have been awarded 18 stores in 13 states; in 2013, those stores generated total sales of US$6 million dollars.

New owners have access to volunteer business executives who mentor them; they also receive a loan that provides working capital and covers the cost of intensive training, moving expenses, and the purchase price of the franchise. While purchase prices have varied by location, the highest loan was for $250,000. Craig loaned the money to the first nine winners, and loans for subsequent winners have been financed by RMCF. In addition, Missouri Western faculty members and executive advisory council members provide ongoing mentoring, consulting, and assistance for three years.

Winners agree to pay off their start-up loans within five years and make donations to Missouri Western from their profits. They also serve as peer advisors for students in the applied entrepreneurship class and frequently create internships for the students.

Because winners are running their own businesses immediately upon graduation, the program is truly transforming lives, says Pam Klaus, director of franchise programs. She adds, “We believe this program has been successful because it starts with a class in the business school, includes internships and franchise training, and then continues after class with strong support provided by business executives and alumni.”

Students are responsible for running three different businesses at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business in New York City, all three overseen by the university’s Center for Student Enterprise.

The Pace Perk Café, founded in April 2010 by two students, is a late-night café spot open from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Ten student managers run the business, which employs 13 students and had sales of $125,000 in 2013. With retained earnings of more than $20,000, the Perk was able to make a $5,000 loan to the newest student-run business, Pace Mart, for startup funds.

The Perk also serves as a learning lab for other students: Last fall, a graduate auditing class did an audit of the Perk, which provided valuable insights to both the graduate students and the student managers of the Perk.

Pace Connect is a student-run call center that works on behalf of university clients. When it was founded in the fall of 2012, it contacted alumni to raise money for the Pace Annual Fund; within a year, it was also contacting graduates on behalf of Pace Career Services to collect information about alumni jobs. It now also makes calls for the Office of Student Assistance to help current students set up payment plans for past-due balances; the Office of Student Success to identify second-semester freshmen who are having problems or considering not returning to Pace; and the Office of Enrollment to invite admitted students to attend preview events.

A team of four student managers runs the business, which employs 20 students. The center operates out of an accounting classroom, using Skype to make calls and to track data. The business had revenues of $26,000 this year and has retained earnings of about $2,000.

The newest operation, Pace Mart, is a convenience store run by eight students who negotiated with Pace Administration to plan the enterprise. They’re working with a new type of student account called Dawg dollars that will allow students to use their swipe cards to make purchases. The store was piloted in April in a small area of the school library, but a full store was planned for the fall; it will employ at least 20 students and be open eight hours a day.


On the road to receiving their business school acceptance letters, most MBA hopefuls expect to run the gauntlet of applications, essays, and a few on-campus interviews. But the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in Canada has added one more activity to the list: the Rotman Problem Solving Challenge.

Since 2013, Rotman has given prospective and incoming full-time MBA candidates the opportunity to “dive deep into a messy, unstructured problem,” explains Ken McGuffin, who manages media relations for the school. Faculty choose a winner, who receives a full scholarship to the MBA program, and several runners-up, who receive partial scholarships.

In 2014, they explored the opportunities and threats presented by the growing prevalence of social media. This year, the school awarded CAN$300,000 in scholarship money.

The challenge benefits the school in three ways, says Leigh Gauthier, the acting director of recruitment and admissions for the school’s full-time MBA program. First, it attracts prospective students from around the world to campus. Second, it gives participants a preview of what it’s like to attend Rotman’s programs. Finally, says Gauthier, the challenge gives the school’s admissions team an opportunity to “scout for talent” and see potential students in action before making final acceptance decisions.


How can business schools teach students to think innovatively? By creating interdisciplinary courses that force them to integrate different kinds of skills and knowledge—and by cultivating an environment where entrepreneurial teaching is rewarded. Here are several schools that are pushing that envelope:

In May of this year, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, launched the Integrated Innovation Institute, which hopes to “speed the pace of innovation” by cross-training students in business, design, and engineering. The institute is co-directed by Peter Boatwright of the Tepper School of Business, Eric Anderson of the College of Fine Arts, and Jonathan Cagan of the College of Engineering. The institute is a joint initiative of the three schools.

At the core of the institute are three degrees: the new master of integrated innovation for products and services (MII-PS), a master of science in software management, and a professional master’s degree that debuts in fall 2016 as part of the university’s new integrated media program. In all the programs, the three disciplines are emphasized equally as engineering, design, and business students work side by side in courses and on projects. Instructors from two or three of the different disciplines teamteach many classes.

The capstone course of the MIIPS, called Integrated Product Development, takes multidisciplinary project teams through the four phases of product creation: identification, understanding, conceptualization, and realization. Teams have worked on projects ranging from shower products designed for new mothers to automobile upgrades that will appeal to Millennials. For detailed examples, visit www.cmu. edu/integrated -innovation/mii-ps/ industry/index.html.

Boatwright has observed many times when the multidisciplinary nature of a team has helped a group solve problems. “An engineering student will put the brakes on a design by saying, ‘We can’t make it work exactly like that.’ Or a business student will ask, ‘How might we distribute that to our customers?’ Or a design student might say, ‘That approach doesn’t fit into lifestyles, but if we ... ’”

The degree programs are augmented by a pilot innovation laboratory where grad students tackle real-world cases sponsored by corporations or work on social-purpose endeavors funded by the institute. A recent sponsored project was a prototype for a self-sustainable water purification system that utilizes the weight of water to destroy harmful bacteria.

“Increasingly,” notes Anderson, “organizations recognize the impact that engineers, designers, and marketers who understand one another’s thinking can have working together at the ‘fuzzy front end’ of a project.”

In 2011, Denmark’s Aarhus University formed its School of Business and Social Sciences (BSS), which merges the business disciplines with social sciences such as law, psychology, communication, and political science. Formed to recognize the growing intersection between the public and private sectors, particularly in many European countries, the BSS anticipates that its students will go on to careers that touch down in both arenas.

As part of this dual focus, the school’s faculty believes teaching to be crucially important. As a result, it has formed “a largescale educational development” approach, says Torben Jensen, director of the school’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CUL). The school has adopted a number of teaching-related initiatives. The CUL supports 22 faculty members who conduct pedagogical research and develop best practices in pedagogical approaches. The CUL also develops initiatives related to blended learning, digital exams, learning management systems, and course design.

BSS also makes teaching portfolios mandatory for every person applying for a faculty position. In addition, teachers at all levels at BSS—from student teachers and PhD candidates to assistant and full professors—must complete a certain number of hours of the CUL’s pedagogical training modules specific to their level of experience. Each year, these courses are attended by more than 130 student teachers, 35 doctoral students, 40 assistant professors, and 85 associate and full professors.

“A common professional language is developing among the lecturers at BSS relating to pedagogical choices and shared knowhow on teaching,” Jensen says. The goal, he adds, is “to ensure the same professionalism around teaching that is considered selfevident around research.”

In 2013–2014, ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, implemented the Global Integrative Module (GIM), an online capstone course. The school created the module with support from the GMAC Management Education for Tomorrow (MET) Fund and the partnership of NYU Stern in the United States, SDA Bocconi in Italy, and Sogang University in South Korea.

As part of the module, students from each partner school—who come from undergraduate, masters of science, and MBA programs—are assigned to diverse teams to solve a current social, political, and economic challenge. The challenge is organized to accommodate each school’s different academic calendar, administrative requirements, and grading system; the schools apply jointly designed rubrics for student assessment. Each team must coordinate across time zones using webbased collaboration tools, while integrating each student’s knowledge of economics, management, and the social sciences.

In the module’s first run, 74 students representing 24 nationalities were presented with the question, “Why should and how can companies contribute to the reduction of economic inequality in the world?” The teams then analyzed the realworld behavior of a handful of multinational companies and wrote reports that recommended the measures companies could adopt to alleviate global poverty. As part of the project, the teams created video progress reports and final presentations; individuals produced reflection papers and peer and self assessments.

For the 2013–2014 challenge, teams recommended a range of solutions to global companies such as AT&T and GlaxoSmithKline. Their suggestions included creating more business models that incorporate the poor as employees, doing more to influence the regulatory and policy environments in the markets they serve, and adopting more transparent and accountable corporate social responsibility initiatives.

GIM offers students an opportunity to work outside the “comfort zone” of the classroom and immerse themselves in a problem that requires complex thought processes and personal interactions, says Anna Iñesta, director of educational innovation. When students work in such a globally distributed virtual space, it can cause inevitable tensions among team members. But that’s ultimately the point, says Iñesta. “The obligation of having to deal with these tensions enriches the team’s learning experience,” she says.

Fresh Alternatives

Some of the innovations described in these pages are small; some are big. Some are extensions of traditional activities, and some are fresh approaches. But at a time when business schools are under pressure to offer alternatives to traditional education, meet new mission-based accreditation standards, and help organizations set off in untested directions, all are examples of how today’s business schools are taking the opportunity to lead the way.


Business schools can nurture innovation by encouraging students to launch new ventures—and by supporting the competitions, incubators, and accelerators that support fledgling entrepreneurs. Here are just a few highly creative businesses that were hatched in the past 12 months and that have drawn resources from business schools:

Everybody hates ads, right? But what if people were actually paid to view them? Now there’s an intelligent Android app called Slidejoy that pays users to view ads whenever they unlock their smartphones. It was created by a team from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and it won the $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize of the 2014 Wharton Business Plan Competition.

Team members Sanghoon Kwak, Jaeho Chung, and Robert Seo explain that, over time, Slidejoy learns user preferences, allowing it to curate “a more profitable and relevant user experience.” Users are paid between $5 and $15 per month for using the app. In the first three months of the app’s life, it was downloaded more than 20,000 times, and it delivered more than 26 million ad impressions. Initial advertisers included Groupon, Best Buy, Adidas, J. Crew, and Macy’s.

Learn more at

Businesses and educators alike are calling for more students to learn science, technology, engineering, and math—but many school districts can’t afford to invest much in the way of handson training in these STEM disciplines. Aditya Kumarakrishnan hopes to change that by equipping the Tesla Truck. The STEM hands-on lab and “mobile maker space” will bring courses like robot-building, flight design, 3D printing, and vocational training to schools and the local community.

Kumarakrishnan, a student at Queens College, won the top $10,000 prize in the CUNY IVE SmartPitch Challenge, designed for student teams from New York colleges. The competition was hosted in June by the CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise and the Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship at Baruch College. Kumarakrishnan planned to use the prize money to buy his first truck.

Kumarakrishnan came up with the idea while he was mentoring a robotics team in a Bronx classroom and realized the kids had no resources. He believed that a mobile lab would be useful and cost-efficient for city schools that didn’t offer traditional shop classes.

Unmanned drones have long been staples in the military, but like many inventions devised for war, they’re being co-opted for commercial use. Late last year, a startup named Squadrone System unveiled HEXO+, a drone with integrated cameras that track an iPhone, allowing the operator to conduct aerial filming almost anywhere. The founders expect the camera drone to be particularly useful for recording extreme sporting events that take place in snow or mountains.

Squadrone was created with the help of IncubaGEM, a startup incubator located at Grenoble Ecole de Management in France that provides up to 18 months of support for students and alums launching new enterprises. Among Squadrone’s founders was Medhi Mugnier, an advanced masters student in entrepreneurship at GEM, and Sylvain Montreuil, who graduated from Grenoble in 2005. Other team members are Antoine Level, Christophe Baillon, snowboarder Xavier de Le Rue, and producer Matthieu Giraud.

In June 2014, they kicked off a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, and it raised more than $1 million within a month. See more details at

One of the most promising aspects of innovative thinking is its potential to improve the quality of life for those struggling with adversity. That is the goal for Gregory Mattes, a 2014 MBA graduate from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in Bloomington. Through a new startup called Analog Computing Solutions (ACS), Mattes hopes to improve the quality, speed, and longevity of hearing aids and myoelectric prosthetic devices.

Mattes created a business plan to commercialize analog computer technology originally developed by Ken Yoshida, associate professor of bioengineering at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The technology was based on an invention developed nearly 20 years ago by Jonathan Mills, a professor of informatics and computing at IU Bloomington. The technology was licensed by IU’s Research and Technology Corporation.

Mattes’ company will use lowpower analog computing technology to prolong battery life, boost the sound filtering algorithms of hearing aids, and improve the signal processing function of prosthetics. His plan received $100,000 in startup funding in IU’s Building Entrepreneurs in Software and Technology competition.