Can Business Schools Teach Entrepreneurship?


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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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8 responses to “Can Business Schools Teach Entrepreneurship?”

  1. There’s a terrific February 2009 report, funded by the Kauffman Foundation, on MIT entrepreneurship. You can grab a copy here:

    An interesting finding is that in the decade of the 1990’s, MIT *alumni* established roughly 10,000 companies.

    This powerfully demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit of MIT alumni.

    It would be really interesting to know, though, how many Sloan alumni (vs., for example, Engineering alumni) were involved in these companies. I have my own hunch …

    By the way, I believe that during a roughly comparable period, fewer than 300 companies were established based upon technologies licensed through the MIT TLO. That’s not a negative reflection on the MIT TLO. Rather, it’s a positive reflection on the true power of MIT and all universities: their alumni, and the knowledge and spirit that these alumni gain in the course of their education.

  2. herve says:

    To follow Ed’s comment, there is a talk by Prof Byer (Stanford) about the Silicon Valley and Stanford ecosystems, where the author claims about 5% of companies are direct transfers of technology:
    It is not clear how many companies Stanford alumni have created. At least 2’500 but probably many more. Now the role of business schools is another subject of interest. You have stories on both sides, i.e. pure engineers or scientists (Google, Yahoo, Cisco in the academia, Apple outside) or entrepreneurs from bus. schools (Sun Micro, eBay).

  3. Wait a second. Weren’t Bechtolsheim and Joy two of the four co-founders of Sun? To claim that Sun devolved from the efforts of b-school entrepreneurs seems just a bit wacky. Sun was Baskett and Bechtolsheim’s DARPA-funded university workstation, and Joy’s (and Fabry’s and Ferrari’s) DARPA-funded university operating system. (Further, DARPA (Bob Kahn) insisted that the SUN workstation run Berkeley Unix. Kahn also insisted that Berkeley Unix include a TCP/IP protocol stack. Kahn was/is one smart cookie.)

  4. Carter says:


    The report you cited is excellent. My favorite statistic in there is that if all of the active companies founded by MIT alumni formed an independent nation, the revenues from these companies would give that nation anywhere from the 17th to 11th largest economy in the world (depending on how conservative your extrapolation of the survey data). This nation would edge out Sweden or Russia on a GDP basis.

    Your point on the relative proportion of MIT companies started by Sloan students vs Engineering students is well taken. There is no arguing that the vast majority of the technology that powers these companies comes out of the world-class labs around campus – not Sloan.

    That said, every single semi-finalist team in the Development Track of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition this year has at least one Sloan student on it (this is the track I run so I’ve got this info handy). Given that there are about 5.5 Science and Engineering students for each Management Student ( Sloanies seem to be holding their own at least as far as the $100K is concerned.

    While anecdotal, there are two recent MIT web startups that should be mentioned both for their early success and because the founding teams were all from Sloan. Hubspot ( develops and sells an in inbound marketing system and Visible Measures ( quantifies how viewers interact with web video.

    All this to say that founding teams can be just engineers, just MBAs, or a healthy mix of the two. But whether the engineers have a knack for business, the MBAs used to be CS/engineers (like 45% of Sloanies), or they have clearly defined roles, no company is going to make it unless they’re bringing something new to the market and they can sell it.

  5. Mahesh says:


    To your first comment, believe me I am as interested as you are in finding out the % of Sloan alums involved in those companies. I would love to do it but it would take quite some time to compile that data.

    Anyway, I am curious to hear your hunch though.