Program Name: Master of Science in Innovation
School: Northeastern University’s D-Amore-McKim School of Business
Length of Program: 12 months
Cost: $48,500 ($1,617 per credit hour, 30 credits)
The one constant in the business world, says Tucker Marion, associate professor at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and director of its Innovation Masters programs, is change. Like sedimentation in geology, what you learn today in B-school will be added to, layer after layer, as new information and new ways of doing things come along. And it’s up to you to stay abreast of the changes.
“The tools I learned in business school almost twenty years ago have augmented by things that were yet to be imagined,” Marion tells Poets&Quants. Those-yet-to-be-imagined things came about by a process called innovation. What once was innovative, in time becomes standard operating procedure. But it’s vital to understand the process, and that’s why innovation has become a key element of the curriculum at many business schools.
Count Northeastern among them. The school launched a Master of Innovation in fall 2014, Marion says, in response to the constantly shifting landscape in both traditional industries like finance and consulting as well as the inherently vagarious world of entrepreneurship. The school is “laser-focused” on creating business leaders who can roll with the punches and innovate within their own companies, Marion says, and now the program is expanding to online. According to the course description, the Master of Innovation is an “Opportunity to work on next-generation projects and initiatives within your company with the goal of building competencies to help you advance your career.” It’s also a springboard to an MBA: After accruing the MSI’s 30 credits, students can take another year and add another 30 through the same format to earn a full MBA.
“A good innovation leader is dynamic, open to change, new ways of thinking, and curious,” Marion says. “So I think business school students need to embrace this. The basics of a P&L statement are extremely valuable, and probably always will be. But as we have seen, most companies go through periods of innovation, then stagnation; then if they are lucky, an innovation cycle once again. Microsoft is on an innovation upswing, Apple perhaps not.
“It’s the leaders within firms that need to be aware of this, and have the toolkit to effect change. That’s why programs like MSI, in my opinion, will see substantial growth over the next few years.”
strong>Why did Northeastern launch the program? What’s the rationale behind it, and how long was it in the works? “There are a few reasons. First, the market is shifting in business education. We are seeing growth in specialized master’s degrees that are more focused, take less time, and are less expensive. We are also seeing growth in certificates and badging for particular skills. So we felt the time was right to rethink business graduate education in a more modular fashion.
“Second, Northeastern has been teaching technology-focused MBA programs since the early 1980s. But the landscape of the firms has certainly changed since the days when Rt. 128 was dominated by Digital, Wang, Apollo Computer, etc. We have a much more diverse landscape now, from financial services to design software to robotics companies. In speaking with alumni and businesses that we serve, there was a clear need to develop a program focused solely on corporate innovation and entrepreneurship. As one executive told us, there is a need to develop highly skilled individuals who can not only see opportunity, but execute on that opportunity within the company. So we looked at what we learned in teaching technology to MBA students, and what needed to change.
“We did this quickly. From market investigation to the first class in the fall of 2014 was about a year. This was quite fast for a university, and credit goes to the administration to allowing us to move at an industry pace.
“It should be noted that Northeastern is one of the few universities that has a defined entrepreneurship and innovation group that is standalone. Most schools bin these areas into marketing or strategy. We see innovation as a unique discipline. And our innovation faculty combine industry experience with research relevance.”
How is it different from what else is on the market? “From a competitive standpoint, you have engineering management programs focused on project management skills. You have MBA programs with concentrations in entrepreneurship. We, however, are laser-focused on developing corporate innovators within existing companies. Additionally, we are an experiential school and program. This is essential. Each student works on real projects, with their own firm and for executives in large multinational firms. Planning is one thing, but executing and getting things done and implemented throughout the program is another, and it’s something we excel at. Students work on a capstone throughout the program. We’ve had students implement some highly successful projects during the program. It’s exciting to see.
“There are innovation programs that are popping up, including innovation management programs and certificates. There are programs at Tufts, Columbia, and Stanford, among others. But I do believe we were first. And now, with our third cohort we are expanding the program to online and exploring other venues and education opportunities.
“Another differentiator is the fact that our MSI program is 30 credits, and about a year long. For another 30 credits, you can receive your MBA. This can be done part-time, or online, or using the same Saturday format. It gives the student the flexibility to take additional courses when it works for them. Over 60% of our MSI graduates have enrolled in the MBA program.”
Who is the ideal applicant and student? “Diversity of the students is a big focus of the program. Innovation cuts across all industries, and every firm is becoming a technology firm in some fashion. Our average experience is 12 years, and we have executives, medical doctors, scientists, and innovation department leaders. We do take some students with a few years of experience if they are high-potential and fit within the program. We really want a diverse mix of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. This makes for a very unique class experience.”
What is the application process: Essay? GMAT or GRE? Transcripts? Other requirements? To apply to the D’Amore-McKim MS in Innovation program, applicants must submit: official transcripts from all colleges/universities previously attended, an essay, two recommendation letters, GMAT scores (though working professionals may qualify for a waiver), and a $100 fee. There is an interview with the admissions team for the on-campus program, but not the online program.
What are the application deadlines? For the on-campus program’s September start, November 15, February 1, March 15, May 1; for the online May start, March 1; for January start, November 1 and December 1.
What is the program format? What will students learn in the program? The on-campus is a cohort program, part-time on campus/semesters. Online is not cohort, 100% online, and runs over the summer with the May start. The core curriculum: Innovation for Next Generation Products and Systems, Gaining Customer Insight, Planning and Budgeting for Innovation, Marketing and Selling Innovation, Service Innovation and Management, Financing Innovation and Growth, The Human Side of Innovation, and Lean Innovation. All courses are worth 3 credits.
The on-campus and online programs each have two additional 3-credit courses. For on-campus: How Executives Shape and Lead Innovation and Enterprise Growth, and Leading and Implementing Innovation in Organizations. For online: Corporate Venturing, and Innovation Strategy.
“Students will learn that innovation is a pie with many slices,” Marion says. “It’s not just design or a new technology. It’s business model innovation, service innovation, looking at finances in unique ways, process innovation, better understanding the human side of innovation, and also understanding the tools and methods to realize the innovation in a rapid fashion.”
What can a student do to best prepare for the program in advance of its start? Books to read? Podcasts to listen to? TED talks to watch? “There is so much great content on innovation available. From traditional publications like Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, to groups like the Innovation Leader, you need to have a diverse spread of information sources. I think understanding new trends in technology and new ventures are important. From Wired to Gizmodo, understanding the dynamic commercial side is important. On the other hand, reading works from scholars like Clayton Christenson, Eric von Hippel, and many others is vital as a baseline of discussion. Diving into subjects like open innovation, design thinking, AI, big data, the potential of IoT, is a good thing to do.”
Is there a capstone or special project? If so, please describe it. “Yes, students are asked to develop an innovation project for their firm. This starts at the beginning of the program and continues from September through August. Classes and content are used to move the projects forward. They present what they did at a final event in August. We’ve had new beverage introductions, process innovations implemented company-wide, and innovation labs get started.
“In March, we have an intensive residency in Seattle, where we have in essence a rapid-development bootcamp, going from ideation to prototype in a few days. Groups work with industrial designers, we have access to maker spaces, go through design thinking simulations, etc. Students approach this residency in a more entrepreneurial style, and after Seattle students can continue these projects if they desire. During the year, students are mentored on their projects on an ongoing basis.”
What do you expect student outcomes to be? We want students to be innovation leaders and change agents within their companies. We also would like to see them promoted during or after the program. And we see encouraging numbers there.