Silos are out and multidisciplinary offerings are in. Top business schools nationwide are expanding their entrepreneurship programs to ensure MBAs are exposed to students and practitioners from a wide variety of backgrounds, such as medicine, technology, and engineering. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business is among them.
The B-school is rounding out its already robust entrepreneurship offering with several multidisciplinary initiatives, including the D4 Foundations course and the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), a hub supporting startup collaborations between faculty, students, and Chicago-area entrepreneurs.
The D4 course–shorthand for discover, design, develop, and do–is a hands-on experiential learning lab out of the university’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Students from across the campus come together to apply design methods to a pressing issue. Booth piloted the application-only course in the fall of 2013 and will formalize it this year after a successful run, according to Ellen Rudnick, executive director of the Polsky Center. The class brings together some 40 students and ten faculty or university administrators, who are divided into 10 teams to tackle group-selected challenges. Each challenge must fit within one of two annually selected themes–the 2013 topics included health care and education.
Not all of the groups emerge from the 10-week course with a market-worthy solution, but that’s beside the point, Rudnick says. Rather, students should come out with the skills to discover, develop, and test ideas. “You start out thinking you know what the problems is, but as you go through the process of doing objective observations in a classroom, hospital, or home you sometimes realize that you identified the wrong problem,” she explains.
The school also plans to launch the Chicago Innovation Exchange in the fall of 2014, which will serve as a co-working space for some 190 students, faculty, and visiting professionals. The center is expected to help MBAs, scholars, and entrepreneurs translate their work into viable products and businesses. The CIE will include space to incubate at least five new companies each year, meeting rooms, informal lounges, an immersive-technology classroom, and a prototyping lab. The university plans to invest up to $20 million in startups by University of Chicago students and faculty. The hub will also tap into Chicago’s larger innovation ecosystem; both Argonne National Laboratory and the Institute for Molecular Engineering will have a research presence at the CIE.
While Booth may not be synonymous with startups in the minds of many, entrepreneurship at Booth has a surprisingly strong following. Some 55%, or 727 students (including full-time, part-time, and EMBA), graduated in 2013 with a concentration in entrepreneurship, making it the school’s second-most popular pick. “I’m not sure we are as well known as we should be for the amount of startup activity we generate,” says Rudnick.
She points out Braintree, founded by Booth alum Bryan Johnson, which Pay Pal snatched up for a neat $800 million, and GrubHub, founded by alum Matt Maloney, which merged with Seamless to become GrubHub Seamless, the nation’s leading online and mobile food-ordering company. For Rudnick, these successes are just the tip of the iceberg, especially as the school’s new entrepreneurship initiatives gain momentum.