Kellogg Wants To Be A Top Three Business School For Startups

Kellogg's New Venture Discovery Class exposes students to entrepreneurial thinking

Kellogg’s New Venture Discovery Class exposes students to entrepreneurial thinking

Most administrators and students credit Sally Blount, who assumed the deanship of Kellogg in 2010, for the change. In early 2012, Blount publicly announced a long-term strategic plan that scrapped the silos around subjects such as finance, accounting, and marketing. Instead, the curriculum would cut across the traditional disciplines with four sweeping themes: architectures of collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship, markets and customers, and public and private interface. Early on, Blount realized she needed to act fast on innovation and entrepreneurship. “It’s the one [area] where we really needed an answer because we didn’t have a good one,” Blount says.

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The first big move came in 2012. Blount poached Linda Darragh from rival University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and appointed her executive director of a new entrepreneurship initiative. Darragh built Booth into a startup powerhouse, and Blount was confident she could do the same for Kellogg. The dean gave her energetic new hire “carte blanche” to rework the curriculum. Darragh signed on. “I was not looking to move, except for the six hours of driving I was doing every day, but when the dean presented that matrix [curriculum] to me, it was like aha! That was a real turning point in understanding that something different was going to go on at Kellogg,” she says.

Darragh’s vision for the school is bold: To position Kellogg as one of the top three business schools for entrepreneurship in the U.S. “You have MIT on the East Coast, Kellogg in the middle, and Stanford on the West Coast,” she says, conveniently leaving Harvard Business School out of the equation. She’s confident the heartland’s approach to entrepreneurship differentiates the region from the healthcare-heavy East and the Internet-heavy West. “I think where we’ll play and be game-changing is in the B2B space. It won’t be marquee names. But will it change industry and the economy? Yes.”

For her first order of business, Darragh and her team pulled the school’s scattered entrepreneurial programs under one umbrella. They organized the resulting Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative (KIEI) into three cross-disciplinary areas: corporate innovation, growth and scaling, and new venture creation. They dedicated the first year to radically rethinking new venture creation and eliminated all of the entrepreneurship courses in the first week.

“The traditional courses that were being taught at Kellogg and many other universities were the 10-week course: let’s find a team, get an idea, build a business, do an investor presentation in 10 weeks,” she says. “You can’t do it. It’s not feasible … There are enough businesses based on bar food, babies, and test prep, and we really want the big ideas that are really going to be game-changers for our economy, our society. You can’t do that in the 10-week smash class.”

In their place, the KIEI team developed a series of courses that would “elongate the process” for creating a business through a discover-test-launch model. Instead of cramming everything into a single quarter, Kellogg introduced three courses that build on one another: In New Venture Discovery, students come to class armed with problems and search for ideas. More serious MBA candidates progress to Innovation Lab I to test their concepts, and the most dedicated teams move on to Innovation Lab II to ready their businesses for launch. The B-school introduced New Venture Discovery in Fall 2012, less than three months after Darragh came on board. This academic year, 462 students registered for New Venture Discovery, 38 students registered for Innovation Lab I, and 27 signed up for Innovation Lab II.

The school also added five-week crash courses in practical business skills ranging from Digital Marketing to Selling to Teams and Cultures. Taught by adjunct faculty with real-world experience, the courses deal with day-to-day practicalities, such as how to handle a millennial-dominated workforce and weighing an open-office floor plan with reduced productivity.

Kellogg also is pushing cross-campus collaboration through an NUVention courses series that also follows a discover-test-launch process. The courses, which were developed in 2006, are organized under six themes: web, energy, medical, impact, nano, and analytics. Students collaborate in inter-school teams to bring viable business ideas into the real world. It’s an academic accelerator, if you will.

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