So far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The businesses emerging from the curriculum are grabbing attention and, more importantly, funding. Better Together, an Innovation Lab startup that helps seniors age at home, took home second place and $10,000 from the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge – the student team behind it has won $43,000 collectively through competitions. Health tech startup Innoblative, which was developed in an NUVention course, received $75,000 in cash and prizes at the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition and $20,000 at the Rice Business Plan competition. Another Kellogg NUVention startup to improve lithium ion batteries, SiNode Systems, won first place last year in the Rice contest and nearly $1 million in cash and prizes.
But the growth has also brought unexpected obstacles, including rising expectations among students. “One of the challenges when you have a successful product is scaling, so we’re back to growth and scaling, but of course we want to do it with quality,” says Ben Jones, faculty director of KIEI. Darragh has requested another Innovation I course, but the limited class sizes and long waitlists for New Venture Discovery are sure to leave students unsatisfied. And unlike some B-schools, entrepreneurship courses are not required at Kellogg, so there’s no guarantee students will get in.
While cross-campus collaboration colors most of the discussions at Kellogg, the barriers around the business school still exist. The New Venture Discovery and the Innovation Lab courses are only open to Kellogg students. A sign outside a Kellogg lounge stipulates, “This Study Room Is For Kellogg Students Only.”
All of this, however, signals a complete watershed from where Kellogg stood two years ago. Then, entrepreneurial-minded students were an anomaly, the programs to support them few and far between. “I don’t think people think of us as a happening place, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has accomplished as much as we have in two years,” Blount says proudly.
Entrepreneurial alumni, who were once put off by the lack of involvement, have been swarming back to the school – relieved that their alma mater is finally catching up, according to Darragh. For Steve Collens, senior vice president at investment firm Pritzker Group, the change is nothing less than revolutionary. Collens completed his full-time MBA in 2001 and dived back into Chicago’s entrepreneurship scene three years ago. Then, everyone was talking about Booth, not Kellogg, he says. “Now it’s sort of a whole other world,” he adds. “A lot of us looked at the changes [at Kellogg] and thought, ‘Holy shit, I wish that had been there when we had been there.’ It’s a whole curriculum on entrepreneurship – they’ve hit all of the points, and then they actually rolled it out,” he says. “I meet Northwestern students all the time who are entrepreneurs, who are super enthusiastic about building companies, and they are building companies…I run into them all over the place, which also didn’t happen three years ago.”
Even in 2010, the entrepreneurship curriculum lacked experiential, hands-on learning, according to Kelsey Lutz, a Class of 2012 Kellogg MBA. A former investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, Lutz came to Kellogg to pursue a career in startups. “What we were doing at that point was pretty similar to what the other top 10 business schools were doing, but we weren’t going above and beyond in anything we had done. Now that I’m two years out, it’s unbelievable the type of changes that they’ve made,” she says. “Now it’s more of actually go out and talk to customers … you’re taking a lot more of what you learned in the classroom and applying it to real life.” Lutz, currently a venture partner at Dashfire, now regularly comes back to Kellogg to mentor students and scout out MBA-led companies for investment.
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