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Stanford’s NYC Innovation Program

A rendering of Stanford Ignite participant Sam Mazin's under-development cancer-treatment machine

A rendering of Stanford Ignite participant Sam Mazin’s under-development cancer-treatment machine

Great business idea: check. In-depth expertise in the relevant field: check. Management knowledge and entrepreneurial skills? Not so fast.

In the minds of many scientists, medical experts, and tech professionals, ideas for potentially viable business ventures arise regularly. But most of these innovative products and transformative services never get past the fantasy stage, because no matter how good the ideas are, or how well their originators know their own ecosystems, they lack the business mind to turn concept into reality.

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is taking a new step into that capability gap, offering for the first time in the eastern U.S. a nine-week certificate course intended to deliver management, innovation, and business development skills to participants from scientific, medical, or technical backgrounds who don’t have advanced business degrees or significant management experience. MBAs are not welcome to apply.


Stanford Ignite, taught by GSB professors in person and by high-definition teleconference, is set to run in New York City starting March 27, for every other week on Friday evenings, Saturdays, and Sundays. Joining the faculty will be experts from Silicon Valley and the New York area, including prominent executives and investors who will speak in lectures and panels and act as business mentors providing feedback on team projects and pitches. Admission to Ignite is very competitive, with hundreds of applicants expected to vie for some 50 spots to learn how to launch businesses while earning a Stanford certificate, a prized badge for resumes and Linkedin profiles.

While the program’s geared toward science and technology, Ignite administrators will nevertheless admit outliers at times, says Bethany Coates, head of Ignite and GSB assistant dean of global innovation programs.

“We tend to . . . attract scientists, engineers, physicians, inventors (but) we’ve had designers, attorneys, all kinds of different people,” Coates says.

Twelve to 14 GSB professors teach in Ignite, and typically four work on site when it’s delivered off campus. Speakers and panelists, appearing in person or via video, are drawn from the local business community, and from Silicon Valley.


“Often our students are very curious about what makes Silicon Valley special in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Bethany Coates, the GSB’s head of Ignite and assistant dean of global innovations.

Mentors are sourced locally. “They add that pragmatic wisdom. They also add their local connections,” Coates says.

Ignite provides “a general management skill set,” including operations, marketing, strategy, and leadership, along with applied skills such as teamwork, pitching, and negotiations, Coates says.

“We’re not picking an industry and focusing on that industry,” Coates says. “It’s replicable across industries. That’s why we have success stories in so many different sectors. We’ve had all kinds of different inventions and different technologies that have come out of it.”

Participants will receive some 200 hours of training, with about half that time spent working on venture projects. Ignite is intended to serve entrepreneurs as well as “intrapreneurs” – those wanting to bring innovation and entrepreneurial thinking into their current workplaces, says Ignite faculty director Yossi Feinberg.

Participants are encouraged to present a business idea during the application process. Participants vote on which ideas will be developed during Ignite, and the group is divided into teams of six or fewer, each group taking on one of the ideas receiving the highest number of votes.


The Ignite program has led to the creation of more than 100 successful companies since Stanford unveiled it in 2006, Coates says. Among the most notable is Katango, a social network app founded by 2008 Ignite participant and computer scientist Thuc Vu, that was bought by Google in 2011.