Stanford’s Most Surprisingly-Popular Class
Entrepreneurship courses always seem to fill up fast. Here, would-be owners can gain an edge in financing, development, marketing, and team-building. And that’s particularly true at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, one of the nation’s entrepreneurship programs (that’s conveniently located in the shadow of Silicon Valley).
But there’s one Stanford course that’s particularly captivating to students: “Entrepreneurship From the Perspective of Women.” Already sporting a wait list, this course will become a full quarter course beginning in 2015. And it’s become a huge draw for a simple reason: It covers the “blind spots” that most entrepreneurship courses miss.
And this definitely isn’t your father’s entrepreneurship course. Started as two-week seminar by Garth Saloner (now the school’s dean), the course addresses the questions that many women are afraid to ask. For example, Mada Seghete took the course last spring, wondering about often-overlooked questions like, “Should I dress differently?” and “Should I behave differently when I am in a room with all male VCs?” In fact, the course addresses less quant-driven topics like managing emotions, developing culture, and establishing a work-life balance according to Fortune.
And that’s not by accident, says Fern Mandelbaum, who teaches the course. A managing partner at Vista Venture Partners, Mandelbaum considers a lack of confidence to be the biggest issue holding back prospective female entrepreneurs. “Many women come up with reasons why they shouldn’t do something,” she says. “Many women have self-doubt. They lack confidence, and they’re afraid to take risks and don’t believe they can create companies.”
When it comes to increasing confidence, Alexandra Day, a former student, is a case study for the program’s success. Day, who co-founded a venture during the course, tells Fortune that the course helped her get over her hesitance to pitch to investors. “I was quickly put in front of investors for the first time in my life,” she adds.
The course also includes guest lecturers, including female CEOs and investors. Mandelbaum adds that the course leans heavily on real world experience over theory. “[The speakers and I will share] “the good, but also the bad, like if they hired the wrong co-founder. I try to make class as real and authentic as possible.”
Another focus of the course is to teach students how to leverage their differences. “Something that we talk a lot about is, ‘how do you use your differences as strengths?’” Mandelbaum tells Fortune. “And [these feelings] could come from being an Asian or African-American person or an introverted male. It’s not just women, but the fact of the matter is, 50 percent of the population is women, and many of them view their differences as weaknesses.”
Of course, women aren’t the only ones absorbing these lessons. The course also consists of 10 percent men. And they too are getting a lot of the class. “It really takes being in a room and dissecting those issues to get women’s perspectives,” Johnson Ci Yu Fung tells Fortune. “These aren’t women-specific issues; these are people-specific issues, but it was interesting to me that these issues aren’t brought up in other classes.”