Linda Darragh / Northwestern University (Kellogg): When you think of entrepreneurship, you probably don’t picture Chicago. Certainly, the Kellogg School of Management, renowned as the world’s best marketing program, lingers behind Harvard, Stanford, and MIT as entrepreneurial hotspots in the public’s imagination. Well, that’s about to change thanks to Darragh, the executive director of the school’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.
Darragh makes no apologies about Kellogg’s meat-and-potatoes approach to entrepreneurship. Think starting a business is about programming an app and pitching to fat cat VCs? Nope, it’s based on something far less sexy: basic business fundamentals. “It’s learning about the process of identifying problems, verifying problems and then ideation to find solutions with a good product market fit,” Darragh muses. “That skill set and understanding that process is applicable in any stage of a business.”
In other words, Darragh takes a holistic approach, with an eye towards innovation and scaling to prepare students to build businesses for the long haul. Even more, she approaches entrepreneurship with a different tact, taking advantage of the Chicago area’s natural advantages in underserved areas like manufacturing. As a result, Kellogg students gain a decided advantage by getting their hands dirty in a wider range of functions with companies wrestling with new technologies and wider competition. “Students are able to work with these companies to not only look at their manufacturing processes, or operations, or marketing, but also their management,” Darragh notes. “It’s a general management skill to go in and look at where the problems are, figuring out how to ideate the solutions of the problems, and then finding value in these companies that still add value to our economy if they are better run.”
Oh…and about Chicago’s startup scene? If you love b-to-b, Chicago is the place to be, Darragh argues. “How many people know Cleversafe or Fieldglass or AvantCredit or others that have made billion dollar exits? Did you know there were so many unicorns in Chicago?”
Jim Detert / University of Virginia (Darden): Everyone faces a defining moment in their career. Do you look the other way when a leader is abusing power or do you confront him — and risk losing your job? Do you take the reins in an imperfect situation or do you wait…and hope for something better when the right time rolls around? Do you doggedly stick to the plan when disruption hits or do you pivot into uncomfortable and uncertain areas?
These are the types of defining moments that Darden’s Detert has built a course around — and for good reason. “Your career is going to be about whether you have the courage to use these tools at the right moment,” Detert explains. Knowing this, Detert began to research the defining moments of great leaders. At the same time, he has interviewed “a swath” of Darden alums to help students understand what they will soon be facing and how to their forerunners successfully navigated crises of conscience and confidence.
For Detert, MBA courses can instill fundamentals and teach students how to think. However, his course focuses on action. It is a novel take on moments that often decide whether MBAs achieve their own dream…or help someone else fulfill theirs. “You could really put an ever-increasing number of tools in the MBA student’s tool kit,” he explains, “but if, when the defining moments come, they are unable — or more so unwilling — to use them, it really doesn’t matter how big the toolkit is.”
Tom Eisenmann and Jodi Gernon / Harvard Business School: Pop quiz: What is the top MBA program for entrepreneurship? Surprisingly, that honor goes to HBS, the supposed cradle of whip-smart consultants and big-talking bankers alike. Check out this number: HBS alumni have founded 42 of the 100 best-funded startups of the past five years. Even more, 17% of graduates enter the startup space immediately after graduation. Alas, HBS is also known for producing a majority of VCs. But these steely backers don’t just invest in someone who shares their class ring. What’s Harvard’s formula?
To answer that question, we queried Eisenmann, faculty co-chair of HBS’ Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, and Gernon, the center’s director. The answer, in a nutshell, is that entrepreneurial excellence is simply an outgrowth of what HBS does best: the case method. “It’s easy to start a company,” Gernon argues. “It’s harder to take it and grow it – and do it in a way where it can build market value. The case study and the classes teach them how to manage, not just how to start.”
Deep resources are another advantage, with Gernon clicking off benefits like the school’s Innovation Lab, Rock Accelerator, New Venture Competition, and Rock 100 Summit. However, the secret sauce may come in the form of alumni support, which Eisenmann describes as a “force multiplier.” “We’ve had years and years of Harvard MBAs launching businesses… [You can] bring them back to campus and they’ve only been out six years. Students can look at those alums and say, ‘Wow! They did it while they were here. We can do it too.’ A lot of HBS students will end up interning in these startups run by recent grads. It just makes it that much easier to keep things going.”
What about all those VCs with Harvard Business School degrees? The affiliation helps, Eisenmann admits, but it is just a starting point. “We have a strong network – and that allows someone to read your email and maybe have the first meeting…A large, large fraction of venture capitalists are HBS alums. So that gets them the courtesy of perhaps a first meeting. It takes strong teams beyond that to get the next meeting and then the funding. And our teams are strong.”
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