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Foster’s New MS In Entrepreneurship

University of Washington Foster School of Management

Program Name: Master Of Science In Entrepreneurship

School: University Of Washington’s Foster School Of Business

Length of Program: 12 months

Cost: Washington state resident $24,900; non-resident $38,900

Business schools got wise some time ago to the need for entrepreneurship education at the graduate level. At the University of Washington, they have Connie Bourassa-Shaw to thank for that — and much more. Bourassa-Shaw has been working for nearly two decades to grow the school’s entrepreneurial offerings, helping to launch such programs as the UW Business Plan Competition and the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. Now, with the introduction of yet another option for young entrepreneurs — a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship that begins in June with an expected first cohort of 30 to 35 — she will step away from leading the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship to take the helm of the new program, before officially retiring next year (see Program Profile & Other Fast Facts).

“I’ve been the director of the Buerk Center for a long time, and this has been at the back of my brain for a very long time, that there should be a specialty master’s program in entrepreneurship,” says Bourassa-Shaw, 65. “We’re very excited about this program.”

Poets&Quants asked Bourassa-Shaw to answer some questions about the new MS, the special opportunities afforded by a location amid the thriving entrepreneurial scene in Seattle, and why the time was right to launch the program.

Why is Foster launching the program?

Connie Bourassa-Shaw

“Over the course of the last three years, this has come to fruition for two reasons. One is that I kept hounding the dean, and the second is that we now have a sizable cohort of tenured faculty and tenure-track faculty in strategy/entrepreneurship at the Foster School. And a cohort like that really helps to move things along.

“Like a lot of entrepreneurship centers do, we count on having people from the entre community come in and be lecturers for us. And that’s really positive. But at the same time, you need that cohort group of faculty, and now we have it.

“The idea is, we want to do a 12-month degree program here, we want to combine it with the best aspects of an accelerator, and we want to provide mentoring from Seattle entrepreneurs. So we are trying to combine those three things in this new master’s.”

How is it different from what else is on the market?

“I truly believe that mentoring plays such a strong role in preparing students to be entrepreneurs and getting their companies off the ground. And so we’re actually looking at two different kinds of mentors in this program: one we’re calling special area mentors, so people who are really good at customer development, people who are really good at startup finances, or operations plans. But then we’re hoping that every single student in this program ends up with their own startup mentor, that is, somebody who has been a startup entrepreneur a time or two and is willing to be their resource for the entire year.” Among the Seattle entrepreneurs who are signed up to participates mentors are T.A. McCann, founder of Gist and Rival IQ and former VP of product strategy at Blackberry; Andy Kleitsch, CEO of Buck and founder of WeddingChannel.com; and Liz Pearce, CEO of project management software company LiquidPlanner.

Another exception to the norm: In almost every accelerator program, the program takes 4% to 6% equity in the resulting startups. The new Foster program will take none, Bourassa-Shaw says.

Who is the ideal applicant and student?

“This program would help students who are really serious about starting companies have an option in addition to an MBA.”

What’s the application process? Are GMATs or GREs required? An essay?

According to the school’s website: “Foster MS in Entrepreneurship applicants must have completed the equivalent of a four-year U.S. bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. The minimum GPA is 3.0 for the last 90-quarter or 60-semester credits. Studies conducted outside of the U.S. do not need to be converted to a four point scale, but transcripts should be translated to English.” GMAT and GRE are optional.

Applicants also must complete a 750-word “Personal Statement” in which they describe past entrepreneurial experiences; a “Short Essay 1” of 500 words in which they must list the five to seven skills/traits they think an entrepreneur must have, and rank themselves against the list; and a “Short Essay 2,” also of 500 words, in which they must answer one of two questions: “What company, currently in existence, do you wish you’d started? Why?” or “What problem that currently exists in the world would you most like to solve? How would you begin?”

Applicants also must create a short video 60 to 90 seconds in which they respond to one of three questions: “What’s unique about you?” or “Would you rather be lucky or smart?” or “Are entrepreneurs born or made? And which one are you?”

What are the application deadlines?

International deadline: January 27. Domestic deadline: February 28.

What can a student do to best prepare for the program in advance of its start? Books to read? Podcasts to listen to? TED talks to watch? 

“I always recommend that people read Paul Graham’s blog posts. What we’ll do most likely is put together some readings, posts, podcast for incoming students.” Bourassa-Shaw also cites a Foster web page on great entrepreneurship reads and another on blogs and local entrepreneurial-focused media.

What will students learn in the program?

The new MS takes place in four parts, one per quarter: ideation, formation, execution, and scale. “We thought that was brilliant, actually,” Bourassa-Shaw laughs. “The lead class is Opportunity, Recognition, and Validation. Most people will come into this program having an idea, or at least an idea of the vertical, that they want to work in, and so the first thing we’re going to do is make them work really hard at determining whether that idea is worth spending any additional time on.

“We’re also going to be teaching them about competitive strategy, we’re going to be giving them the essentials of accounting for entrepreneurs, we’re going to do a basic entrepreneurial marketing class, we talk about negotiations, and we also have a class called Entrepreneurial Leadership, and the class is a credit a quarter but it goes across every quarter. We’re breaking this down into what students need to know each quarter in the program. And so the first quarter is going to be Finding the Leader In You, second quarter is How to Manage Projects, third quarter is How to Manage Your Team, and the fourth quarter is going to be Managing to Scale.

“We have this vision of how people will work their way through this program, and everything is really guided toward that. So in the formation quarter, we do an entrepreneurial strategy and decision-making because one of the things we know about early-stage entrepreneurs is that it is extremely difficult to make decisions — at the beginning of your startup, they come on an hourly basis. And a lot of times early-stage entrepreneurs don’t trust their own instincts, and they try to defer. So we really want students to start that decision-making regimen.

“There’s also a class each quarter where they work on their own startup. So they get credit for working on their own startup. And that’s exactly what we’re here to do. So yes, you’re taking classes at the same time and you’re working on group projects because that’s the graduate student in business way, but at the same time you have time every day to work on your own startup.”

Is there a capstone or special project? If so, describe it.

No thesis is required for completion of the program, according to its web page at Foster’s website. However, students are expected to make “tangible progress” toward launching their entrepreneurial ventures, and all are required to compete in the UW Business Plan Competition in spring quarter.

What do you expect student outcomes to be?

“The big reason that entrepreneurs don’t go back for an MBA is that it’s two years out of their life and at least $80,000. This is no years out of your life because you’re working on your startup, and the $24,900 is really what we saw as one angel investment. A typical angel investment is $25,000, so this is your angel investment in your company and yourself.

“In all of the materials that we’re putting out about this new Master of Entrepreneurship, we say the same thing, which is, ‘You will have no access to Career Services.’ We have a big office at the Foster School where they help the students find their internships and their job, but in this case, you are here to start your own job. And what we’re hoping, of course, is that this helps us get the right people.”

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