Mark Achler starts his first class with a video that Apple used years ago to introduce its iPad. As the MBA students in Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management watch the TV advertisment, they hear the voice of comedian Robin Williams from a scene in the film Dead Poets Society. Not until the very end of the 90-second spot does the Apple logo appear — ever so briefly — on the screen.
Instead, the commercial positions the iPad as a tool of creation, paired with images of ocean wind turbines, marching bands, waterfalls, and mountain rescue helicopters. The clip fades to black shortly after William quotes a Walt Whitman poem:
O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: that you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
And then he asks: “What will your verse be?”
LANDED AT 2 P.M., IN CLASS BY 6 P.M.
Achler, 59, an adjunct lecturer on entreprenership at Kellogg, quickly poses a series of questions to the students in his class on building innovation, teams, and cultures.
“OK,” he says, “I’m confused. What company makes this product? What’s the processor speed of the product? Who is the hero of the ad?
“The hero of this ad,” he says finally, “is aspirational. It’s you! ‘What will your verse be?’”
Achler, a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist, isn’t teaching in Evanston, Ill., where Kellogg has its main campus; nor is he in a classroom in Chicago, where the school has a downtown building for its part-time MBA and Executive MBA programs. Instead, Achler is in San Francisco teaching Kellogg MBA students at the university’s new Bay Area campus. It’s based on the 18th floor in the Financial District at 44 Montgomery St.
In fact, Achler had just flown out to San Francisco from Chicago on the same day of his 6 p.m. class, arriving at SFO at 2 p.m. He had just enough time to check into his room at The Donatello Hotel, scarf down a dish of panang curry chicken at a Thai restuarant near Union Square, then come over for his first three-hour class.
THREE COURSES AND A BAY AREA INTERNSHIP
The MBAs in Achler’s class are in an immersion of sorts into the Bay Area ecosystem. There are 13 students in what Kellogg is calling its San Francisco Winter Quarter Pilot. The new program offers students a chance to take three courses (Cases in Venture Investment with Professor Paola Sapienza, Social Dynamics and Network Analysis with Professor Adam Pah, and Achler’s Entrepreneurship: Building Innovation, Teams, and Cultures) as well as an internship over a full 10-week quarter in San Francisco. A program lead, Michael Xenakis, orchestrates the experience, leading a Venture Lab course and arranging seminars and visits with local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, while Kellogg professors are shipped out West to teach.
Kellogg’s test of the market complements its existing growth and scaling initiative, but it’s also part-and-parcel of the Bay Area boom and the growing interest among MBA students in startups, early-stage companies, and venture capital in a region with the world’s most dynamic economy. Business schools frequently escort their students here on Silicon Valley treks, and some plan to open an office in the area — INSEAD being the latest. But it’s still rare for a prestige school to allow its MBAs to spend an entire semester or quarter here.
Wharton began offering its MBA students a semester at its campus in San Francisco beginning with a pilot in the fall of 2012 (see “Wharton’s Novel Bay Area Option For MBAs“). The Kellogg experiment, which ended earlier this month, is an outgrowth of its growth and scaling curriculum (see “Could ‘Growth’ Become A New Business School Discipline?“).
‘WE WANTED STUDENTS TO GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY IN HELPING TO SCALE COMPANIES’
“After building out the foundation of our courses in this area, the next step was how to provide more substantial opportunities in the scaling arena,” says Linda Darragh, the director of Kellogg’s innovation and entrepreneurship initiative. “A good number of our students head out to the valley after graduating, and while some go to the large tech companies, many are interested in growth-stage firms and VCs. Being in the Midwest, we felt there was an opportunity for people to be out there in the winter quarter when companies are thinking about who to hire for internships and full-time jobs.”
An interesting twist to the winter quarter pilot was that each student is required to have an internship while also attending a lighter load of classes. “We wanted students to get their hands dirty in helping to scale companies,” Darragh adds. “The fact that we could blend both is absolutely necessary to create the value we wanted for our experience.”
MBA students who took the pilot are uniformly enthusiastic about it. Brian Quimby, 31, who had been at Google and Accenture before enrolling in Kellogg’s one-year accelerated MBA program, would not have had the chance to do an internship if not for going to the pilot. Quimby got to do his internship at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz in Menlo Park. His classmates were all working at startups or VC outfits, ranging from travel and hospitality startup Peek and fintech lending firm Insikt to VC firm Ponte Partners, though one MBA was spending the bulk of her time creating a VR startup in the healthcare space.
‘THIS WAS A WAY TO SATISFY MY ITCH TO WORK IN THE OPERATIONS OF A STARTUP’
“There is definitely an advantage to being here if you are interested in venture capital and startups,” Quimby says. “The curriculum was aligned with what I was going to take in Evanston. I was definitely thinking about the social aspects of missing out on things on campus. But this is a group that will be working out here anyway, and I want to be out here when I graduate.”
Daniel Yoo, 28, now in his second year of Kellogg’s MBA program, saw the San Francisco option as a way to try something new. “I saw this as another opportunity that you could take without a more meaningful investment for a while,” he says. “I have always been interested in the operations of a startup, and this was a way to satisfy that itch. It was a low-risk investment to test that out.”
Yoo did his quarter internship with Shift Technologies, a Bay Area startup using the peer-to-peer market to buy and sell used cars. “It’s been really eye-opening to see how hard it is to build a company,” Yoo adds. “The program is very much a pave-your-own-way, choose-your-own adventure. The work is invaluable, and these are the best courses you can take out here. It adds a whole other level of value versus sitting in Evanston reading cases on venture capital.”