Program Of The Year: Cornell Tech MBA

Students listen to a guest lecture in the Cornell Tech MBA program in NYC

When Vivian Ho started looking into MBA programs, she wanted an experience that would allow her to turbocharge her career as a technology consultant for Deloitte and that would provide the core skills to launch her own consulting shop or startup. The 27-year-old professional from Northern Virginia had studied computer information systems at James Madison University before getting her job at Deloitte where she had worked for nearly five years.

“I needed to get a better sense of my business skills and the thinking process in larger companies,” explains Ho, who knew she wanted to stay in the tech sector.  “I also wanted to understand what was required to build a startup. It’s a very different set of skills from managing a traditional business project.”

When she came across the Cornell Tech MBA program in New York, Ho felt she had found her ideal MBA experience. “There was more of a technology focus than in traditional MBA programs. A lot of other programs only offered a few classes and technology wasn’t as integrated into the program as it is at Cornell Tech.”

CORNELL TECH MBA: P&Q’S MBA PROGRAM OF THE YEAR IN 2017

So Ho enrolled in the program on the newly opened Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City and will graduate with her MBA in May. She not only has no regrets, but is a passionate advocate for what is one of the world’s most innovative MBA experiences. “I was very excited to learn the disruptive technologies and what impact they have on the world. I want to be able to make a difference and the students in this program are really ambitious and a lot of them are spinning out and creating their own startups.”

Cornell Tech’s unique MBA approach, the creativity of its curriculum and the devotion of faculty and staff have earned the degree Poets&Quants’ inaugural Program of Year award. Business schools all over the world are innovating new ways to teach business skills to young professionals, modernizing traditonal MBA programs and launching new more specialized degrees in such fields as data analytics and chain supply management.

But Cornell Tech’s MBA program stands apart, a sparkling jewel of an educational experience that has been creatively designed to deliver on what the blooming tech industry sorely needs: Ambitious and intelligent young professionals adept in product management skills. It is a program of and for the digital economy, where technology is transforming every facet of how the world lives, works and plays. No student leaves this MBA program without a highly valuable toolkit in turning ideas into real product and services, a core MBA function in many of the world’s leading tech companies from Amazon and Apple to Google and Microsoft.

GETTING A LEG UP IN THE TECH INDUSTRY

Dan Huttenlocher, the founding dean and vice provost of Cornell Tech

“If you really want to have one leg up in the tech industry, the best and most unique MBA is the Cornell Tech degree,” says Dan Huttenlocher, the founding dean and vice provost of Cornell Tech. “The experience of working on product development teams drives these tech companies. That is just such a critical part of the technology corporate landscape. Steve Jobs was a consummate product guy. Mark Zuckerberg is incredibly engaged in product development. So are Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. If you want to excel in the tech industry, this is it.”

What makes this MBA unique? Start with the fact that it’s not for everyone. This is a tech-focused MBA, a year in length, on the newest and coolest university campus in the U.S. in New York City. Unlike any other MBA program, you will study and work with students in computer science, engineering, design, law, and info systems. That alone makes for a rather exhilarating, if sometimes exasperating, experience and one that is far more real-world than merely working with other like-minded MBA classmates.

But the most innovative centerpiece of this MBA is its so-called studio curriculum. Experiential learning, involving project work, consulting assignments and formal presenations,  is all the rage in MBA programs these days. But Cornell Tech has taken this to a new and novel extreme. Up to one third of the MBA experience is all about studio work.

A TRULY UNIQUE STUDIO CURRICULUM THAT MAKES UP NEARLY A THIRD OF THE PROGRAM

First, in the fall semester, there is product studio. The school assigns students to five-or-six person teams to tackle new products, services and strategies for an organization. An advisor from the company issuing the challenge provides support. Students then roll up their sleeves and go to work. They do user research, hatch a strategy, develop and test prototypes of a new product or service that ideally meets the needs of the assignment. Ultimately, of course, they present their findings and demo their ideas.

These are wide-ranging assignments from well-known companies, such as Google, American Express, J.P. Morgan, Weight Watchers and Bloomberg, and non-profit or government organizations, such as the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York City Mayor’s Office. One team’s challenge from Weight Watchers, for example, was to answer the question, “How might we tackle teenage weight loss in a manner that makes teenagers feel good about themselves and not like they are on a program?” Google sought advice on how to encourage people to get a balanced view on such controversial topics as gun control.

But that’s not all. In the spring semester, there is startup studio. During this experience, students organized themselves into teams, finding classmates with complementary skills to do an actual startup. Students evaluate ideas, pick one to explore and then do everything from a pitch deck to a prototype before presenting to local VCs and angel investors. All through the process, teams gain the benefit of working with active entrepreneurs and managers who help to guide the group through the process of creation.

LEARNING BY DOING PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

While many teams turn their ideas into actual businesses, the real goal of startup studio is product management. It’s to learn what it takes to work with people unlike yourself on an idea and bring it to fruition—that is a much-needed skill at existing companies or in entrepreneurial ventures. One team has come up with a mobile app that provides young children with inexpensive and highly accessible speech therapy. Another team has done a fintech in the freelance insurance market.

“The studio is the embodiment of the fundamental principle of the Cornell Tech campus,” says Mukti Khaire, who joined Cornell Tech as a professor of practice after teaching entrepreneurial management at Harvard Business School. “It’s about building things with multi-disciplinary teams, putting into practice the classroom instruction. That is the core part. It enables all of the students on campus to work really hard at building things and to learn the relevant soft skills to be really effective. This is the future of the workplace because problems will always have a better outcome when they are approached from different perspectives and expertise. The students here are a very special group of people who know the relevance and the importance of the digital economy.”

The Cornell Tech campus is the result of an idea hatched in the New York City’s mayor’s office in December of 2010 when a pair of senior aides to Mayor Mike Bloomberg came up with the idea as a way to jumpstart a broader diversity of economic activity in the city. With Wall Street and finance in a severe downturn due to the Great Recession, the feeling was that New York needed a world class university to be at the center of a tech ecosystem similar to Silicon Valley.

The Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City