Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and SOM

October 18, 2010

Before I began researching MBA programs last year, Yale SOM was not the first business school that came to my mind in conversations around innovation and entrepreneurship. But it turns out that Yale is a pretty good place for aspiring entrepreneurs. (Lots more info after the jump). Yale SOM recognizes that “entrepreneurial thinking is essential for all MBAs, whether they are entrepreneurs or employed in more traditional pursuits.” Such thinking is “fostered at SOM both by the school’s multisectoral traditions and by its more recent integrated, multidisciplinary curriculum innovations.” That's not just lip service. The training starts at the beginning with a core course called “Innovator” that all first-year SOM students must take. Students can dig further through a variety of elective courses, including Entrepreneurial Business Planning, Commercialization of Technologies, Venture Capital, Financing Green Technologies, Global Social Entrepreneurship, and Creativity & Innovation. Many of these courses incorporate very concrete exercises – in the most overt example, the business planning class helps competitively-selected teams turn their new ideas into commercial realities. Outside the classroom, a number of entities across Yale do more than just help students think about ideas. The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute serves as an incubator for student start-ups. The Office of Cooperative Research leads “cooperative efforts to translate academic research into products and services for the benefit of global society”. The Center for Business and the Environment awards $25,000 each year to “the best Yale student and/or faculty idea for a product, service, project or program that advances a more environmentally sustainable way of life”. The list goes on. You may notice that those resources span across Yale’s schools. That obviously means there will be (healthy) competition over those resources. But it is also another demonstration of the University’s recognition that successful, high-impact innovation is facilitated by expertise of all types. That recognition is bottom-up too; for example, the SOM Entrepreneurship Club is organizing an event within the next couple weeks to bring together the school’s aspiring entrepreneurs with interested students of Yale’s computer science department. A number of high-profile successes have come out of SOM in recent years. Honest Tea, the bottled organic tea company, was founded in 1998 by SOM student Seth Goldman and Professor Barry Nalebuff; Coca-Cola purchased a 40% stake in the company 10 years later at a $100MM+ valuation. Veritas Prep, the test prep and admissions counseling company, was founded in 2002 by SOM students Chad Troutwine and Markus Moberg; the company now earns $10+ million in revenue and is ranked 2nd in GMAT test prep. Yale often invites such alumni and other entrepreneurs to talk with students. Last week I was privileged to attend a lecture by the prolific innovator Elon Musk (co-founder of PayPal, CEO/product architect of Tesla Motors, and CEO/CTO of SpaceX). He talked about SpaceX’s goal of increasing affordability and reliability of space access, towards the ultimate hope to “re-ignite humanity’s efforts to explore and develop space.” He also shared his philosophies on motivation, idea selection, and time management around entrepreneurship. Now, New Haven is not quite Silicon Valley (though many have asserted that New Haven has several favorable ingredients, and it is a hub of biotech). But Yale SOM seems like a great place for nurturing the innovator's spirit and toolkit.

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Eddie Thai