Popular culture likes to tell the startup success story this way: An entrepreneur is struck by a blinding flash of genius, raises vast sums, builds a disruptive new technology, and rockets to success. But the path for most founders is far more complicated, more of a zigzag than a straight line, and filled in equal measure with elation and despair.
Yale SOM’s “Start-up Founder Studies” is a seminar course for practicing entrepreneurs that helps founders understand this tortuous path. Taught by Kyle Jensen, associate dean and director of entrepreneurship, the class is open to student startup founders from across Yale. Each week, a practicing entrepreneur or investor speaks to the class about a particular issue that founders must confront. Jensen describes the sessions as Socratic, with students and guests tackling each subject collaboratively. Substantial reading precedes each class and comes from both the academic and scholarly literature. Students also write a series of papers throughout the course.
Jensen draws his guests from all sectors, assembling a diverse group with a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. Discussions include ideation, customer discovery, early stage funding, pitching, scaling, team building, and even dealing with a startup’s failure. Over the course of three-hour conversations with each founder, the class breaks down the myths of entrepreneurship to get a granular view designed to help students peer a few years into their future. “Everyone has something to contribute based on their own experiences,” says Diwura Oladepo ’18. “That richness was what made the class awesome.”