Keeping it Current!

When a B-School Brings Innovation to its Curriculum

An interview with Robert Rosenberg
Director for entrepreneurship programmes at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Chicago Booth School of Business<
April 17th, 2014
Business schools’ main goals include preparing graduates who are not only equipped with all the necessary tools to become top-notch business people, managers and CEOs in the corporate world, but who also have the ability to make it on their own and successfully embark on entrepreneurial ventures. Here is in essence how B-Schools are bringing innovation to their curricula in order to keep today’s business education current and responsive to the needs of the market.

Why was the Polsky Center established?
In 2000, I joined a four-year-old startup. And I’ve been there ever since. Steven Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance asked me to mentor teams of University of Chicago students developing new products. Steven was busy testing a hypothesis: many business school students interested in new venture creation were limited by standard business school course offerings that did not provide opportunities to learn and practise entrepreneurial skills.

Steven was sceptical of the conventional notion that business school students were risk-averse. He believed that business schools should be more active agents in providing entrepreneurial career options, in enabling students to take on more ambitious – and more rewarding – opportunities. And he was seeking real-world validation.

How does the New Venture Challenge work?
In 1996 Steve started the New Venture Challenge (NVC), a course and business competition designed for student-teams pursuing promising, commercialisable ideas. He recruited students as well as faculty staff, coaches, external judges, and mentors. From a handful of teams and a 10-week course, the New Venture Challenge became a high-visibility, yearlong programme; by the time I joined the NVC as a coach, more than 100 teams were applying for the course’s 30 coveted spots. The support of the business school, its alumni and the Chicago entrepreneurial community made it possible for us to grow from the NVC to a multi disciplinary entrepreneurial centre at Chicago Booth.

How does Chicago Booth Polsky Center stay up-to-date with today’s business reality?
Over the years, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has continued to develop a distinctive and empowering approach to design-based innovation and data-driven product development. We offer courses in Entrepreneurial Selling, Private Equity and Venture Capital, as well as laboratory approaches to entrepreneurial design, clean tech, and social enterprise. We have built an incubator and run a successful accelerator programme. We recruit entrepreneurs-in-residence, among them successful CEOs and iconoclastic thought leaders. We develop and test course offerings, workshops, and programmes that we believe serve our students, and we provide them with tools, resources and agency. Like the rest of The University of Chicago, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is not bound by philosophy or history – healthy scepticism and a touch of contrariness come our way naturally. We are driven by data, not dogma.

What are the results of your entrepreneurship contribution?
Today, entrepreneurship is the second largest concentration at Chicago Booth. The Polsky Center offers 26 courses taught by 20 faculty members, and it continues to grow. Our purview extends to promoting entrepreneurship across the campus, the city and, increasingly, across the world. The New Venture Challenge now comes in four flavours: traditional, social, college and global (executive programme students in Chicago, London and Singapore develop businesses and compete with one another). And Hyde Park Angels, which was started by executive programme students, is one of the most active angel investment groups in the Midwest.

What are the reasons for the
success of Polsky Center?
In many ways, the Polsky Center is the traditional academic environment stood on its head. My colleagues are young, focused on rapid iteration and market uptake, on taking risks and adopting best practices, and on partnerships and networks. The Polsky Center represents a set of offerings and opportunities always in the making – never static, never self-satisfied.

Robert Rosenberg is director for entrepreneurship programmes at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship at the Chicago Booth School of Business. His most recent role is associate vice president for marketing strategy and associate vice president for research.

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