As an entrepreneur, you should be in constant pursuit of an untraditional education.

As Eric and I are getting ready for this semester’s kickoff of the fourth year teaching our course, “Building Internet Startups,” at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I am reflecting on the concept of teaching entrepreneurship. It is a relatively new concept, as entrepreneurship was previously thought “unteachable.” Twenty-six years ago, I was privileged to take one of the first entrepreneurship courses ever taught at my university, the University of Michigan. “Failure 101,” with Professor Jack Matson, was groundbreaking in its emphasis of the inevitability of failure on the entrepreneurial journey, and the criticality of how a leader responds to the inevitable setbacks. As Jack had an important influence on my path, I am proud to now play a small role along the path of young people at Booth.

Aspiring entrepreneurs often ask me if they should get an MBA before starting their own businesses. I usually tell them no - traditional education isn’t going to get you far in the fast-paced, roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, you should be in constant pursuit of an untraditional education. Learn from the people around you: Find mentors who have been there before and peers who are there now, and build your business on the foundation of their experiences and insights. But, for some (including me, who went to Michigan Law School), academics are an element that they incorporate into their arsenal. So in that spirit, I took a look at the state of entrepreneurial education today.

If a university experience is part of your game plan, there are a few courses that I think are worth calling out as beacons for entrepreneurs. I’ve combed the course catalogs of the nation’s top business schools and universities and found six courses – in no particular order - that are worth a look. Sort of a “dream team” of professors and courses, if only they could all be on the same campus!

1. Creativity and Innovation: Becoming Mindful Innovators at Stanford d.School (taught by Frederik G. Pferdt, Global Program Manager for Innovation & Creativity at Google; Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, Stanford; and Melissa Pelochino, Stanford

Successful startup CEOs create an environment that fosters and supports innovation. Pferdt, who leads creative enterprises at Google, believes that an innovator should “think like a child.” This class provides opportunities and projects that teach you to be open to the innovations and disruptive ideas that surround us.

2. Entrepreneurial Life at Cornell NYC Tech (taught by Greg Pass, CEO, NYC Tech and former Twitter CTO)

Cornell’s NYC campus is a startup itself, opening its doors to students in January 2013. In its Friday practicum, former Twitter CTO Greg Pass takes a select group on a tour of the entrepreneurial life. So far, they’ve discussed storytelling with the Chief Creative Officer at Google Creative Lab Robert Wong and social entrepreneurship with DonorsChoose Founder and CEO Charles Best, among others.

3. Workshop in Managerial Improvisation at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (taught by Robert Fulham, CEO, Business Improvisations)

Fulham is a former Second City performer who brings a gift for ad-libbing to the negotiating table. As startup CEOs, we must constantly think on our feet to manage, support and grow our company in a fast-paced tech world.

4. Introduction to Negotiation at Yale School of Management (taught by Barry Nalebuff, Co-Founder, Honest Tea)

Honest Tea’s Barry Nalebuff’s Introduction to Negotiation represents the other side of the negotiation coin. He knows the economics and game theory behind negotiations, and he uses that knowledge to his benefit, highlighted by the 2011 sale of Honest Tea to Coca-Cola. Barry was a speaker at our 2013 Chicago Ideas Week, and made an impact on Chicago reflective of his teaching excellence.

5. Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar at Stanford University

You won’t earn any course credits for this, but Stanford’s speaker series pulls in successful entrepreneurs from nearby Silicon Valley to share the stories of their successes, failures and everything in between. The 2014 line-up includes Sal Kahn of Kahn Academy, Halle Tecco, one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 and Co-Founder and CEO of Rock Health, and other leading entrepreneurs, all of whom have unique insights into the startup scene.

6. Entrepreneurial Management at University of Michigan Ross School of Business (taught by Len Middleton)

I met Len while I was at Michigan, and think he is one of the most passionate, dedicated, dynamic entrepreneurship professors I know. His course is one of the most popular at Ross, and it explores some of the same learning-from-failure concepts that Len and I experienced with Jack Matson in 1988. As Len says in describing the course, “Entrepreneurship is about risk and failure: embracing it, and learning from it.”

7. New Venture and Small Enterprise Lab at University of Chicago Booth School of Business (taught by Mike Moyer)

Serial entrepreur Mike Moyer puts theory to practice in his interactive class. You might even get a few tips on advertising and advocating for your own company, including how to pitch potential investors. Moyer and his business partner won $25,000 for their company when they won the 2003 New Venture Challenge at the Booth School.

At U of C, you should also check out the many other stellar classes they offer, including Craig Wortman’s Entrepreneurial Selling, recognized by Inc as one of 2011’s top 10 classes. And, of course, there’s Building Internet Startups: Risk, Reward and Failure, co-taught by my business partner and Groupon CEO Eric Lefkofsky and me. Which might explain my U of C bias!

close button

This site was built with many thanks to:

Development: Static Interactive
Images: Chicago Ideas week
Site Design: Carli Papp