Great ideas are often born in a laboratory, but they need a solid business foundation to come to life.
According to a study by Bloomberg Businessweek and Boston Consulting Group, innovation is often hindered by factors such as a slow time to market, poor organizational structure, and unreasonable price points.
With a new direction for a traditional MBA course, the School of Business and Economics teaches students to use business analysis as a driving force in innovation, giving them practical experience in the realities of bringing a technological product from idea to commercial production.
"Because of the high level of engineering and science innovation at Michigan Tech and in the local community, we have the opportunity to turn out MBA students who are uniquely well-versed in both technology and business."
The updated Launching Entrepreneurial Ventures course places students with local technology companies, where they act as business development consultants for a specific technological initiative. The partnering company’s facilities become the classroom as students conduct background research, analyze markets, screen technological opportunities, test business concepts, develop strategies, secure financing, and write business plans.
“Great ideas need a solid business strategy to make it to market,” said John Leinonen, instructor in the School of Business and Economics and program director for the MTEC SmartZone, who redeveloped and taught the course in summer 2011. “A business analysis helps identify the most market-savvy and financially sound ways to move forward.”
Leinonen’s hands-on curriculum is designed to give students a set of tools they can use in and out of school. It focuses on a defined, repeatable, and consistent process: research, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations.
The most important part of the development process—and a driving force in Launching Entrepreneurial Ventures—is the step many companies avoid: making solid, substantiated recommendations about how to proceed with a business initiative. “It sounds simple, but it’s a crucial element,” said Leinonen. “Many professionals draw conclusions but do not commit to recommendations, leading to an ineffective process.
The Launching Entrepreneurial Ventures course is more than an educational experiment: students have an actual impact on business operations at their partner company. During the inaugural semester, one student team conducted extensive market research in preparation for the statewide expansion of a custom-solution information technology company.
When the market analysis revealed that potential customers wanted to interact directly with their IT product as it was being developed, the students recommended that the owner stop the expansion and focus instead on building a local client base. As a direct result of the business analysis, the owner redirected his efforts and saved time and money on an expansion that was likely to fail. In all cases, the participating companies followed students’ recommendations.
In a difficult job market, practical work in a functioning business can give students an edge over competing applicants. “In today’s economy, students need every advantage to succeed in the market,” said Leinonen. “The course provides valuable experience that translates directly to future employment.”
While it turns out a well-rounded student base, the Launching Entrepreneurial Ventures course also cultivates relationships with local businesses. Because many small technology firms do not keep a full-time business analyst on staff, partner companies benefit from students’ knowledge. “The students’ business training made a big difference in our process, particularly when it came to analyzing pricing, competition, and feasibility,” said Ellen Campbell of Nitrate Elimination Company Inc., a business partner in the first course session.
In the future, Leinonen envisions growing partnerships with businesses around the Upper Peninsula and on campus. “Because of the high level of engineering and science innovation at Michigan Tech and in the local community, we have the opportunity to turn out MBA students who are uniquely well-versed in both technology and business," he said. "That's a valuable combination."
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.