Professor Yossi Feinberg of Stanford Graduate School of Business spoke to a packed lecture theatre on Friday 17 May as part of a visit to Cambridge, hosted by Amy Mokady, Programme Director of I-Teams (www.iteamsonline.org/) in a seminar hosted under the Engineering Department’s “Inspiring Research though Industrial Collaboration” (engineerimpact.info).
Professor Feinberg described the role of entrepreneurs in identifying and pursuing opportunities that lie between a university with a keen awareness of industry priorities and an industry interested in what’s going on in the laboratory. Between the deep skills of the scientific / technology discipline and the links between corporate and academic researchers, there is then the need for the skills of business to create new ventures that will survive. So the Ignite programme exists to build the skills of those people who wish to bridge the gap – the entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.
The academic component teaches core business skills and explores applied skills. The course also has a team venture project to teach the evaluation of ideas – to develop the skills to screen and assess one’s own ideas and projects, before others do.
He provided a flavour of the sorts of insights that the programme seeks to impart. For example, much of a venture capitalist’s interest in the health of the portfolio is because it is key to their ability to sell their next fund to investors. And with only limited amounts of time (‘bandwidth’) the venture capitalist is most interested in where his or her focused attention will create the biggest return. So, they might invest in your business – but only if i) you help their portfolio, ii) your business can be enhanced by their focused attention, and iii) it helps build a foundation for their next fund. So they have several invisible criteria – and the projected rate of return illustrated by your carefully prepared business plan is not their only interest.
Answering a question about assessment, Professor Feinberg described how the programme does not assess the students per se, instead selecting carefully those chosen to attend. Stanford’s assessment of the programme itself includes measures such as the likelihood the participants will create an investable proposition. Other candidate measures, such as the proportion of alumni successfully raising capital for their ideas are plagued by lack of data – and it being early in the programme’s life.
So is this of any relevance to people wishing to be academics rather than move into the commercial sphere? Well, yes, according to Feinberg. Building a research team and perhaps a successful research centre will call upon all the skills of the entrepreneur – the more so if you intend to attract industrial funding.
An interesting programme then, but just one of a portfolio of options open to those interested in developing their entrepreneurial and business skills. You might also consider i-Teams (www.iteamsonline.org/) or the programmes offered by the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (www.cfel.jbs.cam.ac.uk/programmes/index.html).
For those interested in the Stanford Ignite – Polytechnique programme itself, more details can be found at: www.polytechnique.edu/home/current-events/polytechnique-stanford-ignite-powering-innovation-and-entrepreneurship-287899.kjsp