With the curriculum and the workspace in place, the Entrepreneurship track was ready to launch with a program that consisted of both traditional business school lectures as well as field learning.
At the beginning of the semester, students take a heavy course load, considered the most intense track at HEC. These courses are meant to prepare students for interaction with the scientists and technology transfer professionals. The core course, Entrepreneurship Backbone, features Professor Safars and other guest speakers who have ascended to the top of the corporate world. They discuss methodologies that have worked in their previous ventures and others that did not. Speakers included French entrepreneurs, investors and a highly successful entrepreneur from the United States that studied under Professor Safars at HEC and has appeared on the cover of the New York Times and Time magazines. A focus of this course is the adaptation of “soft skills,” or personal interaction and discovery of motivation, a skill that most entrepreneurs have to learn through interaction.
Another unique course that is taught early is Investing in Science and Technology, a course that covers how Venture Capitalists approach new investments and how dilution of a company can take place and leave an entrepreneur with a small return on his initial investment. During this course, several current Venture Capitalists working for both large VC firms as well as in house at top tech firms come in and discuss their strategies and what goes on in their minds when they choose to invest.
The remainder of the courses helps students to learn hard skills that are necessary for entrepreneurship such as intellectual property protection, entrepreneurial finance and technical product development, taught by international professors.
Real World Experience
What is truly unique about the Entrepreneurship Track is the real life experience of bringing an associate scientists’ idea to market. Early in the semester, students are divided into groups of three based on complementary skills and experiences. Each student takes on the role of the CEO, CFO, or CTO and from the first week of October until mid-December, each student has to work about 20 hours a week on developing the project. Companies in Fall 2014 included personalized cancer diagnostics, smart heart stents, and geolocation technology to name a few. The students’ work involved speaking with the scientists to understand the scope of their vision, observing competitors, reviewing government filings, speaking with attorneys or anything else the students may consider that would improve the project, much like an entrepreneur would do with his or her own project. One of the most important duties that the students had to undertake was to contact potential clients and Venture Capitalists to get them interested in the idea. This required full understanding of the scope of the invention and the competitors in the field. By going out into the field, students can understand what each metric measured in an entrepreneurial venture actually means, whether it be supply, operations, competition or barriers to entry.
What makes this learning by doing even more unique is that the students have a potential incentive available at the end of the program. Professor Safars requires that each of the institutional participants consider that if the students produce a good work product at the end of the program, the company must be willing to allocate some shares in the company to students that would be interested in continuing to work for the company.