When I’m networking at various entrepreneurial events in the city, my background often comes up in discussions. When I mention that I’m a recent graduate of the Master’s program in the School of Technological Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University, most pose the question: “What’s that?” I obviously don’t have the chance to go in depth to describe it there, so I’d like to talk more here about the seemingly little known program.
The School started 6 years ago thanks to a generous donation by Jean C. Tempel, a local education philanthropist. I was just a freshman Electrical Engineering major when I took the first class they offered in the Spring of 2004. This course was the seminar series showcasing local entrepreneurs that I’ve mentioned in previous entries. Their stories really sparked the fire of my passion for entrepreneurship. Over the next 4 years, I took the necessary courses to gain a minor in Technological Entrepreneurship. As I moved closer to graduation, I realized that I was more passionate about the minor than my major, but I didn’t feel like I was prepared to pursue a career in entrepreneurship yet. With this in mind, I decided to enter the Master’s degree program.
While at times I’ll quickly tell someone that my Master’s degree is a “MBA for Startups,” that’s a rather crude approximation. The STE program is more compact (one year, 10 courses) and includes a year long development project that involves work similar to organizing the business aspects of a startup. The classes are a crash course in all of the key business concerns of a start-up: Intellectual Property, Marketing, Accounting, Finance, Product Development, Business Management, Leadership, and Strategic Planning. These courses give students a solid base from which they can build upon when they work on real world start-ups after graduation and they even cover many of the lessons some have been disappointed MBAs don’t learn.
The types of students enrolled in this program are different than most MBAs. The majority of my classmates are foreign and fresh out of undergraduate programs. This had both benefits and drawbacks in my experience. It was great learning to work with people with vastly different cultural backgrounds; I had many conversations with my classmates that helped me understand the Indian, Chinese and Taiwanese cultures. Even cultural norms such as how to interact with your professor are very different in other countries. Of course, a drawback of working with so many foreign students comes when working on projects. Since English is not usually their first language, I found myself needing to do significant editing for most of their work. We all know how much a grammatical error stands out in a presentation, so this was always a key issue to address. Personally, I saw a silver lining in this as it made me more critical of my own work and have a greater attention to detail; never assume a slide or paragraph is perfect until you’ve checked it twice.
The program does have its flaws. Since classes are every night, it’s impossible to go to the majority of entrepreneurial events. This put me behind the eight-ball in finding employment upon graduation and building a network. The program could also use a lot more marketing, as it would be helpful if more local entrepreneurs were familiar with it. I graduated from the 3rd class of the program, so I’m sure it will improve in years to come as myself and others work in the local community and the program expands.
Overall, I’m very pleased with my decision to enter the program. Every professor in the program has startup experience, and they all incorporate their stories into their courses (the good, the bad and the ugly). We also had a VC and an Angel involved in a pair of courses, which further diversified the perspectives presented to students. Topics in the classroom were supplemented by a monthly speaker series, which included local entrepreneurs, angels, bankers, and lawyers. We were required to give many presentations and write a great deal, which led to significant improvement in those skills as well as time management and organizational skills. Since classes were at night, I was able to work part time during the day at E Ink, which provided both invaluable experience and allowed me to avoid going into debt for living expenses in addition to the hefty tuition costs. Finally, for those of us who were able to pursue personal projects for the year long development projects, we were able to learn a great deal about what it really takes to launch a business (more on my project in a future entry) with some even launching.
In the end, the Master’s program has vastly improved my business knowledge in just a single, intense year. I look forward to continuing to build upon this knowledge for a lifetime. As the great philosopher once said,
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates