Since its inception, the Academy has educated more than 700 students and faculty researchers in technology entrepreneurship, leading to more than 50 technology start-ups that have raised more than $50 million in new venture funds. Fisher’s new MBA Specialization in Technology Entrepreneurship combines the college’s rigorous MBA coursework with the successful experiential programs of the Langdale Academy.
There has traditionally been resistance on the part of the tech community to engage with business schools. Why would you think you could create a program that tech entrepreneurs would find compelling?
We recognized as a business school that tech entrepreneurship plays a critical role in creating a viable economic foundation. We recognized that is where we could have the biggest impact on job creation and economic viability.
If business schools are going to have a fundamental role in creating new jobs in the new economy, we must embrace the role that tech plays. We have to encourage more business formation of high-growth, high-scalability enterprises. To attract the tech community, we have to make the program real, not just theory but experiential programs linking aspiring tech entrepreneurs with resources, mentors, and technology.
Why should tech entrepreneurs consider the Fisher MBA?
The specialization appeases and addresses the strong personal interest and passion students have for pursuing their own form of enterprise. About 20 percent of our MBA students express an interest in running and owning their own enterprise. And 70 percent have already worked in start-ups before. The specialization allows students to launch a start-up and receive an MBA from one of the nation’s top business schools.
Who is the program targeting — established entrepreneurs with businesses or those with simply ideas?
We are targeting both. But we see the big market as aspiring entrepreneurs who have a strong desire and passion to launch a business. The specialization allows students to experiment with startups, and the MBA provides other career options if those startups do not launch. They also need self-confidence, which is what we believe we can provide in the program. Our program is not as much about building businesses as it is about building entrepreneurial leaders.
One source of concern for cash-strapped entrepreneurs is tuition fees. What financial aid do you offer entrepreneurial students?
We have financial aid available for a sub-set of the students coming in, everything from 100 percent of tuition to 50 percent of tuition. Being a young program, we can afford to do that for a high proportion of our students. We keep the class small and are attempting to provide guaranteed fellowships that are designed to either pay the students to work on their own enterprise, or pay them to work at a small or medium-sized business or venture capital firm.
Thirdly we offer internships with angel and venture capital investors. We have half a dozen investment firms that have expressed interest in collaborating in the program. And we have a small accelerator fund that we make available to students who are looking for early-stage funding.
How does the Venture Lab help students with proof-of-concept?
We are not purely an academic program. The model is quite distinctive. Most MBA programs are designed to train you to be an efficient operator; to improve your ability to cut costs, leverage new research, and pursue new opportunities; to make you better managers. We are focused on the front end of that process — generating new ideas and validating the investment readiness of those ideas.
What support is there for students once they have set up their businesses?
We are focusing our efforts on bolstering the academic program itself. We are signing executive mentors to the teams as coaches. A lot of them participate because they want access to future opportunities. We anticipate their continued engagement with future students after they graduate. We hope that the program self-feeds — as you graduate you can become a mentor, and that creates a network of new opportunities.
What's the most interesting idea for a tech start-up you've seen from your students?
Each semester I see a lot of exciting new ideas. One of the project that stands out from last year was Nano Paint. It’s a paint material that is made up of carbon nanotubes that you can put it into a resin and use it for paint on a variety of surfaces for many applications. The application my team first evaluated was residential floor heating. You can electrify the paint and it will heat to 300 degrees very quickly. So it becomes a low-cost and energy-efficient way of heating residential housing that could prove to be very successful in the market.
How are you connecting students with mentors and venture capitalists?
It’s a matter of networking. We take a student team out to Silicon Valley every year. We’ve met with 20 to 30 of the top VCs in the world and other strong, but less well-known, VCs. We are also connected to VentureOhio, Ohio’s venture capital association with more than 65 member venture firms. We have created a collaborative relationship for internships, placements and coaching opportunities. We will be leveraging these networks.
How are you leveraging the university's strengths in other departments, such as engineering or computer science?
We collaborate very closely with these departments as well as our licensing office, which is the gatekeeper of the technology within the university. We collaborate with all of the research and tech departments, including colleges of engineering, medicine, agriculture and environmental science, law and arts and sciences. A student in the specialization will have access to the portfolio of Ohio State technologies to see if there is an opportunity to commercialize research conducted on campus.