MBA Focus: So who's teaching those courses on entrepreneurship?

This article was originally published on Chicago Tribune here, and written by Cheryl V. Jackson.

Chicago’s colleges and universities reflect the city’s thriving startup community.

Centers and institutes for entrepreneurship abound, as do courses and MBA concentrations in entrepreneurship.

Leaders of Chicago business schools say they’re responding to student demand and that they aim to provide courses in entrepreneurship that offer a mix of practical experience and academic research. And they point out that not just any entrepreneur can teach entrepreneurship.

Northern Illinois University, which offers MBA courses in Hoffman Estates and Naperville, says its entrepreneurship instructors include a mix of serial entrepreneurs and research faculty. 

Practitioners “can often bring in other entrepreneurs to provide even more perspectives or serve as evaluators of student work,” Sarah Marsh, chair of the Department of Management in the university’s College of Business, wrote in an email to Blue Sky Innovation.

She said the school's faculty "bring a broader perspective that helps students learn and apply frameworks reflecting current knowledge about entrepreneurial opportunity recognition and implementation.” 

One course features a tenured professor and entrepreneur as co-instuctors “so students can get these complementary perspectives,” she said.

Robert Ryan, assistant dean and director of DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, emphasized the importance of balance between adjunct business leaders and regular faculty. He said Kellstadt instructors must have an advanced degree, with research background and subject expertise.

“Having only practitioners in the classroom causes you to miss out on the broader thinking of what happens across an industry, which not every practitioner would know because they wouldn’t have the time to do the research beyond their particular company oftentimes,” Ryan said. “They sometimes know what the competition is doing, but that doesn’t mean they have a broad view of past practice, current practice and thoughts on what ought to be the future practice.”

Linda Darragh ⇒, executive director of the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, said the program beefed up its tactical and experiential adjunct faculty three years ago, adding 19 new courses and clinical and adjunct practitioners to teach them.

It's about structuring the content so that it's meaningful, and not just a bunch of war stories.— Linda Darragh, executive director of the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative

Instructors lured to the program include Troy Henikoff ⇒, managing director of Techstars Chicago, and Mark Achler ⇒, a former executive at Redbox. Its full-time faculty includes Carter Cast, a Kellogg graduate and a venture partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital.

“What we’re trying to do is actually blend the tenured faculty and the frameworks with adjunct and clinical faculty that can provide the tactical, experiential courses,” Darragh said.

Darragh said the school trains adjunct professors but tries to recruit those who can show through tryouts an ability to engage a class with high-quality content for three hours.

“It’s about structuring the content so that it’s meaningful, and not just a bunch of war stories,” she said. “What many students are looking for are the key concepts that they’re going to be able to use over time, even though some of those practical mechanics might keep changing.”

At the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation says its faculty features tenured and adjunct professors who “collaborate with the entrepreneurial and private equity communities, and bring their own entrepreneurial experiences into the classroom.”

Entrepreneurship professors include Waverly Deutsch, an active angel investor and advisor to startups including PrettyQuick, which Groupon acquired this spring; Steven Kaplan, who serves on the boards of Columbia Acorn Funds, Morningstar and the Illinois Venture Capital Association; and Craig Wortmann, founder and CEO of Sales Engine.

“The amazing thing about MBA courses is that it’s this combination of theory and practice,” said Kristin Barrett, who earned an MBA at Booth in 2012.

Barrett mentioned a course that Wortmann teaches called Building the New Venture. She referred to Wortmann, a clinical professor, as a “really experienced practitioner.”

“He does an amazing job wrapping his own story into the course” while showing students how to start their own ventures, said Barrett, director of partner relations with the university’s Chicago Innovation Exchange. “He wants us to go out and do phone calls and make you uncomfortable.”

Cheryl V. Jackson is a freelance writer.

CORRECTION: This version corrects the spelling of the last name of Chicago Booth professor Waverly Deutsch.