Thursday, April 11, 2013

Isaac Newton's Mini Golf

You have probably heard friends or co-workers say that a MBA is not worthwhile if you want to start your own business.  Why bother spending 100K and two years of your life instead of actually doing whatever it is you want to do?  After all, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Page did not go to business school and they did pretty well.  Dean Bruner says he frequently hears this claim from prospective students.
But why do folks portray this as an either/or scenario?  Should I go to business school or start my own business?  What they should be asking is – How do I do both? 
That question is probably best answered with a short vignette from two of my second year classmates.  Jim Thomas and Kevin Bennett’s venture, Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf, was born in one Darden course and developed throughout other courses, as part of the curriculum.  
Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf is an innovative product developed to teach children foundational science concepts and reinforce math skills through the game of mini golf.  The idea was born in the second year course, Starting New Ventures.  Jim and Kevin took the idea to another second year course, Developing New Products and Services, to design and build a prototype for their product idea.  They worked with a team of three other students, learning to discover “user’s needs” and built a series of working prototypes (Darden provides teams with money for materials).
From there, Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf was further developed in other courses, such as Digital Marketing and even Accounting (yes, Accounting).  Many second year courses require a project or paper that relates to a real business and there is no reason why an aspiring entrepreneur cannot use his/her own venture.  In fact, that is encouraged! 
While developing the idea in Darden courses, the venture received some seed capital from Darden’s Batten Institute in the form of a “De-Risking” Competition.  And most importantly, Jim and Kevin are able to get help and advice from fellow students and faculty.
The founders came to Darden with very different perceptions of entrepreneurship.  Jim was already an experienced entrepreneur, having co-founded a software company, and intended to return to a start-up.  Kevin came from the military with no entrepreneurial experience and little desire for it until a first year elective caused him to re-think what entrepreneurship really is.  Both came to understand the value of starting their own venture in business school and took advantage of Darden’s many resources.  At Darden, it is possible to get a world class MBA and start your own business.
Jim and Kevin both say this experience forced them to bring to bear everything they were learning in the classroom: Strategy, Marketing, Operations, Finance, and yes, even Accounting.   For those interested in entrepreneurship, Darden has some tremendous resources, these are just a few:
·    The Batten Institute is a world class organization for entrepreneurship and innovation;
·    Darden Business Projects (DBP) and the Incubator program enable students to work with small businesses as part of the curriculum;
·    and today Darden’s iLab celebrates its grand opening, which will foster collaboration through the University and Charlottesville community.
For more information about Isaac Newton’s Mini Golf, visit their webpage.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Second Year Electives

While the first year is often described as mastering the core curriculum the second year is all about smoothing the edges.  In my second year, I have had the good fortune of being able to take a set of classes that I will look back upon with fond memories.

Leadership Ride:  The first few class meetings are facilitated by Gary Gallagher, a leading Civil War historian who communicates information on the Confederate and Union forces as well as provides context leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg.  In a partnership with the United States Marine Corps University, we then travelled to Gettysburg for a two day field experience.  Over the course of two days we would walk to a specific place on the battlefield, be placed in the situation of a specific leader, and discuss the actions we would have taken in that role.  The most fascinating aspect of the class was the ability to make parallels between the military leadership, both its successes and failures, at the Battle of Gettysburg to leadership in the contemporary business environment.  Far and away, one of the coolest classes I’ve ever taken.  Ever.

Character Traits and Success:  Professor Colley has assembled a list of 200 character traits and each week, we read a piece by Plato or Emerson.  The idea is that through reading these great works, we are able to relate the reading to our own personal character traits or to character traits exhibited by various leaders.  One of the things that makes this class so unique is that it is a ten-person seminar made up of five Darden students and five undergraduate students.  If that isn’t cool enough, it meets in Professor Colley’s Pavilion on the Lawn, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the conversation is accompanied by wine and cheese.

General Managers Taking Action:  Another very different class that operates as more of a speakers series.  Each class session a Darden alum comes to present caselets, or situations that they have found themselves in as business leaders.  The experiences of the alumni vary greatly, from the CEO of a quarry company to a Managing Member of a private equity group, but the one common thread of each class is that the students come prepared to take action and discuss the decisions we would make.  After class, many of the alumni are available to go to lunch with interested classmates.  Not only has the class helped develop my decision-making process, it also presents a great opportunity to network with some of the most impressive Darden alumni.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Tutoring Program

This year, I have had the privilege of serving as one of the Co-Chairs of the Tutoring Program.  The Tutoring Program is a student-led program where second year students work to support the core curriculum by reviewing conceptual frameworks and fundamental mechanics as well as providing an intimate forum to ask questions.
While working with the Tutoring Program this year, I have come to see it as a really great example of the strength of the Darden community.  One of the reasons I was attracted to Darden was because of its close community.  When I was looking at MBA programs and talking with current students, everyone I spoke with at Darden talked about its collaborative community.  (Seriously, when I asked students what made Darden unique, 100% of them mentioned the community fostered at Darden).  As a second-year at Darden, I see why this universally discussed.  There are myriad events that illustrate the strength of the Darden community, and I’ve come to realize that the Tutoring Program is another great example.
This year, the Tutoring Program has roughly 70 tutors who have signed up to volunteer as tutors.  To put it into perspective, that’s approximately 20% of the second year class volunteering their time to sit down with first years to clarify course material.  Perhaps more important than the sheer quantity of students supporting the academic success of the first year students is the attitude of the second years.  Many of the second year tutors have approached me to indicate their willingness to be more involved in tutoring.
The strong Tutoring Program is just one of many ways in which the second years are actively engaged to foster a strong community between the two classes.   I guess the motto is No Darden Student Left Behind.