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.

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