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Increasing science-based and high-technology entrepreneurship
through educational innovation
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
We sketch the motivation and design for a co-terminal Masters Degree in Entrepreneurship in Science and Technology. We foresee the degree aimed specifically at science and engineering undergraduates who would go on to graduate work in engineering or science or professional degrees, including business, medicine, law, or policy. The goal would be to give them skill-sets, in entrepreneurship and teamwork, and professional networks that they can leverage throughout their career. It is our hope that this can be done within an intense one-year curriculum, such that they would remain technically current (and ideally develop the application of their technical research during the degree). We discuss alternate and existing models for this education and explain how our conception differs.
Some would blame science and technology for society’s ills, yet others would tout them
as solutions. There certainly exist many problems which science and engineering might
help solve, for example, energy and sustainable development, personal and global health,
and security and personal freedom. Obviously science and technology alone won’t solve
these challenges; as the Copenhagen talks illustrated, they will only be effective as part of
a larger societal discussion and effort. Our goal is to make the scientist and engineer
more effective in joining the discussions and leading the efforts.
We start from the premise that science and engineering has had a net positive impact on
society and that there exists outstanding potential to increase that positive impact. To
accomplish this, we propose a series of innovations in science, engineering, and
entrepreneurship education. Most of these ideas are not new, and many of their
components currently exist in engineering and other schools around the world. We hope
to make a contribution, however, with the integration of these ideas into a Masters
Degree in Entrepreneurial Science and Technology (hereafter referred to as “EST”).
Note that we define “entrepreneurship” very broadly, in the sense of innovation and
problem solving outside of incumbent organizations and institutions, and managing such
We begin sketching a simple model of entrepreneurship and by briefly describing the
target student population. We then motivate the need for EST, why current curricula do
not fulfill this need, and discuss a variety of extant models in this educational space.
Finally, we specify our design objectives for the degree and sketch some initial
directions. It is important to note that our thinking does not take place in a vacuum;
instead, this paper seeks to guide the development of a new program at Harvard
University. However, we hope to foster a broader conversation, across universities, such
that all can benefit. Many of the examples in this paper will rely upon the authors’ direct
experiences, and we apologize in advance for the personal bias – and ask that our
colleagues at other institutions share their experiences, which we will eagerly apply to
Why do we need innovation in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship
We start with a brief and very simplified model of science-based and high-technology
and entrepreneurship. The model is heavily stylized, often clichéd, and surely not
comprehensive, but we present it as the background for our thinking about the EST
We begin with the assumption that we can all benefit from an increased rate of
development and application of science and engineering ideas to societal problems (a
process which we define as science-based and high-technology entrepreneurship). Novel
science and engineering ideas are usually created by active researchers, whether in firms,
universities, or garages. In order for those ideas to find potential applications, however,
they need to become understood and considered by entrepreneurs. The original inventor
can also be an entrepreneur, though this is increasingly rare, due to the explosion of
technical and non-technical knowledge in today’s world (Jones 2008). Hence, the
inventor needs to find and work closely with an entrepreneurial team. In sum, the
generation of entrepreneurial opportunities occurs most fruitfully in a social context of
active research and
active consideration of the potential problems that research might
Assuming this social context that throws up entrepreneurial ideas, the next and typically
concurrent challenge is to build teams of people who can turn ideas into reality (again, we
assume the necessity of effective and functional teams of multiple disciplines). This can
occur formally or informally in multiple contexts, within schools, incumbent firms, or
professional networks. Cobbling together the necessary resources is also a big challenge
Hence we propose a simple (though hopefully not simplistic) solution to increase the rate
of science-based and high-technology entrepreneurship; give science and engineering
students 1) the concise set of skills that complement (and do not atrophy) their technical
abilities, so that they can work within entrepreneurial teams and 2) the professional
networks with which to form those teams.
Who should enroll in a Masters Degree in Entrepreneurial Science and Technology?
We envision a target population for EST of very good to exceptional science and
engineering undergraduates. These students would either immediately apply their
education in solving problems (this would typically though not always involve
entrepreneurship, not necessarily for profit), or they would go on to advanced science or
engineering or professional degrees. Many such students enter college with as much as a
year of advanced standing, such that they complete the undergraduate requirements in
three years. At Harvard, such students often complete a terminal Masters degree in their
fourth year. Other schools, such as Stanford, offer a similar program (referred to as a co-
terminal degree), for fourth and fifth year undergrads. We would see EST as a natural
candidate for such a terminal Masters Degree. While we ultimately think this degree
might be appropriate for doctoral students in science and engineering, we defer that
We do not envision EST as a “MBA light” or substitute for education in law, policy, or
health. We do not envision a degree that will “re-tread” a mediocre engineer into another
professional. Instead, we see the degree as providing an intense and concise introduction
for elite students who 1) wish to remain technical but also want to understand and
increase the impact of their research upon the world, and/or 2) wish to enter non-
technical professions but contribute at the intersection of that profession with science and
technology. This degree would seek to build bridges in many directions. For the first
population, we would hope to give the student the understanding with which to
collaborate with professionals from outside her discipline; for the second population, we
would hope to give the student the knowledge with which to integrate her undergrad and
professional training (and if that student didn’t know which profession to choose at the
age of 21, to expose them to some of the applications of their technical education).
Why current educational curricula are sub-optimal in encouraging science-based
and high-technology entrepreneurship.
MBAs rarely found high-technology or high-science firms by themselves (though we
don’t know of any comprehensive data on this). If one thinks of Google, Genentech,
Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Millenium - all these firms were started by a scientific or
engineering entrepreneur, often working with a more business-oriented partner. While
MBAs have crucial roles to play in science-based and high-technology entrepreneurship,
they rarely go it alone. Even if they have the technical ability (and many do), they are
usually too far from the idea-generating frontier in science or engineering.
On the science and engineering side, the cliché of the crazy inventor without a clue about
application or impact is understandable. Lost in detail as they focus on mastering the
technical problems, such individuals are sorely challenged to invent the technology and at
the same time, see the application, develop the product, garner resources they can’t
control, build an effective organization, and overcome institutional, cultural, and
competitive barriers to adoption of innovation. It is the exceptional individual who can
These issues are only getting worse, with the explosion of information and educational
demands in today’s world. It is getting increasingly difficult for the lone inventor or lone
entrepreneur to succeed (Singh and Fleming, 2010). Hence, we believe that education in
science and engineering and entrepreneurship must focus on 1) giving the technical
student the minimal but complete skill-set and lexicon with which to communicate across
the boundary of science and engineering to entrepreneurship and 2) exposing the student
to other students of all types, so that they may exploit immediate opportunities and
develop the networks for their future career in science and technology entrepreneurship.
The traditional MBA has also become a finance and consulting degree. While courses in
technology strategy remain popular (at least at Harvard), courses which tackle the nuts
and bolts of technology management and product development, let alone management of
a scientific laboratory, remain less popular. This is reflected in the placement statistics
for MBAs as well. Though there are exceptions, the MBA does not train the scientific or
technical entrepreneur. However, if the program teaches the theory and just as important,
the experience of working in cross-disciplinary teams, the MBA graduate is usually well-
prepared to work in an entrepreneurial team.
Unless a MBA program has a specific science and technology component (and many do,
Berkeley and Georgia Tech are examples), it is not always easy for the MBA student to
find science and high-tech entrepreneurship opportunities. This is even more difficult if
the MBAs do not fraternize with scientists and engineers. In addition to not providing
immediate opportunities, lack of fraternization also makes it difficult for the MBA to
We foresee limited overlap in student demand for MBA and EST degrees. (There would
be very little overlap in student populations for the MBA and EST degrees.) Students are
typically not admitted to MBA programs without work experience; we would foresee
immediate matriculation for EST students. Currently, such science and engineering
students often complete additional schooling or technical work and then apply to a MBA
program. Many of these students who desire the MBA degree are not admitted to top
MBA programs. This might be due to a bias against the technical applicant, possibly
because such applicants are thought to (or do) lack communication skills and managerial
talent. Or perhaps the school’s mission does not include the education of technical
managers (for example, if the school targeted general managers). As a result, such
students either attend a less prestigious program (often part-time), or avoid the MBA
We believe that the current structure of many undergraduate and graduate technical
degree programs does not provide sufficient background for most graduates to understand
the impact and importance of their technical training. Many engineering programs have
traditionally complemented a rigorous technical education with an additional year of
broad liberal arts coursework, due to the challenges of packing in both curricula into four
years. EST is not unlike such “3+2” programs, except that the broadening education will
1 Based on the first author’s experience in writing letters of recommendation for science and engineering students that apply to elite MBA programs, very few of these very strong students are accepted into top programs.
be focused in entrepreneurship. Even for a scientist or engineer who spends their entire
career in the lab, we believe that the additional year will be extremely valuable. Rather
than viewing this year as “wasted”, relative to purely technical work, we believe that it
will greatly leverage the student’s efforts. Given that today’s students may well work for
50 years or more, this is a very sound investment. We believe this argument holds for
Moving away from the applicant’s perspective, we believe that EST will also help
universities in their primary mission of the generation and dissemination of knowledge.
As we will detail below, we believe that every EST student should spend at least a
summer in a university lab doing research (though internships in local high-tech firms
would be a good option as well). While the student’s contribution in that summer will
probably be incremental, upon their return to school they will also be challenged to apply
the lab’s larger research program for societal benefit. In the process of finding an
application for their technical work, they will disseminate the university’s research. This
argument is only a side benefit to the EST and not a primary motivation; most
importantly, the EST degree should not be viewed as a free labor source for university
EST should also encourage more undergraduates to pursue a science or engineering
degree (we must obviously admit our bias in thinking this is a good thing, though much
of that bias stems from a belief that scientists and engineers are good for knowledge-
based economies). This will occur because the undergraduate will see immediate
opportunities to apply that knowledge. This will provide some motivation for suffering
Though it would seem equally reasonable to train entrepreneurs in science and
technology or scientists and engineers in entrepreneurship, the demand for science and
engineering degrees from people with extant entrepreneurship education seems quite low.
Extant models in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship education.
The closest degree to our vision is the Stanford Engineering Management Masters or
Berkeley’s Management of Technology certificate program. The strength of these
programs is their size, depth, and modularity; an engineer can assemble an outstanding
education in entrepreneurship from the wide palette of available courses. Based on
personal experience with the Stanford program, however, these degrees tend be stripped-
down versions of the first year of the MBA curriculum, with varying degrees of more
quantitative analysis and technology case contexts. (In general, these programs consist
of modular course selections that are not integrated and still not geared towards the
scientist and engineer who wishes to remain technical.) Furthermore, the student in these
programs often views the degree as a MBA and rarely plans to return to lab.
The MIT Sloan MBA (widely acknowledged to be the premier technology management
MBA) is moving away from technology management and the MIT LFM (Leaders for
Manufacturing) program focuses on educating manufacturing and operations leaders.
Some universities with engineering and business schools encourage cross-registration
(such as Berkeley’s Management of Technology certificate ) but again these are rarely
integrated. Carnegie Mellon is undertaking a somewhat similar initiative.
The Sloan Foundation has been supporting the development of educational programs for
Professional Science Masters (PSM). The PSM has existed for about 10 years and is
designed to provide students with advanced training in sciences without a Ph.D. and
pertinent business skills without an M.B.A. There are over 170 PSM programs at over
70 institutions around the US. The goal of these programs is to place graduates in
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs. There have been over
2,700 graduates with PSM degrees. These programs usually consist of two years of
advanced academic training in an emerging or interdisciplinary area with some additional
profession component that might include workplace skills such as business,
communications, or regulatory affairs. The basic idea is science plus some type of
2 http://www.stanford.edu/dept/MSandE/academics/MSpgm.pdf 3 http://mot.berkeley.edu/ 4 http://www.cit.cmu.edu/etim/overview.htm
professional skill (e.g. negotiations, conflict resolution, project management, etc.) The
students in these types of programs usually have several years of work experience and are
probably looking to these programs to improve their academic credentials and to enhance
The EST masters program that we are proposing has some distinct differences compared
to many Professional Science Masters programs. First, we are looking for students who
have just completed a 4 year college degree in engineering and/or science at Harvard.
These students will typically not have any significant professional experience. Second,
the EST masters program will be just one year but will be focused on professional skills
and the societal implications of science and technology. Most importantly, the goal of
the program is to give graduates the tools to become more effective entrepreneurs and to
be entrepreneurial in their future research and training as PhDs and MDs.
Philosophy, objectives, and execution of a Masters Degree in Entrepreneurial
Science and Technology.
We currently foresee a few guiding design principles for the EST program. First, rather
than replacing the professional degree in law or business, the EST student should be
given enough understanding of these areas such that s/he can collaborate effectively
across inter-disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, given the accumulation of knowledge and
proliferation of specialties (Jones 2008), the true Renaissance person is probably a
historical artifact at this point. In his or her place, we propose that students need to
understand enough of the topic to ask intelligent questions and at the same time, the
communication and team-work skills to solve difficult problems in cross-disciplinary
teams. This brings up the second design principle, that students need to learn to work in
teams. We would be hard pressed to identify any important problem in today’s society
that can be solved by one person. Such teams support our third objective, that students be
able to form life-long networks which will make them more effective, wherever their
career takes them. Besides cross-disciplinary teams with students outside the immediate
program, we hope to also encourage strong intra-program cohort cohesion.
Fourth, we hope that the degree will be at once experiential and pedagogically rigorous.
By this, we hope that students take and immediately apply what they have learned in their
undergraduate education, using real research to solve real problems. We also hope that
the pedagogy itself will be research based and hence avoid becoming overly focused on
practical experience (while field work should inform research, and practitioners should be
integrated into the program, the curriculum should not rely heavily upon “war-stories”
from successful practitioners). Fifth, we are assuming an elite population of students
who are capable of accelerated learning. For example, this population should be capable
of learning basic finance much more quickly than the typical MBA. As a result, the
curriculum can be focused, compressed, and innovative.
Curriculum (under construction)
We envision a curriculum that would start in the spring term in the year before the
degree. The spring term would introduce the students to a variety of science and
technology research opportunities. While these opportunities might be predominantly
from Harvard labs, they could, with careful oversight and direction, also come from local
high technology firms or from the students themselves. We would envision a seminar
series in the spring, with speakers from sponsoring labs and firms. The focus would be
on big problems in society and how science and technology might address those
problems. For example, health challenges would be appropriate, as well as global
warming, environmental issues, security, governance and technology, or education.
Following this spring term, the students would be expected to spend their summer doing
science and technology research. While this will probably occur on campus, it could also
occur in a science or technology-based firm or in a government lab. All projects would
be closely mentored by a faculty member. Ideally, this experience will provide the basis
for a thesis and/or projects in their project-based learning classes.
We intend to divide the main Masters year into 240 sessions (the equivalent of 4 30
session courses each term). The time between terms in January would be best spent in
visiting and learning about the context of the science or technology application. We
would count the prior spring term, the summer, and the January term as 15 sessions each,
for 285 sessions in total for the degree. Our preliminary thinking on the content is as
Science and technology for solving societal problems (15 sessions):
would discuss big problems facing the world and the potential for science and technology
to solve them. It would give the opportunity for lab directors to advertise the research
Summer research internship (15 sessions):
Students would work full-time over the
summer in a campus, corporate, or government lab, under the direction of a science
Organizational Behavior: Working in Teams (5 sessions):
This course will consist of
cases, such as Henry Tam and Flextronics, and exercises and simulations, for example,
Arctic Survival, Mt. Everest Expedition, and a simulation of the team dynamics that led
Cross-disciplinary project course (15 sessions):
This course is currently taught as
“Inventing Breakthroughs and Commercializing Science.” Projects from this course have
received funding and won business plan contests. For example, a non-profit out of the
Whitesides Lab, Diagnostics For All, won both the HBS and MIT business plan contest
in 2008. Other firms have been started by student teams that met during the course.
University technology transfer (5 sessions):
This course would complement the cross-
disciplinary project course and consist mainly of case discussions (for example, HP
CNSI), readings, and interaction with the Office of Technology Development.
Intellectual Property Basics and Strategy (15 sessions): TBD.
Accounting (12 sessions): TBD.
5 We would like to thank our colleagues who gave their expertise in each of their respective fields and offered curriculum advice: Accounting: Srikant Datar; Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Finance: Joe Lassiter and Bill Sahlman; Finance: Carliss Baldwin; Intellectual Property: John Golden; Marketing: Elie Ofek; Organizations and Teams: Jeff Polzer. We surely did not get all of their advice right and the mistakes remain ours.
Finance theory (20 sessions)
will include the time value of money, cost of capital, cash
flow analysis and cash flow model of the firm, options theory and contingent claims, and
Commercial Entrepreneurship (10 sessions)
will draw heavily from the business
school curriculum in the first year entrepreneurship courses, to include opportunity
identification, business model creation and analysis, valuation, realizing value, gathering
resources, and building teams. Materials might include HBS cases Beta Golf, ZipCar,
YieldEx, E-Ink, and Sitris Pharmaceuticals. Readings might include: Some thoughts on
business plans, and A note of the value of information in an entrepreneurial venture.
Entrepreneurial Finance (5 sessions)
will include concepts such as funding processes,
deal structures, valuation, sources of funding, staged investments and the value of
creating options. Materials might include HBS cases Calera, 1366, Nantero, and C12.
Marketing (15 sessions):
Students would learn the most important elements of basic and
entrepreneurial marketing. Concepts would include the diffusion and adoption of
innovations, technology and new product launch, focus groups, conjoint analysis, and
sales. Materials would include E-books (case and exercise), Cymbalta, Emotive, and
The students would take the following courses in January and the spring term. In
addition, various meta-themes will run throughout the curriculum, for example, modeling
and decision making. Figure one gives very approximate breakdowns of the sources of
January Immersion (15 units):
The students will spend three weeks working to apply
their research, for example, in rural villages, in hospitals, or pitching plans to investors.
Managing the technical professional and the ethos of science (10 sessions):
will consider the motives of scientists and the institutions of science and how these can
co-exist with other institutions in society, such as capitalism and governments. Readings
will come from the sociology and economics of science and be supplanted by historical
readings (such as the discovery of DNA) and case discussions.
Science and the Law (15 units): TBD.
Legal challenges in Entrepreneurship (5 sessions): TBD.
Social Entrepreneurship (5 sessions): TBD.
Negotiation and biases in decision-making (12 sessions):
Students will probably take
the business school course on negotiations.
Operations, prototyping, and manufacturing (5 sessions):
Students will model a
production line, gain exposure to supply chain and distribution concepts, and consider
International issues in science and technology (15 sessions): TBD.
Ethics of Science and Technology (10 sessions): TBD.
Regulatory processes of science and technology (5 sessions): TBD.
Class sessions by school
Figure 1: Estimated contribution to Masters Degree in Entrepreneurial Science and
Jones, B. (2008). The Burden of Knowledge and the .Death of the Renaissance Man: Is Innovation Getting Harder? Review of Economic Studies.
Singh, J. and L. Fleming, “Lone Inventors as Sources of Technological Breakthroughs: Myth or Reality?”Management Science
, 56 (2010): 41-56.
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