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Alumni Helps Innovative Program for Entrepreneurs Reach New Heights

As the number of entrepreneurs continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the need for a curriculum based around the best ideas and methods is now more important than ever. More and more students, both old and young, are looking to educational institutes in order to learn fundamental skills which will give them a leg up in the entrepreneurial field. Tom Schryver, Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University has assisted these programs with continuing to develop plans for the success of students in their future roles as entrepreneurs. We spoke with Tom to learn more about the EII, Johnson Graduate School, and where these programs are heading in the future.

Why did you start your business?

I basically fell into entrepreneurship: I was working at a private family foundation running their investment portfolio. I was looking at VC funds, and decided that it would be valuable to look at funds from an entrepreneur’s perspective. As part of that work I came into contact with the team at Novomer and helped them raise and close their Series A, and subsequently joined the business. Since then I’ve been part of the founding team of two other companies and worked with a number of other very early stage businesses.

The main motivation for me is that I really like building things. It’s tremendously satisfying.

How did the Johnson Graduate School prepare you for entrepreneurship?

My Johnson MBA has been very valuable. I didn’t come to Johnson with a business bachelor’s degree, so the core business skills in accounting, finance, and operations were very valuable, as were the opportunity to learn core concepts of marketing, strategy, and economics. It was a great generalist grounding, and also helped me build a deep network of friends and colleagues who I’ve been able to rely on for help, connections, and advice.

Tell us more about the programs designed to help entrepreneurs succeed beyond the classroom

At Johnson we work on a philosophy of “performance learning”. Our courses, co-curricular and extra-curricular programs in entrepreneurship put a premium on hands-on doing and experiential learning. Our belief is that the most effective way to learn core entrepreneurial principles is by applying them – and by doing so, and especially by getting it wrong sometimes, students learn better how to apply the principles effectively in the future.

In the classroom, we offer a half-semester business ideas course, followed by a full-semester entrepreneurship and business ownership class, where students form teams and validate business models through in-person and intensive customer discovery.

In a co-curricular setting we have eLab: Cornell’s student business accelerator, which provides funding to teams looking to launch businesses as well as a set of three courses that offer academic credit.

EII also offers an EII Fellowship Program, where students and teams can work on innovation projects.

How important was the EII redesign to making sure entrepreneurs had the best education?

By engaging a team of teachers, coaches, and mentors, we have been able to add scale to our ability to be available to Johnson students across programs. We believe that matching in-class opportunities with experiential learning supported by professional mentors and coaches offers the best learning opportunity for students.

As the Executive Director, how do you recommend students make the most of these programs?

First, I recommend that students make use of their elective opportunities to take entrepreneurship classes such as the business ideas class and the entrepreneurship and business ownership class (and, where possible, to take them in that order). Second, I encourage students to participate in extracurricular entrepreneurship and innovation programs such as the EII Fellows program or regular meetups, speakers, networking events and conferences – such as the Women Redefining Entrepreneurship and Leadership Conference we are hosting in conjunction with Rev: Ithaca Startup Works on February 6.

Where do you see EII and related programs going in the future?

We’re very excited about opportunities to grow scale around Cornell and to support ways to connect MBA students to other student populations. Specifically, we’ll be looking to grow our relationship with the College of Engineering and entrepreneurial PhD students – stay tuned!

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