The Entrepreneurship Development Program at MIT Sloan: "Shark Tank," minus the sharks

Once each year, MIT Sloan Executive Education offers the Entrepreneurship Development Program, which draws participants from around the world to learn how to develop ideas into successful businesses. The week-long course includes lectures by senior MIT faculty, visits to high-tech startups, live case studies presented by successful entrepreneurs, and culminates with small group projects and Shark Tank-like judging of business pitches. But instead of aggressive feedback edited for prime-time television, the judging is led by Bill Aulet, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan and Managing Director of The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and includes other MIT Sloan faculty, students, and alumni.

Program participants are tasked with coming up with a viable business idea, developing a business plan, and presenting the concept to the other participants and judges, pitching it as they would to a venture capital firm. The teams work on their businesses over lunches and in the evenings across the five program days. Each team is given a coach who provides feedback throughout the process and with whom they rehearse aspects of their pitch during the first four days of the course.

The teams are tasked with determining their business's product, target customer, value proposition, and competitive advantage. They must also create a business model, including:

  • Pricing
  • The lifetime value of an acquired customer (LTVOAC)
  • A go-to-market plan
  • The cost of acquiring a customer (COCA)
  • Financial projections
  • Funding strategy
  • Exit strategy

Once they reach Friday, the teams have to present their business ideas, complete with a business name, a product name (if different from the business), and even a logo. After the initial judging and feedback, four teams are selected to be finalists. These finalists pitch again, and ultimately one business is selected as the winner.
During the most recent session of the Entrepreneurship Development Program, which took place in late January 2016, teams presented businesses that help individuals and families make dinner more quickly and easily using food already in their kitchen; deliver eldercare platform to help elders receives vital services and stay in their own homes; a health monitor for dogs; and many others.

The feedback from the judges spanned a range of topics and questions, but there were a few themes that stood out. First, several of the teams presented what really turned out to be two business ideas. Or, to paraphrase Bill Aulet's book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship, they needed to embrace the “F” word--focus--a little more. Second, some of the business ideas would require people to change their behaviors. Those startups required more thought on how to influence that change, or how to overcome people’s existing inertia; they were recommended Daniel Ariely's book, Predictively Irrational, which explains why people don’t always do what you expect.

Overall, the judges felt that each team found a reasonable business problem to address and the dynamics among themselves and with the judges was spot on. It was an impressive showing from teams of professionals who, just five days prior, were complete strangers to one another.

Learn more about MIT Sloan's Entrepreneurship Development Program.


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