MIT Sloan Executive Education recently offered a unique program that took place in a live, virtual classroom. Essential Law for Entrepreneurs in Innovation-Driven Startups and Growth Companies 4Dx (currently titled Launching Your Entrepreneurial Venture) was offered as two-hour online sessions taking place once a week over six weeks. The primary goal of the program was to help participants navigate the distinctive, law-sensitive challenges that are critical to the success of new ventures. The course was taught by MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer John Akula.
To learn more about the "4D" program from a participant's perspective, we interviewed Susan Chesley Fant, an attendee of the recent session. Susan is the Executive Director of the Foresight Education and Research Network, an online network she founded for foresight and long-term strategy professionals with over 3,500+ members worldwide. She is also a digital and social media marketing strategist with Castle Sands LLC and an instructor of digital and social media marketing at the University of Alabama.
What prompted you to enroll in Essential Law for Entrepreneurs in Innovation-Driven Startups and Growth Companies 4Dx?
I really wanted the opportunity to be a student again and learn more about MIT Sloan and entrepreneurship. I'm a fairly young entrepreneur, and I want to be able to guide my decision-making and perspective by learning from a well-known and excellent program. Diversity of ideas is important, and the diverse faculty and student population was a key selling point for me. I enjoyed the class because I was able to learn alongside people from around the world and learn the perspective of faculty and guest speakers, whom I quite possibly would never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.
I want to further my education without leaving my full-time work. I hope to be a lifelong learner, and the MIT Sloan program definitely fits this description for me. In the future, I hope to pursue an Ed.D or Ph.D and focus in on business, technology, and the future of education. Participating in the virtual environment was especially exciting to me. Participating with an institute of learning known for being on the cutting edge of technology was major bonus.
What were you hoping to learn from this program?
I started the program with an open mind, ready to interface with the new technology in a virtual classroom. I wanted to learn ideas for running my own business and what I might be missing from a legal perspective. Being an entrepreneur, sometimes it is really hard to find all the information you need in one place that you can trust. I feel confident in the resources that this course provided me.
Was the virtual experience what you expected? How does it compare to any other online programs you may have taken?
The virtual experience was one of the most interesting parts of the class for me. Being able to try out a new and unique environment interested me from an educational perspective and challenged me to think about new ways that I could learn. While the environment was new to almost everyone, the class did a good job with being patient and interacting with each other during a few inevitable technical difficulties. That's the exciting part about MIT--you're supposed to experiment. You're supposed to be doing something new, and the virtual environment really made me feel like I was a part of this idea and practice.
What was it like to interact with peers and/or with Professor Akula in the virtual environment, via an avatar?
The experience is really neat. You feel like you are immersed into a classroom and once you learn the controls, you can move around and participate in the group discussions. This built a lot of confidence for me personally. When I was able to share my ideas and thoughts with my peers and my professor as my avatar, I felt really accomplished and excited.
Students in the course were from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and America as well as other regions. It was great to feel like I was part of an almost tactile environment while sitting at my desk in the middle of Alabama. Certainly there are some takeaways from the experience that could easily influence the future of education.
What did you take from the program that
you expect to apply in your workplace in the short or long term?
I took a lot of practical advice, specifically on not "piercing the corporate veil" on my own company, how to work alongside angel investors, and what to look for in lawyers. It was great to have Professor Akula's advice on how to approach lawyers for legal services as an entrepreneur. I now feel knowledgeable and fully prepared to negotiate the project work. At the same time, I had some aha moments that definitely will stick with me. Guest speakers brought in a lot of various theory perspectives that I will use in my own business ventures.
What takeaway surprised you the most?
Knowing what the risk is to your return on investment. I've always thought of return on investment as spending specific money or time on a project or undertaking. I've never thought of the specific risk component. If the overarching risks--money, time, relationships, reputation--are all at stake, then what's the balance on the return? Is it a scale? Do they balance each other out, or does one outweigh the other? In a perfect world the return would always outweigh the risk, but taking calculated risk that can balance out on the return scale is an important feature of being a long-term entrepreneur.