Exporting Entrepreneurship to the Far East

A typical lecture hall at Stevens can hold a few hundred students. So it took some invention for Howe School professors to envision creating a course that would provide instruction for 3,000 freshmen, let alone one half a world away.

But since the first Entrepreneurship 101 course was completed in May 2012, students at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia have found the program an invaluable resource in growing the kind of critical thinking and analytical skills required of successful entrepreneurs.

“They wanted to educate the whole undergraduate student body on how to be entrepreneurial,” said Dr. Peter Koen, who conducts the curriculum along with Dr. Gary Lynn. “We try to make the whole area of entrepreneurship easy to learn, and then have fun doing it.”

The course accomplishes that by putting the focus on learning by doing, said Koen, who is directing Howe’s Consortium for Corporate Entrepreneurship. Lectures are delivered electronically outside the classroom, so that more valuable class time can be devoted to practical coaching.

The freshman class concludes with a business plan development simulation — an interactive test pitting them against one another to determine the best-performing company in the class.

“The competition is something the students really like to do,” Koen said. “It was run with all 3,000 students, which is pretty impressive.”

The full entrepreneurship program at UKM is a four-course minor — two courses in advanced entrepreneurship, taken in the junior year, and a two-course senior startup, in which students create companies and sell products and services. A Malaysian education typically takes three, instead of four, years, Koen said.

“We focus on basically letting (upperclassmen) understand more the principles, and it’s a much smaller class,” with fewer students, than the freshman offering, he said.

An MBA education with a focus on innovation will be offered beginning next year, Koen said. The semester will start with a weeklong entrepreneurship and innovation boot camp focused on how to create startups from university technology.

“They come with a particular idea or project, and they’ll actually work on that project through all of their core courses,” he said. Studies culminate in a capstone project that will require students to start a business or create a company-funded project. Koen and Lynn are planning to return to Malaysia in March in preparation for the MBA’s launch.

A good fit for Howe expertise

The program makes perfect sense in Malaysia, given the competition it faces from China.

“China has obliterated the low-end market, and Malaysia can no longer wait for business to come to them,” said Lynn, an associate professor. “Being an outsourced manufacturing supplier is no longer a viable option. The natural conclusion is to turn to entrepreneurship.”

That sentiment was echoed by Stevens Provost George Korfiatis. The partnership, he said, “further establishes Stevens as the leader in technical entrepreneurship, and demonstrates the importance of this strategic competency to economies across the world.”

The next thing envisioned for the partnership is an accelerator program, which Stevens has pitched to UKM. The next step is for the school to get government approval of the accelerator program.

“The objective of that program would be to accelerate the process of building businesses — to be able to go from the technology to the launch in four to six months,” Koen said.

Getting out there

One of the most critical elements Howe professors inserted into the curriculum of the UKM entrepreneurship program was face time with customers.

In fact, a PowerPoint presentation used to explain the program includes a slide containing only a photo of an empty classroom.

“We focus on getting people out of the classroom and visiting customers,” said Peter Koen. “At 3:00 p.m. every day, we end the class and they visit customers.”

That practical focus has paid off for students. Of the 24 technologies developed over the three years, 11 have been commercialized, while 16 have received funding together worth $3.5 million, Koen said.