General Course Info

Course Objective

This course investigates business-related considerations in successfully commercializing new technology. It exposes technologists to five critical aspects of creating a successful new venture and/or a successful product/service business in an existing enterprise:

  • market and customer analysis
  • beating the competition
  • planning and managing for profitability
  • high-tech marketing and sales
  • partnering with other businesses.

One of the key elements of business success in technology-based markets is assuring that technology decisions (such as product/service definition, development methodology, product/service cost, manufacturability, and life-cycle support costs) are matched to customer and business considerations (such as customer needs, competitive alternatives, market windows, cost of goods objectives, maintenance/support requirements, price, and profitability). Most importantly, commercial business is a competition, and success requires beating the companies who are competing for "your" customers. In the business environment, the most successful engineers and scientists are attuned to these considerations, and they pursue their work in an effective partnership with their colleagues who have business/profit responsibility.


Overview of Course Content

Areas of study include:

  1. The role of technical people in existing and new businesses
  2. P&L and balance sheet basics: understanding the factors that determine whether a business makes money; what makes for a successful product
  3. Business plans: creating a plan for a successful business or product
  4. Customer/market analysis: identifying target markets and designing to customer and competitive requirements
  5. Beating the competition: developing competitive advantage and product differentiation
  6. Product decisions: selecting product markets; dealing with business-technical tradeoffs in defining products
  7. The marketing function in commercial enterprises: what it is, what it does, and its relationship to technical work
  8. Sales and marketing communications: the various ways products are sold, and how to choose between them; the impact of selling method on product/service design
  9. Development and operations: effective new product development processes; meeting market windows and designing for cost, reliability, and serviceability; basic principles and challenges in company operations
  10. Product/project management: successfully going to market and managing for growth and profitability
  11. People: the role ot technologists in business decisions; effective collaboration with business managers; the relevance of a company's history, competencies and culture.

Intended Audience

This course introduces the basics of business and entrepreneurship to students who wish to understand the non-technical success requirements in commercialization of new technology. Students should take this course if they:

  1. desire to maximize their effectiveness as technologists by understanding the business and customer considerations that will impact their work,
  2. are considering launching a technology-based start-up company, or
  3. contemplate an eventual transition from a technical to a business management career.

It is intended for either advanced undergraduate (junior or senior) or graduate students in engineering, science or other technology-based curricula.

Course Administration and Requirements

Class sessions will be a combination of instructor-led presentation, class discussion, and group analysis of real business situations (case studies). Assignments will largely involve analyzing real-world business problems, understanding the business/technology interplay, and identifying resolutions and courses of action. A majority of the learning in this course will occur during class discussion/dialogue about the assigned readings (which include discourses on business concepts, opinion-based pieces on business best-practices, and "cases" that describe specific business situations faced by real companies). Accordingly, doing the assigned readings, attending class regularly, and participating actively in class discussions are all required for successful completion of the course. Most of the reading assignments will involve the student analyzing the content and developing an opinion and/or recommendation.

Students should inform the professor in advance, by e-mail (preferably) or telephone, if they will not be attending a class session.

In return for the above commitments by the students, the professor commits to providing:

  1. useful information and insights about the business world that will help the student be maximally-effective in his/her work as an engineer/scientist in a commercial enterprise
  2. the benefit of his experience as a practicing engineer and (subsequently) business manager
  3. a productive, stimulating, and interactive environment.

Grades will be determined in equal part by: (1) active and insightful participation in class discussions, (2) homework, (3) mid-term exam, and (4) final exam.

Complete List of Readings

Copies of the course readings appear in the electronic casebook available through Harvard Business School Publishing.  See the presentation slides for the first course session ("Business Objectives" in the "Presentation Materials" section of this website) for instructions on how to access and pay for the casebook. A listing of the topics and required readings for each of the class sessions appears in the "Assignments" section of this website.