Thanks to a new certificate program at Carnegie Mellon University in Education City, Qatar, a group of Middle Eastern students with entrepreneurial aspirations is obtaining a no-holds barred introduction to the business principles that have formed the basis of the American Dream.
Originally launched in 2007, -08 academic year, the Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program (CIEP) focuses on new business planning for start-up businesses with the aim of fostering and managing innovation within established companies.
Last spring, 40 students graduated from the inaugural program, which culminates in a New Venture Competition in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. This coming year, enrollment is targeted at 45 to 50 students, the maximum the program can accept to preserve its quality and personal touch, says Art Boni, John R. Thorne Chair of Entrepreneurship; Associate Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Director, Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship.
As was the case last year, program organizers expect 2008-2009 demand to be so high that applicants will once again have to be wait listed.
“We provide the content needed to develop business plans and strategies, but in addition, we give students a lot of personal mentoring and coaching,” Boni notes. “At the end of the class, they should have a business plan that’s ready to launch their new venture or corporate innovation and to assemble a team and to secure initial funding.”
The program's capstone involves students pitching private investors assembled by the Carnegie Mellon team in partnership with the Qatar Business Men’s Association.
Whether students are applying their creativity to an existing company or a new venture, the principles remain largely the same; it’s the boundary conditions that differ. In a corporate environment the set of filters used for allocating resources may differ from those used by venture capitalists or private investors. These may include cost structure for profitability, size thresholds for target markets, growth expectations, the cost of capital, and return in investment criteria (time and magnitude).
Though the concept of entrepreneurship as an academic discipline is decidedly western in nature, both Boni and John Mather, Executive Director, Masters Programs; Teaching Professor of Marketing, were surprised to see how quickly the students assimilated the new material. “The class discussions were just unbelievable,” says Mather, who together with Boni taught a “fast week” at the Carnegie Mellon campus in Qatar. “The other thing that really surprised me was how they embraced these ideas. Their enthusiasm — we couldn’t get up from the lunch table.”
“What we see is, in fact, that Qatar is a pretty entrepreneurial culture,” says Boni. “However, the entrepreneurship has been aimed largely at hard-asset type businesses — oil, gas, things of that nature. What we’re bringing to the table is the challenge and opportunity to think bigger and broader to create a knowledge-based economy linked globally.”
The time could not be more appropriate for students — or companies — seeking global entrepreneurship opportunities, says Boni. In Doha, Singapore, Hong Hong, India, and China, innovation is thriving.
“The resources in Qatar are of a magnitude that is rarely seen, so you have the funding” notes Mather. “The question is, how do you narrow down the basket to really fine ideas that have potential? Qatar wants an attitude that looks to the future and looks for opportunity.”
Although the school asks students generally about any new business ideas they have, a specific entrepreneurial opportunity is not a prerequisite at the start of the course.
“Basically, we look at how they’re thinking and influence that to encourage innovation around significant opportunities,” says Boni. Projects may grow out of class discussions, or students may partner up with classmates who already have an idea in the works, some of which may be appropriate for start-ups or corporate ventures.
In addition to the current program, the Tepper School of Business is in the early planning stages of a potentially significant expansion that would link high net worth investors in Doha and elsewhere in the Middle East with ideas coming out of the Tepper School classes there.
The CIEP is a four-course sequence that starts in early October and ends with presentations in May. Each course runs for seven weeks. In addition to the one-week program in Doha, Mather and Boni also conduct sessions through video conferencing, and Associate Teaching Professor George White works with the students one evening each week in person in Doha.
The CIEP began when the Qatar Science and Technology Park approached Carnegie Mellon about two years ago after learning of a one-week “boot camp” version of the course that the school was offering through the Gulf Organization of Industrial Consulting.
“That’s the trademark of the Tepper School's style of entrepreneurship: Being responsive to whatever opportunities are there,” says Boni.
"The most important thing that we can do is to demonstrate results,” says Boni. “And the best way to do that is to form quality companies, to encourage corporate innovation, and to develop a networks of investors and partners so that an open innovation ecosystem necessary for growth to follow in Qatar.”