AEM 4380: Entrepreneurial Strategy for Tech Ventures

Cornell has an array of classes to support entrepreneurial activities and to get an initial idea kicking. From classes like eLab, in which students can earn academic credit during the school year to work on their startups, to classes, such as AEM 3249: Entrepreneurial Marketing and Strategy, that help students create their own startup idea and work on an initial MVP (minimum viable product) and business plan; however, not all students in entrepreneurship are interested in being founders. Many want to be a part of the core team at a startup, bring entrepreneurial activities into large corporations, or learn common strategic problems that startups face. AEM 4380: Entrepreneurial Strategy for Tech Ventures is offered every Spring in conjunction with AEM 4390: Tech Strategy, by Professor Michael Roach. Professor Roach has taught MBA students at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC and Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

I took AEM 4380 this semester to learn about applying strategic frameworks to startup businesses, especially in the tech area.The seven-week course is a case-study based class, with 8 case studies with discussion questions. The cases were used to take frameworks, such as Porter’s Five Forces and the Business Model Canvas, and apply them to real world examples. The topics included everything from LinkedIn’s exploding growth in the middle of the decade to funding for high-tech Biotechnology startups. For student Naveed Mitha ‘17, taking this class has led to a new view of strategy. He had initially signed up for the class to learn about the tech industry, but with the case study format, he was able to take a deeper dive into the problems that companies face at a high-growth stage. He plans on pursuing Tech Banking and believes that what he learned from the class will allow him to understand the logic behind the numbers on a 10-K for a tech firm.

Another big component of the class is an experiential team project. Students can pick their own team and work on addressing a strategic problem in a local on-campus venture or a global startup. The unique thing about the class is that it has students from different backgrounds including operations research, computer science, development sociology, and business. This allowed the teams to be extremely cross-functional, and the recommendations addressed different operational perspectives. My team decided to address Slack’s marketing techniques, but other students worked with Cornell startups such as Ursa Space Systems, or even their own companies. Adi Agashe ‘17, founder of Belle Apps, used the final project as a time to work with other students to answer his own strategic problems. “My firm is currently facing an important strategic decision, so the final project really helped create a solid recommendation and plan of action”, says Adi. Professor Roach believes that one of the most valuable parts of the class is students from different backgrounds learning from each other in a team-oriented environment.

Professor Roach also offers AEM 4390: Technology Strategy as a complementary seven-week course in the second half of the semester. The topics in the second course focus on applying the technology and innovative practices to larger organizations. By offering two different courses, students can choose between taking either both or one at a time based on their interests. Students interested in entrepreneurship often take AEM 4380, and those interested in technology and innovation take AEM 4390. There is also many students that end up taking both.

I’d recommend the classes to anyone who is interested in learning more about the challenges faced by a startup, innovation techniques, and problem solving. The team project and the class discussions provide valuable opportunities to not just learn from the class material, but also from students from a diverse group of majors.