Experiential Learning in Entrepreneurship Education

This is the complete interview that I conducted with Boston Innovation on the subject of experiential education for MBAs, Masters students and undergraduates.

  1. What is your philosophy on experiential learning and how do you implement it in your teaching?

Entrepreneurship or marketing can’t be learned in the same way as traditional MBA subjects like accounting or finance can, with problem sets and exams. The Nike motto, “Just Do It,” is pretty good advice for entrepreneurs and digital marketers. You want to be a great entrepreneur? A world-class digital marketer? The only way to learn how is by doing it—doing it and failing and then doing it again until you finally get it right.

I tell students to look for programs where faculty are experienced entrepreneurs themselves, and, ideally, current practitioners. Students should seek out programs where they’ll have opportunities to roll up their sleeves and create new ventures, whether that’s through student new venture and pitch competitions, on-campus “hackathons” or consulting projects for other startups

  1. Where has Boston’s education community as a whole had success incorporating experiential learning and where do we have room to improve?

In general, some Boston colleges and universities have done a great job of integrating students into real world opportunities. For example


  • The MIT $1000K global entrepreneurship competition (where I served as a judge for 10 years) the grand-daddy of ALL B-Plan competitions, which has spawned literally hundreds of imitators around the world, and has a huge positive legacy in Boston and beyond. Participants come from across the Institute, from Bachelors through PhD programs and includes Post Doctorates.
  • The MIT Hacking Medicine Hackathon – which has students working alongside doctors and health care industry officials to cerate innovative new solutions to improve the standard of healthcare. Several of my Hult MBAs, tow of which are MDs, attended this past year with my strong encouragement. Itw as a n awesome experience for them.
  • At the undergraduate level, the Boston College Venture Club aka BCVC, (where I have served as a judge and a keynoter) is aimed at undergraduates and serves to inspire them early on in their careers
  • The Northeastern University accelerator IDEA, which has 200 companies now being incubated in its offices.
  • Northeastern’s iconic Co-Op program has long been the gold standard for university programs of this type
  • The Harvard Innovation Lab” iLab” is  open to all members of the Harvard community across all degree programs
  • Student centric seed stage VC funds like DormRoomFund, now targeting student entrepreneurs at 12 Boston / Cambridge Area research universities. Students from each campus actually source deals and serve as investors.

3. What, specifically, do you to to engender experiential learning at Hult International Business School? 

I have always stood for bringing the real world into the classroom, whether at MIT Sloan, where I taught as a Senior lecturer form many years, and of course at Hult.

Some activities that I would highlight include:

  1. Hult Impact Challenge, where EVERY Hult MBA
    1. Create a new startup
    2. Create  anew social venture
    3. Address global challenge from IBM, Philips, Unilever
    4. I was fortunate to be part of  small team of Hult leaders and served as an architect of this program while participating on our MBA Curriculum re-design team, which was named as the most innovative MBA curriculum in the world by the global accreditation body last year. Students really loved this experience and the level of improvement in our students over the course of this guided journey has been extraordinary.  I recently had the pleasure of judging our finalists from each of our global campuses at our graduation summit  in Davos  and was blown away.
  1. In my New Business Ventures Entrepreneurship elective offered to our MBA students in Boston that just ended, students brought in ideas for their own ventures, formed teams, and were guided by a very real-world, best practices process, including Design Thinking, LeanStartup, Value Proposition Design, etc, validated every step of the process by interacting with prospective customers and strategic partners, and ended the course by pitching 2 Boston angel investors and me. Several of the companies will continue into the marketplace. I had many guest lecturers in from the local Boston community, including Hubspot, and a company in the Techstars. Boston accelerator, Shearwater International and a company that has appeared on Shark Tank twice, failing the first time and raising money successfully the second time. We ran a joint session on pitching with the MIT Enterprise Forum Funders Smart Start Program, where I am also a faculty member, on the Hult campus. The MIT participants were all more senior in age and therefore more experienced professionally, and the multi-generational differences made the session quite interesting.  Almost the entire Hult class attended my StartupNext Demo Day, which was held at Hubspot’s HQ the night after the course started. The Founders pitches made a huge impression on many of them. For the final project, the students pitched their ventures to lasers from Techstars and Betaspring, tow of the top startup accelerators in the US.
  3. In my Digital and Social Marketing and Advertising core course,offered to our Masters in Marketing students, I recruited 15 startups from around the world (Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Montreal, London) . Our students worked closely with company founders and executives in a very hands-on way across the entire module to develop Digital and Social Marketing and Advertising strategies and campaigns, using Facebook, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked In, and YouTube. They presented to the founder sand executives. Many were rewarded with internships and some were hired full time. I had 8-9 guest lecturers from leading companies in the digital advertising world as well as the Financial Times.
  5. Many of my MBA and MIM students served as consultants to my 7 StartupNext Boston startup cohort members furthering their real word experience. Many attended my MeetUp at MakerBot on Design Thinking and Rapid Prototyoping and heard from 3 inspiring local startups, all using 3 D printing in their product manufacturing.  I ran a MeetUp on EdTech at MIT that featured the Boston EdTech accelerator LearnLaunch, the global accelerator Startup Chile, as well as a 9 EdTech startups including those from tech stars, StartupNext and LearnLaunch, that was very well attended by Hult students.
  7. We ran several events in conjunction with our Hult Startup Club , the Hult Science in Business Club and Hult Think Tank Group.  For example, we held a Meetup where we had speakers including the Managing Partner of  the Dorm Room Fund and the Managing Director Boston University . Technology Licensing office.  Another event featured the CTO and Co-Foudner of Shark Tank money winner Scholly as well as the  co-founder Founder of the award winning local craft brewer Revival Brewing.


  • There are still far too many students that I from across many area colleges and universities that I regularly connect with at MeetUps and Conferences that I organize and run that here in Boston that seem to feel that their courses are taught in the same way as they have been for the past 100 years, lectures and exams.
  • How has experiential learning contributed to the growth of Boston’s startup ecosystem?
  • Hackathons have quickly emerged as key places for networking, job recruiting, pitching and in many cases, wining cash for your startup. Recruiters and startups use hackathons to see which students thrive in a chaotic environment that models the dynamic of a real startup. For students, hackathons offer a “test drive” – the chance to experience the intensity of working for a startup before committing to a job. Boston holds many hackathons each year, and students are key participants.( For example, I will be bringing ProtoHack, a code-free Hackathon, to Boston for the first time, on 21 November- this will bring a much larger community into the rapidly growing global Hackathon culture )

What role does it play in improving talent retention in Boston?

  • The result in ALL of the above is that that has created a much more “Job Ready” work force that meets the requirements of the local business community. Startups don’t have the time or resources to rain people- hiring students with practical startup experience is a HUGE win for BOTH startup and student/ recent graduate. Students now know if startups are really right for them as a career choice. They are far more self-aware of whether they have the personality to thrive in such a stressful environment. Startups know the skills students have to get the job done on Day 1. They don’t wash out nearly as easily as they might have when both students and startups had to fly blind, and where many costly hiring mistakes were made

As more international students are attending Boston colleges and universities, how does experiential learning accelerate their adjustment to a new culture, language, etc.?

  • My international students get great benefit from experiential learning. For many, they come from far more traditional universities in their home countries, where ALL learning is from the professor‘s lectures and the only application of that knowledge happens through tests and exams. In many cases, the professors are regarded as “deity figures: and even asking questions can be considered inappropriate. Experiential learning is something that they are hungry for and actively seek out. It can be hugely transformative. Whether it be learning about the importance of punctuality in a business context, the “whatever it takes 24X7” business culture of the startup, or the unique US “pitch culture”, there is vast adaptation.
  • Who does experiential learning benefit more: Undergraduate students or graduate students?
  • While both benefit, my experience is that graduate students benefit more because they already have work experience under their belts. Therefore, they can be more productive when joining an employer in a consulting project, field study, hackathons, ect. They have more context and more skills fro their previous professional experience and are typically more self aware regarding their own intetersts and skills.


Author: Mike Grandinetti

Mike Grandinetti is a serial VC - backed entrepreneur ( 2 NASDAQ IPOs, 5 strategic trade sales), startup mentor ( Techstars, Betaspring, Founders Institute, MassChallenge, Greentown Labs, Hacking Health EcoFuel), public speaker (TEDx, International Startup Festival, C2MTL) , Professor of Entrepreneurship (MIT, Hult International Business School & Technical University of Denmark), entrepreneurship competition judge ( MIT $100K, Hult Prize, Hult Impact Challenge, Mass Challenge) , angel investor and board member. He is currently Managing Director of both StartupNext Boston (part of Techstars) & ProtoHack Boston and also serves as Global Professor of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Marketing & Leadership at Hult International Business School, where he won 4 Global Teaching Excellence Awards and was named the Financial Times Professor of the Week. Formerly with McKinsey, he also serves as a consultant and senior advisor to national and regional governments, global corporations, startups and early stage investors.

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