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.

From Startup to Empire: How Disruptive Innovation Fuels Netflix, Uber & Nike

“Disruptive innovation” is an increasingly popular idea in the business community, however, many people don’t understand what it truly means. Described as the process by which a product or service starts out in its simplest form at the bottom of the market before moving up to displace established competitors, the term “disruptive innovation” was first used by business professor Clayton Christensen in 1995.

Today, the concept can account for the emergence and meteoric rise of companies like Uber and Netflix, according to Mike Grandinetti, global professor of entrepreneurship, innovation, and digital marketing at Hult International Business School.

Grandinetti is an expert in disruptive innovation and has made a career of pursuing disruption since his introduction to Silicon Valley working as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard Company (HP). He has used his 25 years of entrepreneurial operating experience to guide high-growth startups — mentoring at accelerators such as Techstars and Startup NEXT — and inspire student entrepreneurs throughout his simultaneous 20-year teaching career at the MBA and executive education level.

“I love looking at disruption both from the point of view of the attacker — the startup — and the incumbent who has to defend against the attacker,” Grandinetti says. “I’ve been teaching a course on disruptive business model innovation across many of Hult’s global campuses, while also speaking, publishing, and blogging about it. My interest and passion just continues to grow.”

BostInno sat down with Grandinetti, who shared how early-stage startups can use disruptive innovation to mirror the success of Uber and Netflix, and how corporate empires like Nike use disruption to remain ahead of the competition.

Ingredients for Building a Disruptive Startup: Netflix and Uber

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Mike Grandinetti has been an expert in disruptive innovation since his introduction to Silicon Valley working as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard Company.
“Startups that are disruptive tend to be led by or founded by people who see the world and can’t agree with a principal model,” Grandinetti says. “They believe that the current process or business model is less than optimal and care deeply about delivering a superior experience to users.”

He points to Netflix founder Reed Hastings as an example. Hastings recognized Blockbuster as a predatory company that generated 10 to 20 percent of its profits from late fees. After experiencing the exorbitant fees first-hand, he started Netflix and changed the way we consume on-demand media.

“He did it out of a sense of frustration, in order to deliver a superior at-home movie viewing experience,” Grandinetti says. “Watching movies should be convenient and pleasant. Before Netflix disrupted Blockbuster, that simply was not the case.”

Grandinetti marvels at the fact that Hastings built Netflix at a time when broadband did not exist yet named and branded the company based on his ability to see the future and capitalize on it.

According to Grandinetti, true disruption relies on “a combination of envisioning something that you believe will positively impact the world, but also understanding when the technology will evolve to be delivered at scale.”

He notes Uber’s success: The company aggressively capitalized on the universal pain point of hailing, riding in, and paying for a taxi, and combined it with emerging technology to build a ride-sharing empire.

“They understood that there was huge frustration and inconvenience, and they were ahead of the curve in seeing the convergence between ubiquitous mobile phones, increasingly accurate GPS systems and the fact that mobile apps have now become a very important part of the global ‘always-connected’ economy,” Grandinetti explains.

Staying Disruptive After Enjoying Success: Nike and Intuit

In order to avoid becoming irrelevant, Grandinetti says that great companies constantly challenge themselves and dare to continuously innovate, pointing to Nike and Intuit as examples.

Nike recognized the strength of the Techstars venture accelerator model and chose to infuse the company with similar entrepreneurial energy. Nike invited these startups to work on the company’s campus using Techstars methodology and handpicked entrepreneurial teams to create an in-house accelerator, Nike+ Accelerator, to advance the digital products that the company was already pursuing.

“Startups that are disruptive tend to be led by or founded by people who see the world and can’t agree with a principal model.” – @mikegrand1
Intuit Chairman Scott Cook and CEO Brad Smith also rely on open innovation, a lean startup model, and human-centric design to maintain an 80 percent market share, according to Grandinetti. He notes that Cook refers to his employees as entrepreneurs, understands they are the ones who are going to make the company great, and creates a unique corporate atmosphere that empowers them.

“He runs Intuit like a massive accelerator, and it’s brilliant,” Grandinetti says. “It takes a lot of humility for a billionaire to say, ‘I’m not the boss, I’m a mentor. These entrepreneurial employees come to me with ideas to solve our customers’ financial problems, and I coach them, mentor them, guide them along or I challenge them, but I’m not here to tell them what to do.’”

Developing the Next Generations of Disruptors:

“If we don’t bring the real world into the classroom, we are doing students a disservice,” Grandinetti says.

As an educator, Grandinetti combines classroom-based learning with the opportunity to work directly with startups to expose students to how innovative disruption is realized. During a recent digital and social marketing course, Grandinetti brought in 15 startups that he advises and had 150 marketing students consult for them.

“Over three months, 50 percent of the students’ grade was based on the quality and strength of the recommendations that they made to each of these startups,” Grandinetti says. “Marketing students rolled up their sleeves, and they ran optimized Facebook campaigns, Buzzfeed campaigns, Pinterest campaigns, LinkedIn campaigns and Google AdWords campaigns for a range of B2B, B2C and B2B2C startups.”

Practices such as this have paid dividends for the Hult student body, as alumni are impacting the Boston innovation scene with startups of their own.

Leveraging City-Wide Disruption to Advance Boston:

Grandinetti admits that Silicon Valley has the upper hand when it comes to innovations in the social, mobile and cloud arenas, but Boston’s strength in key technologies such as biotech, life sciences, clean tech and robotics is helping us close the gap.

“We’re the best in the world — and no one can ever dispute this — around biotech, life sciences and anything medical because of the world-class teaching and research hospitals in the region, the presence of research institutions like MIT, Harvard, and BU, and the cluster of startups that have sprung up around them,” Grandinetti says. “We should focus on building on our strengths and not view Silicon Valley as a competitor. These innovation clusters are the envy of the world.”

This article was written by Ethan Buckowicz and originally appeared in BostonInno on 9 June, 2015

Student Entrepreneurship Thriving in Boston

On Thursday, February 26, a well-attended and high-energy event was held on Hult’s Boston campus to celebrate and explore student entrepreneurship in the greater Boston/ Cambridge area. This region has historically been a hotbed for student entrepreneurship, pioneered by MIT.

Many famous student startups were born in the Boston community before achieving iconic status, including Facebook and Microsoft as well as ZipCar, Akamai and Napster. More recently, student –founded startups such as Rent The Runway, Uncharted Play and Plated have vaulted to prominence.

The event was organized and facilitated by Hult Global Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Mike Grandinetti, in his role as Faculty Advisor to both the Hult Startup Platform and Hult Science in Business Student Clubs. As a serial entrepreneur, mentor, angel investor and educator in the Boston area for over 20 years, and currently Managing Director of StartupNext Boston and a Community Impact Fellow with OpenIDEO, Professor Mike tapped into his network to bring in a range of experiences for Hult’s students to benefit from. After starting things off, Professor Mike facilitated a fireside chat with each speaker and then guided a question and answer session with a very engaged audience of students from both Hult and other area universities.

Professor Mike kicked off the event in Hult’s aptly named Fenway Bleachers auditorium, with its great view of the Zakim Bridge. He started by testing students knowledge of well know Boston student – founded startups as well as student familiarity with recent Kickstarter project. He then provided an overview of the current state of student entrepreneurship on a global basis, including enabling factors such as the consumerization of IT, short-term coding academies, affordable subscription cloud-based apps, pre-accelerators, university accelerators and seed capital funds, student entrepreneurship – focused VC funds and crowd-funding.

The event also included two student entrepreneurship–focused venture capitalists, one from the DormRoom Fund, Bruno Faviero, Managing Director, who focuses on managing investments for the 12 major research universities in the Boston area; and Kate Murdock, who focuses specifically on funding Northeastern University bred start-ups. In addition, Kate serves as an analyst at Northeastern’s IDEA accelerator, where over 200 startups have been launched and incubated, including a few that were recently VC funded. Bruno is the Founder of Hacking MIT and other MIT – related startup events. Bruno and Kate discussed the extraordinary range of startups being launched around the greater Boston area by students, with a focus on the 23 companies that DormRoom Fund has invested in directly.

Michael Gaiss, former SVP of Highland Capital Partners and current founder and CEO of BigThink!, which focuses on connecting students interested in entrepreneurial careers with startups, spoke about the stark difference in hiring requirements between large corporation and startups. Unlike corporates, startups focus less on GPA and more on hands-on experience that indicates a passion by the student for the role and the market space. He also discussed his observations as Entrepreneur in Residence at UMass Boston, where the school recently expanded its Venture Development Center.

For the benefit of the Science in Business Club, Professor Vinit Nijiwhan, who runs Boston University’s Office of Technology Development, spoke of the challenges and successes of commercializing university based research. During his tenure, he changed BU’s model from licensing to startups, with great success. With this new startup-driven approach, BU has achieved more success in commercializing its science and technology in the past five years than in the previous 30 years.

At the conclusion of the event, Professor Mike, Bruno and Kate served as mentors for a pitch session. Many Hult students stepped up to pitch their ideas to a crowded room of 100 plus attendees where they received constructive feedback. Many also used the opportunity to get real-time input from their fellow students on the desireabilty of their ideas.

In summary, the event was exceptionally well received by the engaged students who asked many great questions, volunteered to pitch, and engaged in direct discussions with speakers during the networking breaks scheduled through-out the evening. It’s clear that student entrepreneurship is thriving in Boston / Cambridge.

Student Entrepreneurs to benefit from $100M X-Fund

It’s a positive commentary on the state of entrepreneurship that the first Fund – aka the $10M ” Experiment Fund” -was a huge success and that NEA, Breyer Capital and Accel saw the massive demand and remarkable talent and passion of student entrepreneurs, at both the under – grad and grad levels. They made five investments out of Fund 1, in a very diverse group of companies. These include:

-investing services startup Kensho Technologies Inc.,

-law search startup Ravel Law Inc.,

-TV and DVR mobile service Philo Inc.,

-apartment search site Zumper Inc.

-nursery device startup Rest Devices Inc.

Kensho, for example, is interesting on many levels. Co- founder Dan Nadler went to Harvard with Mark Zuckerburg. Kensho, combines natural language search queries, graphical user interfaces, and secure cloud computing to create a new class of analytics tools for investment professionals and has raised over $25M

Ravel Law was co-founded by two Stanford Law School graduates. The company is working to establish an alternative to LexisNexis for lawyers and others researching cases.

The VCs decided to capitalize the second fund at $100M, and to re-brand it the X-Fund. It’s a welcome addition to the DormRoomFund, led by FirstRoundCapital, as well as StartX, the Stanford Accelerator and UCVenture Fund.

I do hope that the number of future applicants will expand well beyond the high (70% of all applicants) MIT/ Harvard concentration of the Experiment Fund. Stanford accounts for another 10%. As there are so many great tech-centric student entrepreneurs working diligently at Northeastern, BU, BC, Babson, Wentworth, WPI, UMass Lowell and Hult, amongst many others institutions of higher learning in the Greater Boston / Cambridge area, they need to be as diligent at raising capital as they are at building great ted based products

The DormRoomFund is a great initiative from FirstRoundCapital, but we need more strongly capitalized funds like it to meet the needs of the many talented young students building tech startups in the greater Boston area and beyond. X -Fund is a welcome addition to the landscape

Best wishes to General Partners Patrick Chung and Hugo Van Vuuren as they expand the fund. Your mission is a noble one.