A new course for technology entrepreneurs has started its pilot this fall for a “hands-on” experience to test ideas and business models.
“The idea came from Silicon Valley,” said Tomas Isakowitz, instructor of the course — “Commercializing Software: Web Lean LaunchPad” — and director of the Center for Technology Transfer Fellows Program. The course model is based off of the Lean LaunchPad framework developed by Stanford University professor Steve Blank.
Having worked on Wall Street after he earned his doctorate in computer science at Penn in 1989, Isakowitz has taught several courses on commercializing biotechnology. In the past year, he decided to teach a class on the commercialization for computer sciences through the creation of a startup.
“The main distinction between a startup and a company is that a company focuses on executing a business plan, while a startup is a temporary organization whose goal is to find the business model that works,” Isakowitz said. “Most companies start with an idea or an app, but a product is only a small portion of what makes a company successful.”
The course is taught with two different approaches. First, by using Business Model Canvas — a tool for developing business plans — students can learn about various components of a business, such as revenue, customers and channels. At the same time, students work on specific projects and need to reach out to people outside the classroom to evaluate their ideas.
“Every week, they have to go out and talk to potential customers to see whether people are interested or not,” Isakowitz said. “Then they come back to the class and give a presentation about what they found out this week. Based on that, they make adjustment to their project.”
After that, students also need to develop websites and mobile apps for their products and are responsible for driving traffic to their web services, including buying ads on Google and Facebook.
“The idea we have is the Minimum Viable Product,” Isakowitz said. “It doesn’t have to be full-fledged, but it has to be enough to showcase that it works and can attract people.”
One of the two projects in the class this semester, Techruit, aims to make the technical recruiting process easier and more efficient by helping recruiters to evaluate candidates based on their online portfolio of codes and analysis.
“We had the general idea before we came to class, but in the class we flashed out a little more,” said Tanvir Ahmed, an Engineering senior and a member of the team. “We changed a few things and really started to focus on what is apparently more important.”
Isakowitz said one of his main goals of this class is “to attract students from different areas,” from Wharton to Nursing.
“Ideally, I can have students come in with a formed group,” he said. “I’ll also have a lot of sessions for them to match.”
The class will be hosting info sessions in Engineering for students to find their teammates for spring semester on the evenings of Nov. 14 and Dec. 3.
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