BY Emilyn Teh
Suite 302 of Google’s headquarters in downtown Chelsea is a collaborative workspace, with classrooms and labs named after Big Red, Cornell University’s sports team, and Touchdown, the university’s unofficial mascot. A moveable video conferencing device in one corner allows students and faculty to communicate with each other from remote locations.
This is the temporary home of Cornell Tech, which offers a new accelerated MBA degree program in New York City. Rather than concentrating on getting students jobs at large financial corporations, this program is more focused on entrepreneurship in the tech industry. The inaugural class, which consists of only 39 students, started this summer. Unlike traditional two-year MBA programs, this one is condensed to three semesters, starting with a 10-week session in Ithaca, N.Y. In fall 2017, the program is scheduled to open in a new facility on Roosevelt Island, where construction is currently underway.
“For the students to be successful in this environment, they have to know what it is like to work in a start-up, be comfortable with ambiguity and be early adopters of new technology,” said Christine Sneva, director of enrollment management and student services at Cornell Tech. “You are in an academic environment but you are also in an environment that is not always conducive to academia.”
Yannis Tsampalis, a 39-year-old with 15 years’ experience working for Verizon and Motorola Technology, had specific criteria in selecting an MBA program. “I wanted a one-year program, I didn’t want to change career tracks – I wanted to be in technology, – and I wanted to go to a reputable school. This program fulfilled all three of those things,” he said.
As opposed to traditional MBA programs that focus on teaching business theories like corporate finance, investing and consulting, students in this MBA program learn by practicing these skills in the context of their own projects. The hands-on spring semester requires that the students work on a start-up idea that they intend to pursue post-graduation. “This program, having an entrepreneurial focus, was exactly what I was looking for,” said Tsampalis.
One benefit of developing their business ventures while still at school is that the students can tap into the resources at Cornell Tech. Panelists from venture capital firms come in to speak with the students every week, and, during studio sessions, the students are introduced to investors or designers-in-residence who provide guidance from a business and technological design perspective. It is then up to the students to reach out to them at various stages of their projects, as need arises. “They look at the projects from all angles – how to build a product and how to built a business around that product,” said Sneva.
Michael Karp, a student who previously worked for American Express and IBM, hopes to transition to being an entrepreneur. Karp is currently working on building a business involving new kinds of wearable technology and etracker, a customer relationship management system for actors.
He feels that the MBA program could help him to accomplish his goal because the coursework is directly applicable to starting a new business. “One of the professors had mentioned that some of the topics on his syllabus were going to be founders’ issues, spreading equity among partners and things like that, which are all directly applicable,” he said.
Another student project is NYC Taxi Viz, an interactive data visualization that predicts the best intersection at which to hail a cab based on 170 million cab rides. The students who created it were among 60 teams recently selected by the NYC Media Lab, an organization dedicated to cultivating innovation and expanding the media and technology job market, to present at its annual summit in September that brings together media executives, technologists and others interested in hearing about new ideas in the technology sector.
Raz Schwartz, another Cornell Tech postdoctoral researcher, led the project that placed first at the summit, CityBeat. Mor Naaman, the associate professor advising the project described it as a real-time visualization that pinpoints hyper-local events in the city to reveal what people are posting about on social media.
Other than their own projects, students spend one semester working on proposals that are submitted by local organizations like Bloomberg, LinkedIn, Microsoft, eBay and JPMorgan Chase. Google also gives students projects and provides mentors during the completion process.
The associate dean for MBA Programs at the Samuel Curtis Johnson graduate school of management, Douglas Stayman, explained in a video on the Cornell Tech website that the Cornell Tech MBA program was introduced because of changes in the business landscape. Students now want to learn the process of product development, methods of testing and marketing strategy, which led Cornell to create a new kind of MBA program.
While Cornell Tech, a partnership between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, also offers masters programs in computer science and information systems, Stayman noted that the goal was not simply to add technology courses to an existing MBA. The school is trying to develop a new MBA to teach students how technology is changing the way business is done, he said.
“People who are looking for a more traditional MBA program are looking for different career paths there,” said Sneva. “One experience is better for certain people, not better than the other.”