Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Optional occasional recitation sessions

Course Description and Overview

In 15.390, we not only study entrepreneurs, we become entrepreneurs. Students will, over the course of the semester, learn the process of how to create an innovation-based new venture. As a framework for this, we use the business planning process and students develop the essential parts of a business plan and investor pitch as a useful vehicle to achieve this goal. Students will work in teams to launch companies, working through issues of market analysis, technology viability assessment, competitive positioning, team-building, product life-cycle planning, marketing strategy, sales channel analysis, and a strong emphasis on the entrepreneur as a salesperson. We will map the practical steps of organizational and legal issues associated with forming a brand-new company, and we will address the strategic considerations for creating companies that can quickly define and dominate a new category or disruptive technology.

This is a hands-on course that teaches a rigorous framework as well as providing valuable experience to students so that they, upon completion, can be more successful in starting a new venture. This has been evidenced by the hundreds of successful entrepreneurs this class has produced, who have gone on to form dozens of companies including A123 Systems, HubSpot, OnChip Power, LARK Technologies, and the majority of the $100K winners over the past two decades. Just last year alone, the following are examples of new ventures came out of this course: Ministry of Supply, Home Team Therapy,, Somnus Shirts, Ubiquitous Energy, and OnDemandKorea.

Note that work done in the class is purely for academic purposes and there is no explicit or implicit agreement that teams that are formed in the class are obligated in any way to share their intellectual property or equity in a new venture that comes out of the class. All marketing and business analysis that is produced is considered public domain unless explicitly specified and agreed to by the instructors.

Course Components and Assignment Overview

Guest Speakers

What: We will have several guest speakers over the course of the semester. These speakers will be entrepreneurs or CEOs who have started their own companies, or people who are otherwise involved in new venture creation (e.g. venture capitalists or attorneys). Guest speakers will provide both an overview of their venture as well as specific guidance on the topic of the session they attend. They will generally speak for 20 minutes, leaving 20 minutes for Q&A. We will do our best to get biographical information to the class ahead of time.

Preparation: Be prepared to ask intelligent, relevant questions to our guest speakers.

Grading: The quality of one's questions will impact the students' class participation grade for the semester.

Business Plan

What: The main deliverable for the course is a complete business plan for a viable new venture. Every student will need to submit an idea for a new business. Students will then vote on which ideas are the most interesting. The top vote getters will get the chance to pitch their ideas to the class live and work to form teams of three students to work on the business plan. Each team will also recruit an outside advisory board for guidance.

Preparation: Over the course of the semester each team will develop the sections of their plans, including an executive summary and sections on vision & values, marketing analysis / segmentation, competition, value proposition, go to market, product technology, and financing.

Deliverable: Sections will be turned in roughly every two weeks, graded, and returned with feedback. At the end of the semester, each team will submit a final business plan. We encourage students to revise all sections before submitting their final plans. Business plans range from 15–20 pages. Sample business plans from previous will be made available online for your reference. Further details regarding each section of the business plan can be found in the Assignments section of this syllabus.

Grading: The final business plan will comprise 40% of your final grade. Individuals will impact the 25% of your grade resulting from written deliverables.

Take an Entrepreneur to Dinner

What: Interview an entrepreneur to understand what entrepreneurship is like "in real life." See additional details regarding the assignment in the Assignments section .

Preparation: Keep in mind the due date for this assignment and request a meeting with an entrepreneur in advance.

Deliverable: A two-page "take an entrepreneur to dinner" paper.

Grading: This paper is a part of the 25% of your grade resulting from written deliverables.

Class Participation

Class participation is expected. We will "cold call" students who are not participating on a regular basis.

After a class presentation, we expect you to respond to a survey that will be posted online, and to share your insights about the speaker within 48 hours. Your responses will contribute significantly to your class participation grade.

Unavoidable absences due to illness, a death in the family, or religious holidays are excusable but please let your TAs know ahead of time. Any other absences will be taken into account in calculating your class participation grade.

Additionally, each student will have the opportunity to grade each of his or her teammates at the conclusion of the course to ensure that appropriate credit is given to both high performers and slackers.


The primary textbook for this course is an organic handbook by Bill Aulet: Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup. Wiley, 2013.

Most classes will start with a mini case that will be made available online and/or sent out via e-mail before class. Additional readings will also be distributed online throughout the semester. For these, we expect students to come to class prepared to discuss the readings. Familiarity with the readings will count toward class participation.

See the Readings section for a list of reading assignments.


Class participation (including responses to surveys online) 25%
Presentations and written assignments (including business plan sections, executive summary presentations, and "take an entrepreneur to dinner" paper) 25%
Final business plan 50%