Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 session / week, 90 minutes / session.


There are no prerequisites for this course.


The world would benefit from more entrepreneurship, in the form of growth for new businesses, as well as a greater degree financial inclusion – allowing more people to access the formal financial sector and obtain credit on reasonable terms.

Unfortunately, government bureaucracy often impedes growth. Corruption can be a major problem in some places. And powerful incumbent firms may restrict access to opportunities or credit or both. In addition, the world’s financial system has demonstrated a tendency to boom-bust cycles with devastating implications – particularly for those at the lower end of the income pyramid.

This course focuses on understanding the impact of a new set of technologies for economic and financial development. These technologies, inspired by or based on Bitcoin but now often discussed under the heading of “blockchain,” offer a more decentralized way to organize production and exchange.

What is the precise nature of these opportunities, both in the United States and around the world? What will be transformed by blockchain and what will remain substantially the same? Where will new companies arise to take advantage and what should be the government response?

Is blockchain a set of innovations that will disperse power? Or will we end up with another, perhaps slightly reconfigured, concentration of economic opportunities and political rights?


Entrepreneurship Without Borders (EWB, 15.395) is a half semester course that reflects and builds on the Digital Currency Initiative (DCI), which is based at MIT’s Media Lab. More broadly, DCI runs a set of research projects that investigate the future of blockchain and its implications. Students who take EWB may subsequently choose to become involved in those projects, but this is by no means a requirement.

Anyone interested in project work or just in exploring these topics further may want to attend our (DCI) Tuesday evening discussion group. This is very informal and food is provided. Most meetings are held at Sloan, but sometimes we meet at the Media Lab. Cross-campus cooperation is an important goal for this activity.

EWB is also designed to be taken as a stand-alone course by anyone who wants to think further about the fast-evolving opportunities around blockchain technology in all corners of the globe, especially in markets outside the U.S. The course will provide you with a specific and concrete lens through which to think about new business development everywhere.

Requirements and Grading

The requirements for the course and the contribution of each toward the final grade are as follows:

Two Individual Write-ups (10% x 2) 20%
Group Research Paper 40%
Class Participation 40%

Individual Write-ups

Two brief individual write-ups focused on analyzing the required readings for two classes of your choice are due at the start of class on the day the readings are to be discussed. More details can be found in the Assignments section.

Group Research Paper

Students are required to submit a written report on the potential for any one blockchain-related opportunity in any country or market. See Assignments section for details.

Class Participation

Your active participation in the discussion during class is integral to the design of this course. Prior preparation of the cases and assigned readings is essential background for the lectures and case discussions. We want you to draw on your own experiences and perspectives as much as possible, but you need to do the reading in order to contribute effectively to the flow of the discussion.

Preparation is particularly important when we have guests. These distinguished people are expecting to be impressed by our level of preparation and discussion – please do not disappoint them.

Those of you whose native language is not English and/or who may have difficulty speaking up in class are encouraged to talk with us to discuss how your participation in class can be ensured. We are open to innovative proposals with regard to earning class participation points.

The point of the course is to engage with a wide variety of perspectives and new information on entrepreneurship around the world. Students typically have excellent proposals for class sessions – particularly as we look for the latest developments (good or bad) around the world. The course is designed so that we will have enough time to seriously consider and discuss any ideas you want to put before us.

General Notes

Many of the readings for this course are freely available. Use the links in the Reading section to reach them easily.

Each of these sessions is led by Simon Johnson (SJ), Michael Casey (MC), or Brian Forde (BF). Simon will attend all sessions and any administrative or overall questions should be addressed to him. But please do reach out to Michael and Brian to follow up on relevant questions of substance arising from the discussions they lead – they are looking forward to this engagement with you.

To the extent possible, we are happy to help you meet interesting people in this space and to make connections All topics put forward here are for discussion purposes only. Suggesting or even requiring a reading does not imply endorsement.

This course is intended for business school students and for those who would like to better appreciate the relevant public policy considerations and private sector use case analysis. We will make reference to technical details but for a deeper discussion of the technologies covered here, please attend our (completely optional) Tuesday evening dinners. We can also suggest Media Lab and other courses, if you would like to dig deeper into the computer science.

This area is developing quickly, with new innovations and companies emerging all the time. We reserve the right to adjust our content during the semester to reflect what we regard as important developments. The last three sessions are held open for student-suggested content – we really want to drill down into what you see as important.