Author: Martin Trust Center

New Enterprises (15.390) with Paul Cheek

Course description:

New Enterprises covers the process of identifying and quantifying market opportunities, then conceptualizing, planning, and starting a new, technology-based enterprise.

Topics include opportunity assessment, the value proposition, the entrepreneur, legal issues, entrepreneurial ethics, the business plan, the founding team, seeking customers and raising funds. Students develop detailed business plans for a start-up.

Intended for students who want to start their own business, further develop an existing business, be a member of a management team in a new enterprise, or better understand the entrepreneur and the entrepreneurial process.

Offered in Spring 2021 Mondays & Wednesdays from 2:30-4:00 OR 4:00-5:30 (2-2-8)


Q: This course seems to cover a lot of entrepreneurship topics. Does it align closely with the Disciplined Entrepreneurship framework?

Paul Cheek: Yes, it does. It covers the 24 steps of Disciplined Entrepreneurship plus some of the additional topics that aren’t necessarily steps but are absolutely crucial to successfully making your way through the steps, such as primary market research, overall financials, and a human resources plan. We also cover other things like team formation, and what makes for a high-performance team.

What do students need before taking New Enterprises?

You don’t need to come in with anything. There are no pre-requisites. There are no skills requirements. This is a class for any student interested in entrepreneurship regardless of experience level.

How familiar are most students with entrepreneurship when they take this course? What kind of experiences do most of the students bring to the class?

It varies widely, which is what’s so interesting about it. This class is a mixed bag of undergraduates, masters students, MBA students, PhDs, cross-registered students from Harvard and Wellesley, and Sloan Fellows, who are mid-career MBA students who do a one-year program and they already have vast work experience already in industry.

So, you have people who range widely in age and experience. If we put a team together that includes a Sloan fellow and a third year undergraduate, they bring very, very different points of view together, which makes for a unique experience exploring entrepreneurship.

Do the undergraduate students get any additional support?

Yes, the undergraduates have a separate recitation session. Since they typically have less industry experience, they get this extra session to ensure that they have the support they need to get just as much out of the class as somebody with more work experience.

How is the class taught?

This is a project-based class. In-class time is spent largely on lectures, discussions, and presentations. Outside of class, students spend most of their time collaborating on group work.

How are the project teams created?

When I say project-based, what I mean is that students come in on day one and the first assignment is to begin an idea journal, a bunch of different ideas about the kind of company they could start. Through that assignment, students identify one or two that they are most interested in and the students who want to lead a team then pitch their idea to the class.

Through that process, other students join them, and it works out into groups of three to four students working on somebody’s idea. I would like to point out that this course is not about the one idea, so don’t get disappointed if your idea is not chosen. This is about the process. It’s about learning the fundamentals and a common language, the approach to entrepreneurship. It’s about the skills that you can use afterwards time and time and time again.

You teach this class with Bill Aulet, the creator of the Disciplined Entrepreneurship framework. What is that like? How do you split things up?

Yes! It’s a privilege to teach “New Enterprises” with Bill; he literally wrote the book on this! Bill knows the content and the cases better than anyone and always has a good story for students. Bill and I both lecture and facilitate discussions in class. We bring different perspectives, and are both available to help student teams as they apply the entrepreneurial process. Students say that our teaching styles complement each other nicely.

How intense is this class compared to other entrepreneurship classes?

This is a very demanding class. It is not something students can come in and just breeze through. When students sign up for the class because they think they will breeze through it, they typically show up in the first week, but by the second week they’re not there anymore. We really do want the people who are most interested in being engaged in this class. They’ll get a lot out of it. Students really love “New Enterprises.”

Which topics within “New Enterprises” do you enjoy teaching the most?

Throughout the semester, we’ll see students scramble because they’re doing so much so quickly. And, at any given point in time, they’re focused on one very specific aspect of their new venture. But, about halfway through the semester and at the very end of the semester, we have mock board meetings. The purpose of these board meetings is to pull together all the work they’ve done to that point and present it very concisely to experienced external judges.

The student teams present what they’ve done and think about their journey through the 24 steps holistically. Seeing it come together and seeing inflection points throughout the semester, that’s what’s most interesting to me because it feels like you have just this whole mess and then they pull it all together and it is truly compelling.

Which topics do you think students get the most benefit from?

“New Enterprises” introduces students to entrepreneurship in a very rigorous setting. Outside of this course, you could pick up the book and work through the steps, but you won’t be challenged the way you’re challenged in 15.390. I can say that with absolute certainty. It is quite a rigorous approach in the class.

What should students be prepared for?

The pace of this course moves extremely quickly. The purpose is not to get everything perfect, but to work through each of the 24 steps and get to know the Disciplined Entrepreneurship process so you can do it again and again and again. Fast-paced would certainly be the headline for “New Enterprises.”

Do you have guest lecturers? If so, can you give an example of a guest speaker you’ve had in the past?

Yes, we bring in a few guests throughout the semester, mainly towards the end to pull everything together. “You’ve learned all this. What do you do with it now? What are those next steps?” We try to rotate the guest speakers, and they are typically people who have taken this class in the past.

One guest speaker we’ve had recently is Adam Blake; he did a great session on SaaS metrics and it was very well received. Adam is a serial entrepreneur, he co-founded Telescoped and ThriveHive and several other companies, and is also an active startup advisor and investor.

Can you name some of the startups that have come out of this class?

There’s really a whole host of companies with founders and co-founders who have taken this course. Everyone from HubSpot and PillPack to Klarity, Ocular Technologies, WellNested, and so many others.

Any last helpful info or tips for students considering this class?

The way that this class is designed within the larger class portfolio, “New Enterprises” is the best starting point. Absolutely everybody should take it as it gives you that common language and that common way of thinking about entrepreneurship so that when you go into a class on entrepreneurial sales or you go into a class like GSD or you go into a class like FinTech Ventures or Mobility Ventures, you have the same comprehensive approach as classmates.

You’ll also have much more knowledge in those classes than classmates who have not already taken “New Enterprises.” You are hands-down way more prepared, whereas people who go straight into those classes lack the foundational knowledge.