Engineering News
September 1, 2006 Vol.77, no. 3F

ENTREPRENEUR IN INDUSTRY AND ACADEMIA: IEOR adjunct professor Jon Burgstone launched the College’s entrepreneurship program. PHOTO PROVIDED BY JON BURGSTONE

New entrepreneurial program a startup success
Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology grabs student interest

As an entrepreneur turned investor, Jon Burgstone has an eye for possibilities. If there’s a market for it, he can make it happen. Three and a half years ago, he recognized a possibility right here in the College. He was teaching a Leadership and Organizations class in the IEOR department when undergraduate students approached him, asking about engineering entrepreneurship. Was there a class for engineers, they wanted to know. There wasn’t, but Burgstone recognized a possibility when he saw one. Not only should there be one, he thought, there should be a whole entrepreneurship program. A startup center within the traditional engineering curriculum.

That kind of thinking is nothing new to Burgstone. Earlier in his career, he co-founded Supplier Market, a leading Internet supply chain software provider, and sold it for more than $1 billion. “It was successful in large part because I had professors at Harvard who took an interest in it and helped me along the way,” he says. “I wanted to give back, and Berkeley offered the biggest opportunity for that.”

After getting buy-in from Dean Richard Newton and IEOR faculty and support from entrepreneurial leaders in Silicon Valley, Burgstone introduced the College’s first engineering entrepreneurship class in the spring of 2004. Students signed up in such droves that it was oversubscribed by four to one.

Today, Burgstone’s vision is thriving. The College’s Center for Entrepreneur-ship and Technology (CET) has advised between 20 and 30 startup teams, Burgstone estimates; four to five are working to raise money. Some 800 students have taken CET classes in entrepreneurship, marketing and finance. The program also features a guest lecture series, workshops, opportunities to network and a certificate of mastery. “We teach the entrepreneurial process and give students a set of tools to translate their technical and scientific skills into commercially viable ideas,” Burgstone explains. “Essentially what we’re doing is increasing the students’ chances of success in entrepreneurship.”

 Central tools of CET are case studies and simulation exercises where students put themselves in the shoes of an entrepreneur. For example, Burgstone asks students to conduct mock negotiations and then leads the class in a discussion of the outcome, which party prevailed, and how it could have gone better.

Even with all this success, Burgstone’s greatest satisfaction is the feedback he gets from CET alumni in the field, alumni like Andrew Laffoon (B.S.’05 IEOR).

“CET equipped me in ways that were different from my engineering education,” Laffoon says. Looking back, he reports, the case studies and exposure to practicing entrepreneurs truly prepared him for real world situations. “My passion for entrepreneurship was really stoked.” So much so that, thanks to CET, Laffoon is now firing up his own company.

For more information on CET, go to http://cet.berkeley.edu/.

 


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