Idea2Launch teaches marketing via hands-on, semester-long project
New class gives ‘a taste of what it’s like to be a real entrepreneur’
American educational philosopher John Dewey pioneered the idea, in academia, of learning by doing. Make students do something, not just listen to lectures, Dewey said, and “learning naturally results.”
The same sort of thinking undergirds Idea2Launch, a new marketing class at BC taught by Bridget Akinc, a CSOM senior lecturer in marketing, and Brian Harrington, entrepreneur in residence at the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship.
The class is built around a single semester-long project. Over 12 weeks, students, working in small groups, conceive of an idea for a new product or service and shepherd it all the way through to a formal presentation to a group of executives.
“Often, marketing is taught by combining theory and tools—‘Here are the techniques you employ as a marketer, and here’s how you implement them,’” Akinc said. “We wanted this to be very hands-on.”
Forty-two students enrolled last fall, and several of them ended up using their projects as entries into BC’s Elevator Pitch competition. One idea developed in the class, Darkroom, a web-based platform from which photographers can sell professional-quality prints, ended up winning the competition.
The class germinated in conversations between Akinc and Harrington, both veteran marketers. Akinc previously worked for several Silicon Valley-based software companies. Harrington ’89 was chief marketing officer for Zipcar, a Boston-based car-sharing network. They met when Harrington visited campus in 2014 as part of the Carroll School’s Distinguished Marketer Lecture Series. Friendship and collaboration ensued.
When the Carroll School of Management created its entrepreneurship co-concentration last year, the two instructors saw an opening for a new kind of class. “Our aim was to give students a taste of what it’s like to be a real entrepreneur,” Akinc said.
Adds Harrington: “We wanted them to be able to analyze a market opportunity—to assess whether an idea could be successful in the market.”
To teach that kind of thinking, the professors began by asking everyone in the class to generate at least three business ideas. They then grouped the students into teams, and each team had to winnow its members’ ideas down to one they were willing to pursue as a project.
Over the course of the semester, as the groups refined their ideas, they had to submit two milestone papers. In the first, they defined their market, answering the question, Who’s the customer? In the second, they presented their go-to-market plan. It had to be based on primary research, such as surveys or interviews with potential customers.
The students also did a field study, visiting HubSpot, a sales-and-marketing software company in Cambridge. There, they met with CEO Brian Halligan. Other marketing executives came to campus to speak with the group, including Lesley Mottla of M.Gemi, Denis Scott of OpenTable, and Peter Bell of Highland Capital.
The class culminated with the students’ presentations of go-to-market plans to the judges and their classmates. Last fall’s judges, in addition to Akinc and Harrington, were Nick Rellas ’13, co-founder and CEO of Drizly, and Stephanie Shore, chief marketing officer of Moo.com.
“A big part of the final presentations is learning how to handle questions,” Akinc said. “Ideally, we want them to be so prepared that they’ll have what Brian calls ‘back-pocket slides’—not ones that are part of their presentations but extras that anticipate likely questions.”
Idea2Launch is open to any upper-level BC student and requires no application (though that might change in the future). Among the fall 2016 class, Akinc said, were students who’d previously started businesses and others who were new to entrepreneurship.
Caroline Grindrod ’17 said she hadn’t considered working for a startup until she took the class last fall. “I thought startups were for tech people,” she said. She enrolled because she’s a marketing concentrator who’d enjoyed a prior class taught by Prof. Akinc.
Idea2Launch changed her outlook about her career, and she’s now looking for opportunities with startups for when she graduates this spring. Part of the reason is the startup ethos she learned about in the class, she said.
“I loved the do-or-die mentality—that you learn by going after something. I’d heard the saying that ‘Every problem is an opportunity.’ But I never really believed that before this class. The class made me listen to and think about people’s problems in a different way.”