Class Notes: Getting down to Business in Startup Lab
One Tuesday morning this past January, Chris Klaus stood in a room in his namesake building to talk with 30-plus students about what it takes to build a startup.
The 50-minute talk was unique in that it was given by a Tech alumnus and donor, but as for its format or content, Klaus is just one of several guest entrepreneurs to visit the class, a new offering this semester called Startup Lab.
“The focus is on better equipping students to pursue startup creation,” said Professor Raghupathy Sivakumar of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who teaches the course. “They could do this coming out of the class, a few months down the road, or even after graduating.”
The course begins with students hearing from a different guest each week about his or her experience in a startup or entrepreneurial environment. Students then team up to develop a business model for a startup idea of their own under the guidance of co-instructors Keith McGreggor and Paul Freet from the Georgia Tech Venture Lab.
“The class has a fantastic structure,” said Megna Saha, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major who enrolled in the course to sharpen her business acumen. “I feel like my communication has improved, but also my imagination and creativity are being cultivated.”
Klaus talked about his experience founding his first company, Internet Security Systems, from his dorm in Smith Hall. IBM eventually bought ISS for $1.3 billion. Klaus went on to start Kaneva, a social gaming company based in Atlanta. In his Startup Lab visit, Klaus covered topics including gamification, metrics, and customer validation. Other subjects to be discussed throughout the semester include opportunity identification, ideation, customer discovery, market analysis, business models, intellectual property, and raising capital.
“Even students who want to go work for established companies can thrive in such environments if they are entrepreneurial,” Sivakumar said. They'll also be living out Tech's strategic goal of ensuring entrepreneurship is a fundamental characteristic of its graduates.
The class requires no prerequisites and is cross-listed in electrical and computer engineering, biomedical engineering, and mechanical engineering, but Sivakumar hopes to open it to even more students when he offers it again next spring. He emphasizes cross-pollination of ideas and team members from different disciplines.
During his visit, Klaus echoed the need for collaboration, advising students to seek partners at neighboring universities such as the Savannah College of Art and Design. He dismissed the notion that students are too young to start companies or that age bias in the marketplace should stop them.
“The reason to do a startup is to change the world and create value,” Klaus said.
Students interested in doing either of those things can enroll in Startup Lab in Spring 2015, or visit create.gatech.edu to explore more opportunities at Tech for exploring the startup world.