Mark Tebbe speaks
Photo by Anne Ryan

Moving from Idea to Impact

Professor Mark Tebbe's Entrepreneurial Discovery Course Helps Students Find the Right Solutions

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For the lucky few, inspiration can strike just as suddenly and colorfully as it does in the movies: a thunderbolt of creativity. A flash of understanding. The proverbial light bulb over the head. However, for most of us, turning a nascent idea into a plan with real potential is far more difficult. And in the business world, knowing how to identify a winning idea right away saves precious time and resources.

That skill is at the heart of Entrepreneurial Discovery, a class taught in the autumn quarter by Mark Tebbe, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship who is himself a veteran entrepreneur and a longtime judge and mentor in the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge.

The class is, as he puts it, “built up for Booth, by Booth.” Drawing on the school’s tradition of inquiry and analysis, students learn a framework for identifying the “right idea” from the start—a framework that they can translate to other ventures and fields of interest long after they leave the classroom.

“It’s not like saying, ‘Here are the five forms you need to fill in. Step one: fill in here,’” Tebbe explains. “It’s a repeatable approach that requires some insight, requires some approach and requires some legwork on your part. But if you get it right, it works.”

A lab course, Entrepreneurial Discovery delves into the first phase of Booth’s D4 innovation process, which stands for “Discover, Design, Develop, Do.” Students are placed in teams, and each team explores real-world needs in a specific problem area. The course culminates with each team demonstrating a detailed understanding of a business idea, which could later serve as the foundation for a viable business plan.

An essential component of the course is that feedback from customers and other stakeholders inform the teams’ design process from the start—a distinct advantage for students who continue pursuing their idea after the class ends. In fact, Tebbe says, many students who complete Entrepreneurial Discovery have gone on to participate in Developing a New Venture, professor Waverly Deutsch’s course on entrepreneurial execution, as well as the New Venture Challenge itself.

“The beauty of Booth students is that they come from all different experiences and backgrounds,” Tebbe said, noting that the course allows students to bring their interests into the classroom.

One former student, Daniel Valenti, had previously worked for a company that specialized in adventure travel, and began to explore the topic during Entrepreneurial Discovery. 

“He thought that with what he had experienced at Booth, and his adventure travel background, there’s got to be an opportunity there,” Tebbe said. “So he tried to figure out, ‘How can I build trips aimed at this marketplace that will accomplish what pre-MBA programs have accomplished while also giving them an experience, that it’s not just a spoon-fed, guided kind of program?’”

Valenti fleshed out the idea throughout the quarter, and the result was TripWeave—a company that books travel experiences for groups of young adults who share a common school, industry, or job function, and “weaves” local guides in and out of the trip throughout the journey. From the springboard of Entrepreneurial Discovery, Valenti further developed TripWeave in the Building the New Venture course, participated in the New Venture Challenge, and the Polsky Center Accelerator Program.

Other students have used the course’s framework to develop and launch business ideas in different fields than the areas they researched in the class. Still others, Tebbe says, take the lessons of Entrepreneurial Discovery not to a start-up, but to inform how they identify and solve problems in a corporate “intrapreneurship” setting.

Students must apply to participate in the course, but are not required to have a business idea already, he says. Rather, participants should have an interest in exploring the entrepreneurial mindset through hands-on work, and a desire to learn how to quickly identify and weigh solutions.

—By LeeAnn Shelton
March 1, 2016