The professors at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) believe that we are not merely born with aptitude for innovation, but that it can be taught under EPFL’s Executive MBA. Graduates of the trailblazing programme can apply the quintessential skill to any business they choose in the future. In 2015, the QS World University Rankings ranked EPFL the No. 14 university in the world across all fields and the No. 2 university in the field of engineering and technology. The English-speaking, post-graduate programme was launched under the university’s technology studies, although students do not need a background or interest in technology. Courses teach students the mechanics of how to process a new idea and then commercialize it.
“The programme has always been focused on innovation, but our previous orientation (it was formerly called the Executive MBA in Management of Technology) was on the start-up world. Today we focus more on how to use existing solutions and resources in novel ways, which is the oldest and truest definition of the term entrepreneurship,” Dr. Tilo Peters said, who is both an alumnus of the programme and its Executive Director.
Most students of the programme have post-graduate degrees and five years of professional work experience, but are looking to be engaged at the strategic level of their company. Students tend to be ‘hands-on, roll-up-their-sleeves types’ who want a seat at the executive table, according to Peters.
Through the intensive 16-month programme students cover the entire arc of innovation, beginning with courses on ideation and finishing with bringing a product or service to market. Courses take place on every other Fridays and Saturdays in Lausanne so that students can maintain most of their regular professional activities. In pursuing their degree, students complete three major projects—the first project is done in small groups with other students.
“We see a large range of projects since these groups bring students’ various professional experiences and interests,” Prof. Christopher Tucci said, EPFL’s Dean of the College of Management and Academic Director of the MBA programme. A group of students this year worked on creating a portable electroencephalogram for scanning the brain and wirelessly transmitting the data to a server. Another group worked on a solar-powered electrification system for rural homes in developing countries.
“What’s most important is that students understand that innovation is often about the chain of management to get the idea off the ground—they have to understand the perspective of stakeholders and clients,” Prof. Tucci said.
The second project students complete is an individual one addressing an existing problem or implementing a new product within the company where they work. This project is supervised by one person within the student’s company and by a professor or academic specialist associated with the programme.
“It is our core belief that we need to teach participants how to harness innovation in their current business environment that brings value back to the organization,” Dr. Peters said. One recent graduate explored how his multinational IT company could make its product development process leaner. Another graduate pitched why his consulting company should offer clients cyber security services. Within five years of graduating, about 80 percent of the MBA students are promoted within their companies or get new jobs.
The third and final project takes students around the world to apply their newly-acquired skills in real life. This fall, students will spend 10 days in Cape Town, South Africa, where they are matched up with local businesses. Students will study the business and make proposals as to how it can solve a specific challenge that the business is facing.
“We’ve taken students to Texas and China, but there is so much exciting entrepreneurship going on in South Africa that there is room for a lot of fun and intense work,” Prof. Tucci said.
He first became connected with South Africa when he launched a five-week Massive Open Online Course or “MOOC” that attracted more than 1,600 African entrepreneurs and another 10,000 students worldwide.
The completely free online course taught students business management skills, how to pitch a proposal and crowd-fund a campaign. The top three students were awarded $2,500 to fund their business idea. (For more information visit: https://www.coursera.org/course/ venture).
“For our MBA students, this last, mandatory study trip is a great bonding experience before they graduate and return to the business world,” Prof. Tucci added.
For more information visit: http://mot.epfl.ch/
Article by Paige Baschuk