One of the best things about the Master in International Management program is when you get to the final two terms before the program is complete and you can take your MIM specialization classes. This is especially a really sweet deal if you happen to choose right and you love your specialization classes. To choose “right,” do your research in advance and talk to MIM administration about the classes and each of the instructors (this goes for any of the classes in which you have a choice). In addition, talk to MIMers who have taken the classes you are interested in.
After consulting with the MIM Academic Director, Dr. Cliff Allen, I chose to take MIM 510 Global Entrepreneurship as my final specialization course, taught by first-time Portland State University instructor, Dennis Powers. I agreed with Dr. Allen that getting the “proper tools” such as the knowledge of how to write a business plan would be a good idea for me. If you are having any doubts regarding the specialization track you should take, it is beneficial to talk it over with another party (or parties) who can provide insight and guidance. Do not hesitate to do this!
Specialization classes can be much smaller than other MIM classes, and in Global Entrepreneurship we had only 11 students, which was wonderful for quality individual attention from the instructor. Powers had extremely high expectations for our class. He comes from an extensive background of consulting for start-ups and investor groups. He is a board member of Oregon Entrepreneurs Network and holds regular business plan workshops for entrepreneurs. Powers proceeded to treat our class as if we were young entrepreneurs going through an eight-week workshop with him, just as he would treat any of his professional real-world business clients.
Powers held us to our task, held us accountable for meeting weekly goals, and moved through each class quickly. He did not hold back when it came to constructive feedback on our homework, and we spent the majority of each class actively engaged in group discussion with him, often questioning our peers and providing feedback on business ideas that would eventually morph into 25-page business plans. Honestly, when I think of what I imagined grad school to be like, I imagined a class like this, taught by Powers. This class truly lived up to my expectations of “the grad school experience.”
Assignments consisted of mandatory readings from a few textbooks, The Entrepreneurial Venture by Harvard Business School Press and The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship by Bygrave/Zacharakis – both great reads, by the way. Optional reading assignments came from Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim/Mauborgne and Business Model Generation by Osterwalder/Pigneur. In addition we did a few case study write-ups based upon international business start-ups. However, the bulk of our work related to assignments that would help us write our business plan. This included figuring out our own Blue Ocean Strategy and creating a strategy canvas, creating a business model canvas, completing an elevator pitch workshop, creating an investor presentation, and a stand-alone executive summary document.
The second-to-last class revolved around practicing our investor presentations with Powers analyzing each individual slide while he and our peers provided written feedback for improvements in the final week. In the final class each of us gave our improved formal investor presentation and turned in our 25-page business plans. It is quite amazing that we were able to come up with a business idea in week one and within eight weeks produce a written document that included: an introduction/executive summary, the market opportunity, our products and services, a market analysis, our marketing and sales strategies, operations, management team, advisory team, a thorough financial plan, our funding requirements and use of capital, and an exit strategy. And most important, our document had to have the relevant data and research to back up our plan…it actually had to make sense!
Our class worked hard and fast. Even Powers himself admit that there is no way that in the real world you could come up with an official business plan in just eight weeks. However, he asked us to give it a sincere shot and we delivered. He congratulated our class for working so hard and confessed that in our short eight-week term, we got much further than many of his clients ever do in his professional workshops!
What kinds of tips and hints do I have for you when you are faced with a challenging and fast-paced class like MIM 510 Global Entrepreneurship?
1) Be prepared to cut back other activities in your schedule to put the proper effort toward the work that needs to be done – I will remind you that you get out what it is that you put in. When I realized that I had my work cut out for me and that my priority for the term was to really learn as much as I could from Powers and the process of creating a business plan, I dropped my twice-a-week ballet classes to put more time into homework assignments.
2) Draw from the strengths of your classmates. One of my classmates had prior experience writing business plans so I turned to her for advice on how to get through homework assignments.
3) Turn to your network…when I needed help with the complex financial spreadsheets I turned to an accountant friend and a recent PSU MSFA graduate friend to help me create realistic financial goals for my company.
4) Hoard information like crazy, but in an organized fashion – I will say it again – ORGANIZED, because each class assignment built upon the previous and all of the information gathered over the eight-week period could be used in the final business plan.
And once again, I will stress the “surprise” unexpected benefit of attending network events. One activity that a few classmates and I attended earlier in the year (three of us attended and all three of us ended up taking MIM 510 Global Entrepreneurship) was an Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN) investor seed money competition between a few start-ups. At the time I was vaguely curious, but my main rationale for attending was to support GlobeSherpa, a MIM alumni start up, and to support OEN, my mentor’s organization. I would have never guessed that four months later, having had the opportunity to witness four ten-minute investor presentations complete with five-minute Q&A sessions, that it would help me create my own strong investor presentation for this class. (On a side note, an investor presentation is nothing like any of the other presentations that MIMers will be expected to do for just about every class in the MIM program.) So get out there and attend business networking events during your 15-27 months in the MIM program!