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Entrepreneurship Class Goes Global

Students Collaborate with Peers from India, Japan, China, Thailand and Guyana

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Students in the global entrepreneurship graduate course presented their projects on the last day of the class.

07/16/2015
By Ed Brennen

Amy Jussaume had just returned from a nine-day mission to Honduras, where the Manning School of Business alumna helped build a water filtration system for a local village, when she received a text message.

It was her friend in India, Koustubh Mannari, whom Jussaume met as a senior in 2014 while participating in the university’s first-ever Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation course. Mannari was thinking of asking his boss for a transfer within his company and he wanted Jussaume’s advice on what to say.

“A year and a half ago I had met this person in India and now I’m giving him business advice. That right there tells you how much of an impact the global entrepreneurship class and experience had on me,” says Jussaume, who shared the story with the record 55 students participating in the fourth edition of the course, held in June. Jussaume returned to the class as a guest speaker, describing her experiences to current students.

Led by MSB lecturers Ashwin Mehta and Deborah Finch and Nitin Kulkarni from the B.V. Bhoomaraddi College of Engineering and Technology (BVB) in Hubli, India, the intensive, three-credit course brings together students from diverse academic disciplines and cultures to collaborate in small groups on entrepreneurial projects, primarily in the fields of medical devices and assistive technologies. 

Vice Provost for Graduate and International Affairs and Strategy Kathy Carter, an early champion of the course that alternates between winter sessions in India and summers sessions in Lowell, believes it’s a model for preparing students for success in the global economy.  

“In addition to gaining knowledge in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation, students develop an appreciation for other disciplines, an understanding of other cultures and perhaps most importantly, an opportunity to build personal and professional confidence,” says Carter, who provided feedback on groups’ final presentations.

Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney welcomed the students during a reception at University Crossing, telling them, “This program symbolizes what this university’s transformation is all about. Internationalizing our campus and integrating entrepreneurship across the curriculum are central to this transformation.”

Diversifying the Mix

By expanding to include 23 graduate students from China, Guyana, Thailand and Japan (via the Abitus partnership), along with 17 graduate students from BVB and 15 undergraduate and graduate students from UMass Lowell, this summer’s class was the largest and most diverse yet.

“With a heterogeneous class like we have this time, there is a tremendous amount of conceptual learning and contextualization of what they’re studying in the classroom,” says Kulkarni, director of BVB’s Center for Technology Entrepreneurship. “How are people in China thinking? How are people in Japan thinking? What is happening in the U.S.? Why is it such a great place? They see things firsthand, they do not just read about them. That brings a different level of competency.”

Classroom learning in the morning, which included lectures from Asst. Profs. Michael Obol (marketing research) and Michael Ciuchta (finance) and lecturer Ralph Jordan (team building), was followed by group project work each afternoon. Social outings, such as trips to Hampton Beach and Canobie Lake Park, let students bond in a more relaxed setting, while living arrangements at University Suites were designed to encourage multicultural exchange.
 
“By the end of the second day we couldn’t believe how quickly they’d bonded,” says Finch, who adds that each project group was represented by at least three different countries and included at least one business student. 

“Any time you get together engineers and business majors, a lot of exciting stuff can happen with that crossover,” says Francis College of Engineering Dean Joseph Hartman, who also welcomed students at the University Crossing event. “The students are so excited with what’s going on, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.”

Getting results

Groups were assigned projects from a pool that included four M2D2 projects and four DifferenceMaker projects, including the startup Nonspec.

Hilary Benjamin-Byer, one of seven students participating from the University of Guyana, was part of the team that worked on Netlane, a 2015 DifferenceMaker Idea Challenge semifinalist that seeks to use commuters’ mobile device information to help address traffic congestion.

“I want to bring this entrepreneurial culture to our country and help to move the country forward as it relates to technology,” says Benjamin-Byer, who is studying computer science.

Playable Therapy, another DifferenceMaker project that aims to allow physical therapists to monitor their patients’ exercises at home through Microsoft Kinect’s motion tracking interface, had two of its founders — seniors Mark McGrotty and Lucas Brown — in the course. As a result of their group’s SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), they will likely pivot their business plan.

“We came to the conclusion that we’ll try to be a domestic product for the time being,” says Brown, an English major. “It’s a strange realization to come to in the middle of this class, but it’s our only comfortable user base so far.”

Yuko Takahashi, who is earning her MBA online from UMass Lowell through Abitus in Japan, was able to not only provide her business perspective to the Playable Therapy group, but also visit campus for the first time.

“With the online program you’re basically on your own, but here we have all our classmates from all over the world,” Takahashi says. “It was really challenging but also exciting to discuss topics and exchange ideas.”

Mehta says planning is already well underway for the next course, which will start on Dec. 27 in Hubli and likely include students from multiple countries. As it continues to grow, he also sees the possibility of hosting two sessions in Lowell next summer.

“We’re laying the groundwork for the future,” Finch says. “I don’t think any of us when we started out pictured what it is right now. For us to imagine where it could go, it’s very exciting.”