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Course Information

This course (MBA 295 - Spring - 3 Units) provides real world, hands-on learning on what it’s like to actually start a company. This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research library to size markets. And the end result is not a PowerPoint slide deck for a VC presentation or a Y-Combinator Demo Day. And it is most definitely not an incubator where you come to build the “hot-idea” that you have in mind.


This class combines theory with a ton of hands-on practice. Our goal, within the constraints of a classroom and a limited amount of time, is to give you a framework to test the business model of a startup while creating all of the pressures and demands of the real world in an early stage startup. The class is designed to give you the experience of how to work as a team and turn an idea into a company.


You will be getting your hands dirty talking to customers, partners and competitors as you encounter the chaos and uncertainty of how a startup actually works. You’ll practice evidence-based entrepreneurship as you learn how to use a business model to brainstorm each part of a company and customer development to get out of the classroom to see whether anyone other than you would want/use your product. Finally, based on the customer and market feedback you gathered, you will use agile development to rapidly iterate your product or concept to build/design something customers would actually buy and use. Each block will be a new adventure outside the classroom as you test each part of your business model and then share the hard earned knowledge with the rest of the class.

Course Information Sessions

  • Admission is by teams of 5 Berkeley Graduate students (all years) from any school or department

  • Berkeley Undergraduate students are not allowed to officially enroll

  • Your entire team must attend the first class to be enrolled.

  • The class list will be posted online

  • Teams must submit a business model canvas prior to the class start date.


  • Non-graduates and non-students can serve as advisors to the teams but our priority is providing a learning environment for Berkeley Graduate students.

  • This is a very intense class with a very high workload. We expect you to invest at least 10-15 hours per week.

Attendance and Participation
  • You cannot miss the first class without prior approval

  • If you cannot commit to 10-15 hours a week outside the classroom, this class is not for you

  • If during the semester you find you cannot continue to commit the time, immediately notify your team members and teaching team and drop the class

  • We expect your attention during our presentations and those of your fellow students

  • We ask that you use a name card during every session of the quarter

  • During your classmates’ presentations you will be required to give feedback online via the LaunchPad Central system. Please bring a laptop (and charger, if necessary) to every class and be prepared to give your undivided attention to the team at the front of the room


The Flipped Classroom Model

Unlike a traditional classroom where the instructor presents lecture material, our lectures are online in LaunchPad Central (you will receive access once you are enrolled in the course). Watching the assigned lectures is part of your weekly homework. The information in them is essential for you to complete your weekly interviews and present the insights the teaching team will expect in your presentation for that week. We expect you to watch the assigned lectures for the upcoming week before class and we will use time in class to discuss questions about the lecture material and to provide supplemental material. You need to come prepared with questions or comments about the material for in-class discussion. We will cold-call students to answer questions about the online lecture material.


Experiential Learning

You will be spending a significant amount of time in between each of the lectures outside the class talking to customers. Each week your team will conduct a minimum of 10 customer interviews focused on a specific part of the business model canvas. This class is a simulation of what startups and entrepreneurship is like in the real world: chaos, uncertainty, impossible deadlines in insufficient time, conflicting input, etc.

Inverted Lecture Hall

Sitting in the back of the classroom are experienced instructors and professionals who have built and/or funded world-class startups and have worked with hundreds of entrepreneurial teams. We won’t be lecturing in the traditional sense, but commenting and critiquing on each team’s progress. While the comments may be specific for each team, the insights are almost always applicable to all teams. Pay attention.


Peer to Peer Culture

While other teams are presenting the results of their weekly experiments, the rest of the class is expected to attentively listen, engage, and react to what they see and hear. Sharing insights, experience, and contacts with each other is a key way that this unique laboratory achieves results


Class Culture

Startups communicate in a dramatically different style from the university or large company culture you may be familiar with. At times it can feel brusque and impersonal, but in reality is focused and oriented to create immediate action in time- and cash-constrained environments. We have limited time and we push, challenge, and question you in the hope you will quickly learn. We will be direct, open, and tough just like the real world. This approach may seem harsh or abrupt, but it is all part of our wanting you to learn to challenge yourselves quickly and objectively, and to appreciate that as entrepreneurs you need to learn and evolve faster than you ever imagined possible.

This class pushes many people past their comfort zone. If you believe that your role of your instructors is to praise in public and criticize in private, you’re in the wrong class. Do not take this class. You will be receiving critiques in front of your peers weekly.

The pace and the uncertainty pick up as the class proceeds.

As part of the process, we also expect you to question us, challenge our point of view if you disagree, and engage in a real dialog with the teaching team.


Amount of Work

This class requires a phenomenal amount of work on your part, certainly compared to many other classes. Projects are treated as real start-ups, so the workload will be intense. Teams have reported up to 20 hours of work each each week. Getting out of the classroom is what the effort is about. If you can’t commit the time to talk to customers, this class is not for you. Teams are expected to have completed at least 10 in person or Skype video interviews each week focused in the business model canvas area of emphasis for that week

This means in total over the 15-week course you will have completed in the range of 100 interviews.


Team Organization

This class is team-based. Working and studying will be done in teams. Teams must submit a proposal for entry before the class begins. Projects must be approved before the class.

The teams will self-organize and establish individual roles on their own. There are no formal CEO/VPs, just the constant parsing and allocating of the tasks that need to be done.

In addition to the instructors and TA, each team will be assigned a mentor (an experienced entrepreneur, service provider, consultant, or investor) to provide assistance and support.


Pre-class Preparation

This class hits the ground running. It assumes you and your team have come into class having read the assigned reading, viewed the online lectures, and prepared a set of contacts to call on.

Suggested Projects

While your first instinct may be a web-based startup we suggest that you consider a subject in which you are a domain expert, such as your graduate research. In all cases, you should choose something for which you have passion, enthusiasm, and hopefully some expertise.


Only Project

Given the amount of work this class entails, there is no way you can do the work while participating in multiple startups. A condition of admission to the class is that this is the only startup you are working on this quarter/semester.



Meaningful customer discovery requires the development of a minimum viable product (MVP). Therefore, each team should have the applicable goal of the following:

  1. Teams building a physical product must show us a costed bill of materials and a prototype.

  2. Teams building a web product need to build the site, create demand and have customers using it. See

  3. Your weekly LaunchPad Central narrative is an integral part of your deliverables. It’s how we measure your progress.

  4. Your team will present a weekly in-class Powerpoint summary of progress.


Grading Criteria

This course is team-based and 85% of your grade will come from your team progress and final project. The grading criteria are broken down as follows:

15% Individual participation in class. You will be giving feedback to your peers.

40% Out-of-the-building progress as measured by blog write-ups and presentations each week.

Team members must:

1) update business model canvas weekly

2) identify which team member did which portion of the work.

3) detailed report on what the team did each week

4) weekly email of team member participation

20% The team weekly “lessons learned” presentation

25% The team final report


Shared Material

Your weekly presentations and final Lessons Learned presentations will be shared and visible to others. We may be video taping and sharing many of the class sessions.

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