Suzanne Bergmeister, is the full-time entrepreneur-in-residence and assistant director at the Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Louisville. Forcht’s programs have been consistently ranked among the top programs for entrepreneurship by U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, Entrepreneur Magazine, and the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Louisville Future sat down with Suzanne to talk about the center’s Innovation MBA program, formerly known as the Entrepreneurship MBA.
What has changed in the program in the last couple of years?
Bergmeister: We rebranded the Entrepreneurship MBA to the Innovation MBA and shortened it to 13 months. The name was changed to reflect the fact that in the program students don’t just learn theoretically about entrepreneurship and innovation; we offer them hands-on experience. The goal is not necessarily for students to come out of the program with established businesses, although many of them do. The goal is education, but businesses being created is a frequent byproduct.
What does the program include?
Bergmeister: Our Innovation MBA students get all the core courses that regular MBA students do, like marketing and finance. But they also have hands-on innovation courses, like opportunity discovery, venture launch, venture accelerator, social entrepreneurship, and venture finance. We give them the tools, have them go through a design thinking exercise where they’re helping an entrepreneur solve a problem. They keep an idea journal. They take their top idea and then they create a plan around it, going through all the steps of de-risking it, etc. It’s real-world.
What is your background?
Bergmeister: I have a master’s degree in engineering and my background is in venture capital (most recently with Chrysalis Ventures in Louisville); I was on the investor side for about 13 years. I am also the former chair and president of Venture Connectors and one of the founders of the Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NEW).
You’re not a lecture-delivery professor?
Bergmeister: No. My colleague, Mary Topolsky, and I don’t do a lot of classroom lectures. Mary has a PhD in chemistry but she has worked for years in college tech transfer. We do what they call a “flipped classroom” using the Lean LaunchPad methodology, where the students present and then we critique what they’re doing: value proposition canvas, business model canvas, their discovery interviews with their customer segments trying to validate, etc.
The program also prepares students to go out and pitch for venture capital, right?
Bergmeister: Absolutely. Angel investors and venture capitalists ask tough questions. Those who graduate from our program are very good at doing presentation and pitches. UofL pays for our teams to travel all over the world for pitch competitions. If a team wins money at one of the competitions, that money goes directly into the company, not to UofL.
I know you said business creation is not the primary goal of the program, but some successful companies have come out of it. Can you name a few?
Bergmeister: Sure! Inscope Medical Solutions is one. Meta Construction Technologies is a construction tech company that offers innovative software solutions for the heavy highway industry. And Jennifer Williams, who launched Cuddle Clones, which makes custom stuffed animals, did so out of our program. There are a lot more!