UCSB Tops Harvard & Wharton In Startup Wars

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A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

Want to be an entrepreneur? Don’t go to Wharton or Harvard. Instead, grab your surfboard and head to UC Santa Barbara.

According to a recent Forbes article, UC Santa Barbara’s Technology Management Program offers students a superior startup education over the University of Pennsylvania (home of Wharton), as well Harvard, Northwestern and even its acclaimed southern neighbor, the University of Southern California.

In addition, Entrepreneur Magazine recently included UCSB in its Top 50 Schools For VC Backed Entrepreneurs at number 37. A decent showing, but well below a number of larger schools, as the ranking is based on the number of graduates who secured VC funding.

Although UCSB has room to grow with regard to the total number of VC-backed startups it generates, the Santa Barbara region fares well when its relative size is taken into account. As shown below, it was recently ranked as the fifth most active metropolitan area in the US, in terms of venture deals and dollars, on a per capita basis.

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What is most surprising about UCSB’s national entrepreneurial ranking is that it doesn’t even have a business school. Instead of a traditional business school’s case study and textbook approach, UCSB’s Technology Management Program (TMP) emphasizes experiential learning.

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Organic Academia

The TMP is an example of lean academia. Unlike most university programs that are over architected and underfunded, the TMP evolved organically, based on the demands of its students and input from the local community. This allowed the curriculum to efficiently find its product / market fit. I watched the process firsthand, as I have been an entrepreneurial Instructor in the Program for the past eight years.

The TMP began in the late 1990’s as a single class inside the Engineering College. However, just as Uber pushed its way into recalcitrant East Coast cities because of intense customer demand, the TMP marshaled a critical mass of the University’s resources due to tireless student activism and the resoundingly positive feedback (and donor dollars) from the parents of TMP graduates.

In addition to an Undergraduate Certificate, the Program is launching a Master of Technology Management degree in 2015. According to Bob York, Chair of the TMP and a tenured professor of electrical and computer engineering, evaluation for acceptance to the masters program will include a, “demonstrated potential for leadership,” a criteria that is traditionally missing when graduate programs assess technical students. York reinforced the role that leadership will play in the graduate program by further stating that, “This program will propel students with advanced technical qualifications to successful careers as business leaders and entrepreneurs.”

Techpreneurs

Brad Feld points out in his widely-read book Startup Communities, that business schools within universities are generally devoid of innovation and thus are not engines of entrepreneurship. Brad believes that by placing entrepreneurial programs within Business Schools, “…a university creates a dynamic by which the business people wait for the innovators to come to them, while the innovators are heads down in their labs…”  He goes on to note that, “In most cases, this innovation is outside the business school – in engineering, computer science, life science departments and the labs.” 

UC Santa Barbara has avoided this mistake by placing its Program within the Engineering department. Although the classes are open to students of all disciplines, the Program’s primary focus in on educating “techpreneurs.”

All-Star Alumni

Am I biased? Of course. However, my hometown favoritism does not diminished the fact that the TMP offers a highly effective curriculum, as evidenced by the dozens of successful companies spawned by the Program, including the following:

Inogen (NASDAQ: INGN) – With a market cap in excess of $376 million, Inogen created the portable oxygen concentrator market. Inogen’s products have allowed hundreds of thousands of housebound lung disease patients to leave their homes without the fear of running out of oxygen.

Lettuce – After taking orders on a homemade inventory app at a tradeshow, my former students realized that their app was generating more excitement than the company’s dog toys. The company quickly pivoted to create a SaaS solution and in less than two years later, it was acquired by Intuit for $30 million.

Sirigen – The company has commercialized High Sensitivity Fluorescence polymers that are utilized by a variety of industries. The company was acquired by Becton, Dickinson and Company during August of 2012, for approximately $65 million.

Apeel Sciences – Founded in 2012, after winning $10,000 at UCSB’s New Venture Competition, the company closed $1.25M in funding during 2013. Derived from uneaten plant material, the company has developed an invisible “peel” that significantly improves produce quality and shelf life. Recognizing the potential of the technology to enhance the welfare of impoverished farmers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Apeel $100,000 to explore applications in regions which lack access to refrigeration.

iCracked – Founded in 2010 by UCSB and Cal Poly-SLO graduates, iCracked is now the largest on-demand network for smartphone repair and trade-in. With over 700 certified iTechs nationwide and abroad, the company’s 2014 revenues are rumored to surpass $30 million.

PhoneHalo – The company’s TrackR product is a coin-sized device that easily attaches to valuable items and allows them to be located within seconds via a smartphone. If you lose your phone, you can find it by clicking on a TrackR device.

Because of Hope – The TMP does not solely focus on the creation of tech companies. Because of Hope is a non-profit which empowers Ugandan widows and orphans to emerge from poverty through sustainable micro-startups.

Salty Girl Seafood – Another focus of the TMP is the recruitment and mentoring of women entrepreneurs. A great example of this initiative is Salty Girl Seafood, which is the brainchild to two startup-minded women. The company provides chefs, restaurant managers and consumers the provenance of the seafood they purchased; how and when it was caught and what species it is, which eliminates the possibility of eating tilapia when you purchased red snapper.

Follow my startup-oriented  Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never Tweet about that killer burrito I just ate – just startup stuff.

Image Credit: University Of California, Santa Barbara

John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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