The Course
15.389 Global Entrepreneurship Lab

Instructors
Simon Johnson PhD ’89
Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship; Professor, Global Economics and Management; Cofounder, Global Entrepreneurship Lab

Michellana Jester
Lecturer, Global Economics and Management

From the Catalog
The Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab) is a graduate-level class in the MIT Sloan School of Management focused on the experiential study of the climate for innovation and determinants of entrepreneurial success. Students work in teams of four with the top management of a company to address a real-world business challenge, gaining insight as to how companies build, run, and scale a new enterprise. The projects focus primarily on startups operating in emerging markets. G-Lab is the largest of MIT Sloan’s Action Learning labs, which emphasize the Institute’s philosophy of practical education and learning by doing.

  • Jester: “We’ll be in anywhere from 12 to 16 different countries. The industries are very different, so challenges can be fairly nuanced.”

How it Works

G-Lab brings second-year MIT Sloan MBA students together to work with companies in emerging markets in regions such as Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The relationship is mutually beneficial: companies get the expertise students have generated throughout their first year at MIT Sloan, and students get to put their coursework and past experience into practice to solve a real-world business problem.

  • Kelsey Sommers MBA ’20, working in Vietnam with The Coffee House: “Taking an Action Learning course like this is a great way to actually be making a tangible difference.”

Over the summer, small-scale companies submit proposals to G-Lab outlining challenges they are facing in their businesses. They might be interested in new ways to scale their inventory, for example, or hope to take advantage of social media to break into new markets. At the start of the fall semester, teams are matched with businesses based on an evaluation of both the students’ areas of interest and the businesses’ immediate needs.

Teams are also assigned mentors—MIT lecturers with some combination of deep country, industry, or domain experience. The highlight of the course comes during January’s Independent Activities Period, when the teams work in their companies’ home countries to test and implement the recommendations they have constructed during the fall term.

  • Johnson: “This part, for the students, is a conscious effort to explore the world and to find ways to be helpful to people in very different business and cultural contexts.”
  • Lea Daigle MBA ’20, working in Peru with the bakery Mária Almenara: “My favorite thing is [working] with a company in a market and on a problem that I may never have the opportunity to work on again.”

Week to Week

The first few weeks of the term consist of lectures about special considerations in emerging markets. Students learn how to work within different political systems and about the ins and outs of securing funding and other resources in diverse cultures across the world. From there, teams begin to workshop their challenges. Along the way, they maintain frequent contact with their assigned businesses to ensure that the solutions they are devising—anything from a digital dashboard for decision-making to a detailed expansion plan—will meet the companies’ stated needs.

Successful entrepreneurs share their experiences in a series of guest lectures throughout the semester. Students in fall 2019 heard from Adrian Garcia-Aranyos, president of Endeavor Global, and Adetayo Bamiduro MBA ’15, a G-Lab alum who began the motorcycle transit startup MAX.NG in Nigeria.

Teams present their work twice: in an open mic-style session midway through the semester and in a longer, more formal setting during the last few weeks of class. In both cases, other MIT Sloan students, MIT faculty, and staff are invited to provide commentary intended to strengthen and solidify the proposed solutions before teams travel abroad. In January, the students spend three weeks on site with their companies to conduct primary research, test their hypotheses, fine-tune their work, and deliver final recommendations. When they return to MIT at the start of the spring semester, students attend an informal reflection session to discuss their respective in-country experiences.

  • Jester: “They need to come up with an immediately actionable solution to the company’s challenge, not a nice coffee table book.”

History

G-Lab was founded in 2000 in response to student requests for hands-on work with companies in emerging markets. Using the existing Entrepreneurship Lab as a jumping-off point, Johnson, along with then-MIT professor Richard Locke PhD ’89, designed G-Lab to give students opportunities to stretch their skills in unfamiliar markets and locations. The class was wildly popular; at its height, 180 students were enrolled. The class has since limited enrollment to 120 students to maintain intimacy between groups and mentors, but it remains the largest Action Learning course at MIT Sloan.

  • Jester: “It’s an interdisciplinary approach to a real-world business challenge, and that opportunity makes the course very attractive.”

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