Stanford Ignite welcomes humanities grad students, Silicon Valley

Stanford Ignite, a program offered by the Graduate School of Business’ Global Innovation Program, is now opening up to a wider range of participants, encouraging both Silicon Valley community members and humanities graduate students to join its cohort this summer.

Ignite was developed in 2007 to provide non-business graduate students an opportunity to experience the academic foundation for starting a new company or growing a new line of business within a corporation.

The program has two major components: to expose participants to basic business fundamentals so that they have an entrepreneurial foundation and to place participants into teams to develop business plans that produce real products and ideas.

This is meant to mimic the intensity of working in a startup or in a new venture, said Yossi Feinberg, faculty director.

According to Feinberg, one of the major changes the program recently went through was adding non-Stanford expertise to the program. For example, the program has expanded its participant pool to more than just Stanford students, opening the application for Ignite to professionals in the Silicon Valley.

“Having that mix of people in the classroom has only enhanced the value of the education we can provide, a way to mix up backgrounds,” said Bethany Coates MBA ’04, associate dean and director of Stanford Global Innovation Programs.

Another way that the program is hoping to increase the diversity in its participants is through educational background.

According to Coates, two-thirds of the Ignite students in the past have come from the School of Engineering or the School of Medicine. However, the program is also hoping for more students with humanities backgrounds.

“Humanities majors bring diversity to the program and that leads to the best teams out there. It’s extremely important to get people who have different perspectives on the same issue,” Feinberg said.

Coates also expressed that because the participants are placed in project groups, the different experiences that students have contribute to the originality of their work.

“Having a wide variety of backgrounds in our class is an important part of innovation,” Coates said.

One of the core parts of the program that will not be changed is the project team structure in which students are grouped into teams to develop a venture plan.

Samuel Mazin M.S. ’04 Ph.D. ’07 PD ’07, a 2008 participant, emphasized that the culmination of the projects was part of the most significant experience he had at Ignite, in particular when he was presenting and being evaluated on his team’s venture pitch to senior venture capitalists (VCs), an experience he likened to being on American Idol.

“The most critical point was the opportunity to present to the VCs and not only hear their critiques of my own presentation but to also observe them critique every other groups’ presentation,” Mazin said. “They were all the Simon Cowells of the VC world, and learning how they thought and what they looked for in evaluating an opportunity was very helpful and empowering.”

Through student feedback, some improvements have been introduced to the project team structure, which, according to Feinberg, include focusing on bringing more attention to team dynamics in the project teams as well as finding mentors from local communities business who are involved in industries relevant to the teams.

Ultimately, the program places greater emphasis on learning the skills to develop a proposal.

“We don’t focus on the project they bring to the class,” Feinberg said. “We focus on the skills they develop in the class.”

Contact Catherine Zaw at czaw13 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

About Catherine Zaw

Catherine Zaw is the Managing Editor of News at The Stanford Daily. She is a senior from Miami, Florida, double majoring in biology and linguistics. To contact her, please email czaw13@stanford.edu.