Entrepreneurial Spirit / January 18, 2004

Smith's Groundbreaking MBA Venture Capital Course Named Outstanding Entrepreneurship Course of the Year

The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, has won the 2003 national Outstanding Entrepreneurship Course of the Year award from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) for its groundbreaking course in which MBA students work with the $20-million New Markets Growth Fund (NMGF). The course, New Markets Growth Fund Practicum, was unanimously selected as the winner at the 18th Annual USASBE Annual Conference in Dallas on Jan. 18, 2004.

The NMGF, initiated by the Smith School's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship several years ago, is a venture capital fund that invests in early and expansion stage companies, primarily located in economically distressed sections of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Investors in the NMGF include public entities, private institutions, and high-net-worth individuals.

Twelve second-year MBA students participate in the two-semester New Markets Growth Fund Practicum each year. Students devote 15 hours per week to the course, including regularly scheduled class time, but the bulk of the work is directly related to the fund.

"Venture capital is an extremely difficult profession to break into at the entry level," said Mark Grovic, the Smith School adjunct professor who teaches the course. "This course allows MBA students to gain valuable experience as actual 'associates' of a venture fund under the supervision of the senior management team, which includes seasoned venture capitalists, former CEOs, and award-winning professors," said Grovic, who is also founding partner and managing director of the NMGF.

Contenders for the Outstanding Entrepreneurship Course of the Year award were judged on a set of five criteria: innovativeness and uniqueness, quality and effectiveness, comprehensiveness and/or range of application, longevity and/or depth of support, and entry transferability to other USASBE members.

The competition was broken up into two rounds. During the first round, a panel of six judges reviewed written proposals and selected qualifying entries. Three finalists from each of six categories submitted comprehensive packages and were invited to the conference in Dallas to present their programs. Other finalists in the Outstanding Entrepreneurship Course of the Year category were the University of Georgia and the University of Nebraska.

Michael Morris, competition judge and Witting Chair in Entrepreneurship and executive director of the Program in Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises at Syracuse University's School of Management, said, "A number of things made Smith's course stand out. The scope of what's being done, particularly. It's highly experiential - beyond the classroom - and new ventures have resulted and can result. It's cleverly financed, mixing public and private funds," he added.

Morris said that entrepreneurship is exploding - new courses are in abundance. To have "the outstanding course" is more meaningful in entrepreneurship than in other fields. It's hard to have a unique program, "a truly unique, outstanding, innovative course - it's very competitive," said Morris.

"Truly unique" is also how MBA student Asher Epstein, Dingman Scholar and president of the Entrepreneurship Club, describes the opportunity. "Each student is tasked with serious responsibilities that require thoughtful analysis and diligent focus. These practical tasks provide a strong insight into the skills and abilities required to be a successful private equity investor," said Epstein. "As an MBA student, it is refreshing to see that the Smith School is willing to challenge the conventional approaches to a business education and develop meaningful opportunities for students to expand their experiences beyond the classroom."

"We get several applications for every one student selected to join the NMGF team," said Grovic. "Students chosen are the best of the best - they have outstanding work experience and are leaders in and outside of the Smith MBA program."

USASBE is a national organization that works to advance knowledge and foster business development through entrepreneurship education and research.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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