A forthcoming massive open online course, or MOOC, from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business will enable students to address the needs of for-profit and nonprofit ventures.
Professor Michael Lenox’s “Foundations of Business Strategy” course will offer the support through Coursolve, a platform that connects courses with organizations to empower students to solve real-life challenges. The course, which will offer an overview of the underpinnings of successful business strategies, begins on Labor Day and will run for six weeks.
“Entrepreneurs don’t always have the resources to hire external support to address their needs, but we’ve seen firsthand that students are hungry for the chance to apply their knowledge to real-world problems,” Lenox said. “By collaborating with organizations, students can strengthen their skills development while potentially providing businesses and nonprofits with valuable insights.”
When Lenox first offered the course in March, it quickly became one of the top-enrolled MOOCs, cracking Bloomberg’s Top 10 List in this category. For a final project, students were asked to complete a strategic analysis of an organization of their choosing. While not required, more than 400 students elected to complete analyses in partnership with 100 different organizations, including established businesses, startups, resource-strapped nonprofits and social enterprises. In one such collaboration, insights from a group of students led an entrepreneur to shift his biotech startup from a service-based to a product-based business model.
Lenox worked with Nabeel Gillani, an Oxford University graduate student and co-founder of Coursolve, to gain insights into how these collaborations unfolded.
“We saw some truly compelling interactions that demonstrated the potential of real-world problem solving in education,” Gillani said. “What’s more, both students and organizations expressed interest in future collaborations.
“We’ve analyzed their feedback and used it to design a platform that helps facilitate and scale these connections.”
As executive director of Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Lenox has his finger on the pulse of the many challenges that early-stage startups face. He views Coursolve as a vehicle to provide benefits to students and organizations alike – students will develop core competencies from applying their learning to real-world contexts, while entrepreneurs and nonprofits will gain insights from students’ analyses.
For their final project, students in Lenox’s MOOC will again choose an organization and conduct a strategic analysis. Lenox encourages entrepreneurs and nonprofit professionals to post their needs to Coursolve to receive support from students.
“More than one student may address a need, but there is no guarantee that all organizational needs will be met,” Lenox said. “This platform is an opportunity to pool vast intellectual resources to improve these odds.”