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Mark Tebbe never studied for an MBA. After completing his computer science degree in 1982, he joined accounting firm Arthur Andersen then launched Lante, a technology consultancy that he sold 20 years later for $42m.
His lack of business education, however, has not stopped him from working at a business school. For the past three years, he has been a regular fixture at Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where he mentors students and provides what he calls “a link to the real world” for academics as an entrepreneur-in-residence.
“I am enjoying it so much,” he says, having taken on the role when he was approaching 50 and eager to give something back to the city where his start-up was born. “It gives me the flexibility to suit my lifestyle now, where I have done well from a financial point of view, and have nothing to prove.”
Business schools may struggle to get successful entrepreneurs to consider doing an MBA, but they seem to have little trouble getting founders to assist in teaching their craft. As a result, the role of entrepreneur-in-residence, once mostly found at venture capital firms, has become commonplace in business schools across the world.
One of the longest running programmes is at Harvard Business School, which recently announced a roll call of 16 founders for the current academic year, 14 of whom are HBS graduates. Now in its ninth year, it includes one-to-one advice sessions for MBA students interested in starting companies. Visiting founders also work with faculty on research and course development, having come from a variety of industries, including ecommerce, entertainment, private equity, retail and venture capital.
Russ Wilcox is one such guest. As chief executive of E Ink, he has experience in developing a proprietary form of electronic paper for ereaders and mobile devices.
“I wanted to give something back to Harvard and the community,” he says. “It is really hard to get started in business so people need a lot of encouragement to get going.”
About half of Harvard’s MBA alumni describe themselves as entrepreneurs 10 to 15 years after they graduate, according to the business school. These include Michael Bloomberg, the financial media business founder who graduated in 1963, Scott Cook, chairman and co-founder of software business Intuit, and Tom Stemberg, the founder of retailer Staples.
When Mr Wilcox completed his MBA in 1995, the business school had no entrepreneurs-in-residence to support him, but he claims a lot has been achieved since then. Students across the university have connected through the Innovation Lab, or i-lab, for example, which opened in 2011.
“In a short amount of time this has made a massive difference,” he says. “Twenty-five per cent of the ventures at the i-lab have founders from three different schools at Harvard. That is how innovation happens.”
Cambridge’s Judge Business School has used entrepreneurs-in-residence since 2005, based at its Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (CfEL). The dozen or so founders that currently have this title are expected to give a week’s worth of time to Judge students, most often teaching their craft in the lecture hall. These include local hero James Urquhart, part of the founding team of ARM Holdings, the Cambridge-based semiconductor company whose designs are used in iPhones.
Many more founders pass through the UK school than those employed as entrepreneurs-in-residence. But only the latter will be asked to join as “fellows” in line with other staff roles, says Jo Mills, deputy director of CfEL.
“About 300 entrepreneurs will help us on any given year, but we only give the title to those that really do add value,” she explains. “We want people who really concur with our values of teaching entrepreneurship.”
Ego or lack thereof is also vital, according to Bob Rosenberg, director of entrepreneurship programmes at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at Booth, which has been running courses for a decade.
“A lot of entrepreneurs and investors are way too full of themselves,” he explains. However, a local connection and willingness to support students is more important than any previous achievements.
“Our primary product is education, not [starting] a business, and some are not interested in that. We need people who can be sensitive to those things and we are fairly selective on this.”
In recent years, the US school has employed several notable founders, such as Troy Henikoff, co-founder of the early stage business accelerator programme Excelerate, which became Techstars Chicago in 2013. He spent about five years working with Booth’s students, and now teaches entrepreneurship as an adjunct lecturer at Kellogg School of Management..
Mr Tebbe’s responsibilities have expanded during his tenure from just being involved with the business school to helping students across the whole of University of Chicago.
“In the morning I could be working with a Booth student, later in the day I could be helping an undergraduate launch a new business, and then in the afternoon I might work with a scientist who is graphing the genome sequence,” he says. “It is the breadth of experience that is so exciting.”