The Marriage Between Business and Technology Continues to Create Opportunities and Growth at UC Berkeley
by Sarah Benson and Paulina Borsook
One of the core experiences for all students in the Management of Technology Program at UC Berkeley is the hands-on collaboration across disciplines. Business, engineering, information systems, and other students join together in teams in which they are encouraged to break the bounds of their own academic disciplines and reach for something more. These cross-disciplinary teams will go global in Spring 2004 as the MOT Program sends eight diverse student teams to developing countries around the world as part of a joint Berkeley-United Nations annual conference.
This UN conference, entitled "Bridging the Divide 2004: Technology, Innovation, and Learning in Developing Economies," is just one of the many new initiatives in the MOT’s innovative bag of tricks. (See page 2 for conference information.)
The conventional wisdom these days would seem to hold that technology has lost its luster and ability to attract students in programs such as MOT, which is a partnership between the Haas School of Business, the College of Engineering (COE), and the School of Information and Management Systems (SIMS). But at UC Berkeley, MOT is in the midst of a renaissance, and is now so popular that its has grown to become the largest program of its kind in the US, with about 600 students enrolled in MOT classes at any given time.
Joining Forces on Campus
The interdisciplinary nature of the MOT program brings students together in ways that are not always possible at other universities. "Most universities don’t have both business schools and engineering schools or, if they do, they’re often at loggerheads," says Robert Cole, professor emeritus and faculty co-director of MOT. "What’s exciting about MOT is the joint venture between business and engineering. MOT gives both business and engineering students full exposure to all issues — and they learn from each other. In other business programs, this working together is a rare commodity."
According to Haas School Dean Tom Campbell, the three-way partnership behind the MOT program is just one aspect of what makes it great. "They also have excellent leadership and ideas and superb implementation," he says. "It’s a real home run of a program."
Since Isaacs took charge of MOT in 2000, the program has grown from offering 15 classes to 50 classes, with enrollment growing 20 percent a year. Addressing the relevance of technology to all of contemporary business, MOT courses cover everything from a biotech course to facilities design to risk management to intellectual property, along with core offerings on information technology, Internet strategy, and entrepreneurship.
"We have always been a great team going back to the founders of the program, professors Karl Pister (engineering), David Hodges (engineering), Ray Miles (Haas), and David Teece (Haas) 15 years ago," says Paul Wright, engineering professor and faculty co-director of MOT. "In the early 90s lecturer Sara Beckman (Haas) and Rob Leachman (COE) set the stage for Bob Cole and me to expand the program during the dotcom mania. We recruited Susan Reneau to run the day-to-day operations. With Drew Isaacs’ incredible energy and marketing skill, we have used that stable base as the launching point for gifts and grants from all over the world and Silicon Valley in particular."
The remarkable growth of the MOT program is testimony to the inherent value that students, faculty, and industry leaders find in the program. "Technology is woven ever more into every day life," says Cole. "There are so many ways for it to go wrong at the business level, from figuring out how to acquire technology to producing something that is useful for consumers. How do you manage technology – that is the true challenge!"
From Doodle to Prototype
Walking hand-in-hand with industry is key to MOT's success. This connection is reflected in the industry fellowships, high-caliber guest speakers, and real-world projects the program offers. "We have CEOs, VPs, and venture capitalists coming in to lecture," says Amir Sharif, MBA 03, director of marketing at Silicon Valley startup Tasman Networks. "It’s great when 15 students in a room can grill someone like Google CEO Eric Schmidt [MS 79, Ph.D. 82 (EECS)]."
The program creates synergy between business and technology through courses such as Haas Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman’s "New Product Development" and Wright’s "High-Tech Design and Rapid Prototyping." In Beckman’s course, the MOT students form to execute a major project — developing a product from idea through first pass prototype. The crop of products from Beckman’s class in fall 2003 included a lightweight backpacking shelter, a localized sound alarm clock, a small stuff finder, and a car diagnostics system among many other items.
In recent years, teams in the Rapid Prototyping course have used wireless sensor-based nodes (called motes) developed by Intel engineers and UC Berkeley Electrical Engineering and Computer Science faculty as the basic platform for the course. At the final tradeshow event of this year’s class, students showcased their work including a motorcycle helmet outfitted with a wireless communication system; a device to help parents locate lost children; a hands-free, keyless, automobile entry control device; and a system for tracking dramatic changes in life signs.
Says Beckman’s student Jason Stein, MBA 04: "My decision to come to Berkeley was heavily weighted by the fact that it is so strong in engineering and knowing that I would be having contact with engineers."
From Learning to Doing
Numerous industry fellowships give MOT students direct access to the business leaders in their areas of interest. Mark Kvamme, BA 85, general partner at the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital in Menlo Park and a mentor for the MOT Mayfield Fellows says, "MOT is one of very few programs where students actually get to experience the way they'll be working in companies, where product managers collaborate closely with engineers."
MOT now offers several industry fellowships:
• IBM Venture Fellows intern within IBM's internal new-venture organization;
• Mayfield Fellows intern with top-tier venture capital firms and their portfolio companies;
• Hitachi Fellows work on market applications of Hitachi's new tiny "Mu chip";
• Sandia Fellows work on commercializing technology of the US Department of Energy Laboratory;
• Sun Microsystems Fellows work on developing IT solutions in China’s rapidly expanding market;
• China Fellows spend 10 days in China interviewing executives and government officials about technology management;
• UN Fellows will conduct field research with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to bring appropriate technologies to developing nations, an offshoot of the new UN conference.
From Idea to Company
For MOT students from any discipline, the program can provide the critical tools for taking an idea from the drawing board and creating an actual company. One of the high points of the MOT program for budding entrepreneurs is Isaacs’ course, "Opportunity Recognition: Technology and Entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley." Peter Fiske, MBA 02 and CEO of the startup RAPT Industries in Livermore, Calif., says he was able to recognize such a technology opportunity when it came his way because of Isaacs’ class.
Fiske, who also holds a Ph.D. in materials science and geoscience, worked for eight years at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories (LLL) before enrolling in the Haas School’s Evening & Weekend Program and taking Isaacs’ course. Then at LLL he met an inventor "who had a great idea but needed a business plan," says Fiske. "We wrote one and won the UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition." The team took home over $50,000 to begin RAPT, now a six-person company with several million dollars in contracts for their high performance optics technology. Fiske says, "Meeting Drew gave me great exposure and contacts. The MOT program was the best of my Haas experiences."
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