Public Entrepreneurship- Harvard Business School MBA Program

Public Entrepreneurship

Course Number 1595

Senior Lecturer Mitchell Weiss
Fall; Q2; 1.5 credits
14 Sessions

To learn more, watch the video: Public Entrepreneurship: What Will You Invent?

Career Focus

Public entrepreneurship is designed for future private entrepreneurs and public leaders who want to build new ventures operating in or selling into traditionally public domains.

The last few years have seen a wave of new public entrepreneurs start companies that sell to government or directly to citizens and growing interest in these companies by venture funds and other investors. Collaborating with them are Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Data Officers, CIO's, CTO's, Chiefs of Staff, elected officials and other public leaders transforming government. And supporting these public entrepreneurs are the ecosystem partners making impact investments in this space, training technologists to work in it, and providing accelerator and incubator opportunities for startup-efforts. The course will help students evaluate and prepare for careers as public entrepreneurs across all three domains.

Course Content and Organization

Public entrepreneurs build something from nothing with resources - be they technologies or financial capital or human talent or new rules - they don't command. Public entrepreneurs lead private companies or government. In both cases, they borrow from the skills, strategies, and cultures of private entrepreneurship, and adapt those best practices into contexts with high levels of public engagement and scrutiny, unique political opportunities and risks, and diverse and often entrenched stakeholders.

The course looks at these special contexts and encourages students to see them as potential obstacles, but when addressed creatively, as potential drivers of value and progress as well. The course covers themes and features cases with the questions and dilemmas of both private entrepreneurs and public leaders.

Who are public entrepreneurs?
Who are public entrepreneurs, and what is public entrepreneurship? Aren't there better/easier/faster opportunities for private entrepreneurs? Are opportunities in public entrepreneurship sustainable or are we living in a "civic tech bubble"? Inside government, is public entrepreneurship better than other strategies for innovation and change? Are there times when it's worse?

Flexibility in the face of bureaucracy.
As I craft a new venture, should I follow the public rules and structures that are in place? What about new business models that have no rules? How hard can I push a bureaucracy to change, and how hard can it push me or my company back? What if I am the public leader in charge of "obsolete" rules? How should I regard them?

Openness under scrutiny.
When should I reach out to the public and what should I ask of them? What can I share with them and what's too risky? What's the line between "crowdsourcing" the public and "outsourcing" to taxpayers, and does it matter if I cross it? How do I test new products and services while the media is watching intently? How broad must my public entrepreneurship really reach?

Speed amidst uncertainty.
Can public teams move as fast as private ones? Should they? When is fast too fast for the public's taste? Since private startups and public procurement move at a different pace, who should change for whom and how?

Being a public entrepreneur.
Can I create something of public value in a matter of weeks and months? What will I give up and what will I get? What would that mean in the lives of others?

In this course, we will meet through cases and in person private and public leaders who are driving the new wave of public entrepreneurship. We will explore with them through discussions and exercises whether more entrepreneurial dynamism is the answer to big public challenges, and if it can be harnessed fairly and effectively to generate value and improve lives.

Grading and Course Requirements

Grading will be based on class participation and a final project, where students are asked to describe in writing, (roughly) prototype, and present an entrepreneurial opportunity in a public domain.