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What USC's Degree in Disruption Needs to Succeed

Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine gave USC $70 million to fund a degree for creative entrepreneurs. The program's success may depend on these things.
Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine
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With a modest $70 million grant from Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, the University of Southern California announced a program for creative entrepreneurs this week nicknamed "the degree in disruption." 

The program, featured in The New York Times, sounds like an entrepreneur's dream come true. Beyond attending an academy conceived by the mind behind the hip hop hit, "Let Me Ride," students will dive into the business world by way of music, marketing, patents, and prototypes. The four-year program culminates in a senior thesis project, in which students team up and spend a year designing a prototype.

Iovine and Dre told The Times' Jenna Wortham they never expected to start a university program. But at a time when Internet giants like Yahoo are acquiring young start-ups in order to stay relevant, the degree offers the hope of discovering the next Steve Jobs. That's a good look for USC and a strong selling point for cash-flush VCs, who might scour the campus in search of young talent.

The only question is: Will it work?

The true test of the program's success depends on three factors, says Chris Vance, a Kellogg School of Management graduate and CEO of the start-up Playground Sessions

Vance says, "It's going to come down to the strength of the curriculum, the teachers, and admissions committee's ability to accept--and nurture--students with that entrepreneurial spirit, which is a difficult thing to teach and define."

Given USC's track record for turning out top-notch talent--both Don Bayne (Trader Joe's) and Henry Caraso (Dollar Rent-A-Car) graduated from the Marshall School of Business in the late 1960s and early 1970s--this endevour should have no problem churning out winners.

Although, Vance is wary of any entreprenurial program that is too narrowly focused on business. "It has to have a strong liberal arts foundation," Vance stresses. "Philosophy and even foreign language should be taught on top of the more focused coursework." He agrees that the marketing curriculum will be important because "you've got to know how to sell your product," and that working in groups helps to "develop leadership qualities and listening skills." The latter is what makes an entrepreneur sensitive and aware of the fact that "the best idea is the product of many," he says.

Last updated: May 17, 2013

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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