Best Courses 2011: Mayfield Fellows
Taught by: Tina Seelig and Tom Byers
Each year, a dozen Stanford students get front-row seats for business drama at its most compelling. Mayfield Fellows spend a third of their nine-month class interning in young Silicon Valley companies, where "anything you can imagine happening in a high-growth, high-impact company has happened," says Tina Seelig, executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. (Seelig teaches the class with Tom Byers, who created it in 1996 and is the program's academic director.) "We've had changes of leadership, patent disputes, moving into new buildings. Last summer, a company went public. One year, we had two companies go out of business."
The class, which accepts top juniors, seniors, and grad students and the occasional superstar sophomore, kicks off each spring with what Seelig calls "a mini M.B.A. in all things related to entrepreneurial leadership." Students learn marketing, strategy, finance, ethics, leadership, and organizational behavior. They are taught two case studies a week and—this being Stanford—the protagonists of those cases usually make guest appearances, "to provide in-depth exposure and talk about what happened after," says Seelig.
During that first term, major VC firms introduce Mayfield Fellows to the firms' portfolio companies (Did we mention this was Stanford?). Come summer, students, most of them science and engineering majors, assume roles such as product manager or assistant to the president. Fellows are required to blog their observations, about how the CEO makes decisions, for example, or how the office layout affects work. They also hold open houses for the other Fellows at their businesses, so all students get to meet the leadership teams and learn about the products of every participating company.
Back in the classroom in the fall, the students write and teach case studies about the companies with which they interned. Of course, the protagonists show up for those as well. "We're structured like the med-school process," says Seelig. "Watch one. Do one. Teach one."
Syllabus for Mayfield Fellows: