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Best Courses 2011: NUvention

A group of classes that focuses on three fast-growing verticals: medical devices, energy, and Internet businesses

Northwestern University
Taught by: Faculty

Most entrepreneurs possess deep knowledge of their industries. So why shouldn't entrepreneurship classes be just as specialized? That's the logic behind NUvention, a group of classes that focuses on three verticals: medical devices, energy, and Internet businesses.

The medical-device class is the original, begun in 2007. In this class, graduate students from the business, medical, law, and engineering schools form teams that are assigned to surgical specialties, such as orthopedics or cardiovascular. The teams shadow surgeons through hospitals and clinics, alert for problems they think they can solve. They pitch product ideas to an advisory board comprising alumni and executives from companies such as Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, and Abbott Laboratories.

Students next build prototypes in the engineering school, aided by faculty members. These aren't fancy tongue depressors: Products have included a device that detects blockages in arteries and one that assists in urology surgery.

Industry experts visit to discuss topics such as regulation and how to persuade hospital procurement committees to update equipment. Students also teach one another. "We take advantage of the fact that we're interdisciplinary," says Michael Marasco, director of Northwestern's Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. "The business students talk about business plans and marketing; the medical students talk about the clinical area; the law students talk about bylaws and articles of incorporation."

Classes focused on sustainable energy and Internet businesses got under way in 2010. "Each class is structured somewhat differently, just as the industries are structured differently," says Marasco. "Now, we have students who want us to do one in the social venture space. And I'm looking at nano."

Syllabus for NUvention:

From the April 2011 issue of Inc. magazine

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.

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