04-616   Tech Startups: Tools & Techniques

Location: Africa

Units: 12

Semester Offered: Spring

Course description

The first three years of a technology start-up, when the company's DNA or trajectory is set, are the most critical. Too few entrepreneurs appreciate this fact and, as a result, many start without the essential skills, talents, and capabilities needed to set the company on a successful path. Some of these entrepreneurial skills can only be learned through starting and growing a business while others can be learned. 

This course bridges the challenging gap between learning and doing entrepreneurship. We introduce the essential skill of market discovery, or learning to create, develop, and evaluate the concept of your business. Is my idea a real innovation? Is it also a business or a product, or neither? How do I know how big the market is for my product? What are the technology market and competitive risks in my idea and how do I assess them? Can I compete? Can I sell it? How? When? Where? Students will have the opportunity to apply their newfound practical skills gathered in part from lectures from experienced entrepreneurs and investors to case studies, role-playing, and solving actual problems of local tech businesses.

The best way to learn entrepreneurship is by doing, so the course will use ‘true-to-life’ scenarios. The class will be divided into teams and will focus on a company that is either (1) a student idea for a new start-up, (2) an existing start-up (ideally local), or (3) a hypothetical start-up proposed/conceived by the students, the professor, or both.

Learning objectives

Each student will be better able to do the following by the end of the course:

  • Understand how new information and data about the concept of the business, financing, and the team can be quickly integrated into the company’s ongoing strategy and tactics.
  • Think of tech startup planning not as an occasional activity but as a continuous, daily process.
  • Understand how to create and evaluate the concept of your business, finance that business, and build a team to support it.


Students will have gained a working knowledge and understanding of the main challenges associated with starting a tech-based business including (1) developing a concept of the business, (2) fundraising, and (3) building a team. In addition, students are encouraged to bring their ideas to the course, which allows those particular students to finish the course with a usable investor pitch. 

Content details

Teams will take their respective cognitive learning-driven start-ups through customer discovery. Specifically, each team will be required to make a presentation and produce a final report.

Each presentation will come at the end of each course section, roughly equally spaced throughout the semester. Each team will make a ~25-minute presentation followed by ~15 minutes of discussion between fellow students, faculty, and invited guests. Students are, of course, encouraged to draw on resources beyond the assigned reading and lectures. 

Presentations will be judged on the quality and depth of the analysis and clarity of presentations (see attached presentation assessment forms). Students can expect not only to develop but provide recommendations.

Grade weighting is as follows: 

  • Customer Discovery Presentation: 20% 
  • Customer Discovery Report: 70% 
  • Class Participation: 10% 
  • Course Grade: 100% 

Team presentations will collectively be evaluated on the quality, depth, and usefulness of the recommendations of their peers for that session. Grades are assigned by the professor with consideration to the quality of the discussion in the final grade.




Mark F. DeSantis