When Julian Miller graduated from the University of Florida with a building construction degree in 2007, he knew he’d have to create his own business opportunity during the lull in Florida’s construction industry. He started his own green building consulting firm, and helped co-found downtown nightclub Sharab Lounge, but he felt the need to hone his business skills before jumping into his next project. Miller found what he was looking for right down the road: the University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business.
Faced with the struggles of a sluggish economy, traditional MBA programs across the country have had to reinvent the way they operate to attract a more broad student body. Prospective students may want to exchange a traditional career path for one they create themselves, or might not be able to quit their job to pursue a masters degree and may need to have a more customized curriculum.
For the Hough Graduate School of Business, considered one of the top business schools in the country among sources such as The Financial Times and The Economist, reinvention came in the form of a renewed focus on entrepreneurship and networking.
Portfolio of Programs
For working entrepreneurs like Miller, the portfolio of programs offered through Hough was enough to convince them that returning to school for a master’s degree was not out of the question. By offering flexible course schedules, Hough’s professional master in business administration (MBA) and master of science in entrepreneurship (MSE) programs allow both new hires and business leaders a chance to revamp their professional strategies in a range of custom-fit options. There are nine different MBA programs, ranging from the Executive MBA program for company leaders to the one-year Internet MBA program for recent undergraduates to quickly earn their master’s degree. The MSE program is currently only offered in a one-year, on-campus curriculum.
“Running a business while participating in the program is completely manageable, because it gives students new skills to apply to their businesses,” said Miller, who is now focused on launching his technology business, eMotion, in March.
The benefit of working while participating in a program is that the student never has to put away their professional persona, says Alex Sevilla, director of MBA programs for the University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business.
“When a student is reviewing cases and analyzing data, they can extract the lesson and immediately think about how something similar would work in their own organization,” Sevilla says. “A savvy company will recognize the value of what the employee is learning and give them opportunities to apply what they are learning in the workplace.”
Networking for Life-long Connections
Besides completing the assigned courses, the programs allow students to get to know other classmates and network with some of the 7,000 alumni of the programs to help build career connections and establish possible partnerships for future ventures. Students also are encouraged to network with professors—the program’s faculty is ranked first in the country among public universities and third among global universities, according to The Economist.
“The intellectual capital in the room is hard to match,” says Sevilla of the classroom environment. “The experience these students have already accumulated means that they can learn as much from each other as they can from the actual classes.”
The average age of students is 30 (there are experience requirements for many of the professional programs), but programs like the one-year online MBA and the one-year MSE attract students fresh out of undergraduate studies in their early twenties.
When Adam Gross graduated the full-time two-year MBA program in 2011, he already had established business partners and a trusted board of directors through his connections with faculty before launching his company, NetClarify.
With a goal to help students and professionals control how they are presented online, Gross’s company enlisted the help of some of his professors, like startup expert Arnold Heggestad, and former UF Levin College of Law dean Jon Mills.
The accessibility to resources like established faculty proved priceless for Netclarifyf’s initial launch, and Hough’s well-connected administrators made it easy to establish contacts across campus, Gross said.
“The most paramount part of my entire program experience was all the connections I was able to make,” Gross says.
A Lesson in Entrepreneurship
Hough’s master of science in entrepreneurship program has been recognized with several awards for its innovative and applicable curriculum. Combining immersive experiences, such as its global entrepreneurship programs in Chile and South Africa, with classes covering the latest strategies in business plans to venture capital funding, the program provides students with experience in every stage of the business-launching process.
While Hough’s MBA program offers entrepreneurship elective classes, the MSE program is a “deep-dive” experience that allows students to take advantage of the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem, says Jamie Kraft, director of UF’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The center, located within the business college, helps connect students with other local entrepreneurs to help launch new ventures and provide practical learning opportunities through GatorNest. The lessons learned through the program can be applied not only to startups, but to corporate companies seeking new ideas and non-profits who need help with raising funds for operations, Kraft says.
David Molyneaux, a 2011 MSE graduate, discovered that learning to handle intellectual property and navigate funding practices can be helpful even for those who’ve already been through the entrepreneurial process. As co-founder and vice president of Invivo, a company specializing in magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) machines, Molyneaux helped nurture the company from a small startup in 1998 to a market leader in MRI accessories by 2002. The company sold for $100 million, with the parent company eventually selling to Philips Electronics for $1.3 billion. Even with his previous experience, Molyneaux wanted to attend the program to learn new strategies and lessons to apply to current projects and nonprofit ventures.
“An MBA is a great degree, but the MSE degree opens up all the avenues of starting and maintaining a business,” Molyneaux says. “An MSE still provides all the business basics, but also teaches global entrepreneurship, valuation of your company and how to raise venture capital and funding.”
Putting Strategies to Use
Launching a new company is a task each student must undertake before graduation, with new entrepreneurs gaining much needed experience and professional students like Molyneaux and Miller applying new skills to already existing businesses. The students can choose to continue operating the business after graduation, or shutter it and pursue other opportunities with the help of Hough’s career resource center. Ensuring successful career placement is always the first priority when interacting with students said Craig Petrus, the director of career resources.
“We’re always looking at who we know and who we don’t know,” Petrus said. “If we don’t already have a working relationship with a company, we aren’t afraid to cold call them and establish one.”