Schooling students in ways of startups
On Thursday nights last fall, Woody Benson ’80 couldn’t sleep. But it wasn’t new investments or business ideas stealing shuteye from the award-winning venture capitalist. It was residual energy from teaching Bentley MBA students in the Corporate Immersion program.
“Being in front of a class is really invigorating,” says Benson, an investor with Prism VentureWorks and high-tech industry veteran of 30 years. “To see the students who are the next generation is inspiring.”
Before making his mark in venture capital, the former Business Communication major held senior executive roles at several technology companies, notably, Shiva Corporation and Lotus Development. Membership on the Bentley Finance Committee prompted Benson to look for other ways to get involved at his alma mater. The Corporate Immersion program seemed like a perfect fit.
The eight-year-old immersion program enables students to tackle real business challenges, by bringing top managers of diverse companies into the Bentley classroom. Typically, the executive takes on the role of “client” while a faculty member teaches the course. But that changed last fall when Benson came into the picture.
“Woody and I co-taught the entire semester,” explains Senior Lecturer in Marketing Perry Lowe. “We organized the class together — he more on the content side and I on the academic side.”
The MBA course focused on a Manhattan-based portfolio company of Benson’s called KickApps, which creates social media solutions to help brands grow and engage their online audiences. Thus far, the firm has worked primarily with large-scale entertainment media and sports companies. The charge to Bentley students: Identify ways for KickApps to enter the corresponding market for small to medium-sized businesses.
Lowe credits Benson with making the course uniquely beneficial for students.
“He brought things to the table that no one else could,” says Lowe, noting an all-star lineup of guest speakers such as KickApps directors and managers as well as other professionals in the field. The interaction “helped students come up with valuable insights and solutions for the company.”
Students could also tap Benson’s proven know-how of the industry. The kudos include CEO of the Year honors from the Massachusetts Telecom Council, which in 1999 lauded his work as chairman, president and CEO of MCK Communications. Most recently, Benson’s savvy put him on the Venture Capital 100 list, compiled by media company AlwaysOn to recognize investors who backed the most profitable winners from 2005 to 2009.
Along with expertise, Benson shared some of his career philosophy with Bentley students. “Everyone’s so title-centric . . . they sometimes miss the perspective of what they’re learning as they go through it,” he says. “I try to help students develop a more holistic view of themselves in their career.”
As KickApps works to implement the recommendations of Bentley MBA students, Benson is looking ahead. Plans are in the works for a fall 2010 course focused on another of his portfolio companies.
“This experience was really great. It shows that corporate immersion can be used as a way of teaching a lot of different subject matter,” says Benson. “We’re hoping to do a lot more with it.”