Stanford Ignite Full-time is a four-week certificate program that helps non-business graduates formulate, develop, and commercialize their business plans.
Participants gain knowledge of business fundamentals and receive hands-on experience that they can use to transform their ideas into real business ventures.
The program, conducted by Stanford Graduate School of Business in summer, is targeted at working professionals and graduate students. “Ignite,” as one student put it, “is entrepreneurship on training wheels.”
Ignite is for professionals with a bachelor’s degree and some experience or, preferably, and advanced degree. Graduates doing their master’s PhD, MD, or a post-doctoral program in a non-business field can also benefit. MBA and other business management graduates and professionals with extensive managerial training are not eligible to apply.
The full-time program is intensive, and all participants are expected to attend all sessions. Students with work or research commitments can attend the part-time program.
Participants can expect to learn about business-model development and the practical side of identifying and evaluating their business ideas and taking them forward.
They discover how market research helps organizations improve their understanding of customer needs, identify the expectations of new customers, and test market hypotheses.
“Igniters” examine how customers evaluate products and match them with needs. They grasp aspects of financial reporting and the role of key financial statements and study about the unifying framework for value-based pricing, thereby understanding the economic value created by a service or product to customers.
Ignite equips students with business and functional skills, the practical applications of which they test through their venture project ideas.
The same expert faculty that teaches at Stanford GSB guides Ignite participants through lectures, case evaluations, group discussions, and workshops. Business leaders from top companies are invited as guest speakers and play the role of mentors and resource-persons. The Ignite Program Director is Yossi Feinberg, the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Economics.
Business principles and theories taught in the classroom are reinforced through their implementation. Teams of five or six participants develop a new product or service for an existing organization or launch a new business.
Participants submit their ideas for new venture projects well before the program starts, so that their ideas can be evaluated and selected for implementation as team venture projects. The cohort reviews ideas and vote for those they like in order to create a short list.
The generators of the short-listed ideas create brief video presentations of their ideas. Participants rank ideas they would like to work on, and the faculty director organizes them into teams based on their ranking.
Igniters are guided by faculty, investors, and industry experts, and evaluated each week through individual and team assignments.
Participants attend a communications boot camp at the start of the program to learn how best to present their ideas. They test their communication skills by giving a brief elevator pitch about their business idea.
At the end of the program, each team gives presentations to a panel of venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, and industry experts. The teams receive feedback about the viability of the venture idea.
Stanford Ignite provides 100 hours of class lectures, coaching, and advisor sessions with the faculty and expert panels. In addition, participants have to invest 100-150 hours in preparing for class sessions and venture projects.
Ignite classroom engagement starts right after breakfast and goes on till 5 pm. After class, participants meet for a couple of hours to discuss the day’s teaching and grab dinner together, and the discussions continue. After retiring to their dorm rooms, they complete personal assignments and read case studies for the next day’s classes.
As one participant says, listening to lectures is as inspiring as attending a TED talk by a passionate speaker who is the master of the topic he or she is speaking about.
Teams of six, from a larger cohort of about 70 participants, evaluate business ideas, choose a venture project, and perfect a business pitch for presentation to a panel of investors and industry experts, giving importance to the quality of not only the venture project idea but also the presentation pitch.
They begin the interaction among themselves by talking about their individual working style, goals, how they would interact with one another, and how their team meeting norms can smoothen team dynamics and avoid any friction.
A typical day’s schedule looks like this: Morning sessions 1 and 2: Entrepreneurship parts 1 and 2; Lunch; Afternoon session 1: Value-based pricing; Afternoon sessions 2: Market research and conjoint analysis; Afternoon break; Design thinking workshop; Group work.
The admission process requires an applicant to complete five components: online application; short essays, resume; a professional recommendation; and an online video interview.
In short essays, applicants need to complete statements that describe their background and level of experience and describe how their personal and professional goals match the program objectives.
A professional recommendation is required from a supervisor, academic advisor, or professional mentor who has contributed to their professional success. The application includes instructions on the computer setup process for the online video interview and practice questions.
The program fee for the full-time program is $14,950. It’s $500 for Stanford graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. The cost of attendance includes course material, program events, and some meals.
Stanford Ignite also has a part-time course that runs during weekends for eight weeks.
The fee is the same, $14,950. For Stanford graduate students (master’s, PhD, JD, MD), it is $1,525. The cost of attendance includes course material, program events, and some meals.
Stanford has an Ignite version for US post-9/11 veterans. The curriculum is the same as that for the full-time and part-time versions. The program fee is $2,500 for the four-week program.
Stanford GSB launched the Ignite program in 2006, with a cohort of 60 students. Later, it added a part-time Ignite. Today, it offers the Ignite program in Bangalore (India), Beijing (China), London (UK), Santiago (Chile), São Paulo (Brazil), and Palo Alto (USA).
As with Ignite classes on campus, the international venues launched in 2013 also feature the same GSB professors, who present classes through high-quality video-conferencing. One faculty member is available on location.
The Ignite program for post-9/11 US military veterans was introduced on the request of the US Special Operations Command in 2014.
Nearly 100 business ventures now owe their success to the Ignite program. Some of them have been acquired by Google and Twitter, among other companies.
Among success stories, Ignite has also helped launch a low-cost health care program created by a liver transplant surgeon, which is now being implemented in Africa, too.
Another program was shaped by an Igniter to help people with eating disorders track their food consumption pattern. The platform is now used by 500,000 patients who are able to monitor what they eat and their emotions throughout the day.
Yet another product uses voice-based threat detection to screen refugees to identify terrorists and other security threats.
In 2016, to mark Ignite’s 10th birthday, Stanford invited 125 of the 1,600 Igniters who have completed the program since its inception.
A PhD candidate at a US school of engineering and an Igniter says she is transforming her research into a new venture, and she and her colleagues are using the lessons gained at the program to formulate key decisions about the venture.
The founder of an organ preservation nonprofit, who attended the Ignite part-time course on the Stanford campus, describes his Ignite experience as life-changing.
He says he learned how to take an idea from scratch, brainstorm and iterate on it, formulate it, and pitch it to investors. “This program is great if you want to develop the business fundamentals that will take your idea to the next level.”
“The advertising that Stanford does about ‘changing lives, changing the world,’ is not hyperbole,” adds another participant.
An Igniter who attended the program in London and has founded several start-ups says the program helped “crystallize our positioning, strengthen our go-to marketing strategy, and get closer to our customers with design thinking.” Ignite provides a framework to evaluate and construct winning ideas, he says.
An employee of a Fortune 500 company in the US, who attended Ignite to meet both intrapreneur and entrepreneur goals, says her company thrives when new thinking is introduced into its business model. The program has given her the confidence to pursue her own start-up ideas.
An Igniter from São Paulo says she attended the program for building a start-up mindset and using networking opportunities. “It is very tense and very fast,” and your ability to decide what is critical and what is not improves. The lectures on business models were the best in the program, she adds.
A participant who completed the program in Bangalore says the Stanford brand was a major attraction for him to join Ignite. The professors were top of the line, and the focus was firmly on discussions related to start-ups.
The professors were ready to sit after classes and talk about issues in a practical and friendly manner. They had no airs of superiority about them and no know-it-all attitude.
But it would help if the Bangalore Ignite participants had more global access or networking with alumni from other centers, according to one participant.
Another Igniter says the mentors take time to explain your venture project or business idea and have productive and informal meetings. But participants should make an effort to sustain the mentor-student relationship after the program. Also, peer learning can be improved and the participants could contribute more to understanding start-ups.
The best feature about the Ignite program is the case-studies, says one participant. Other content may be available on e-learning platforms. This participant feels that the course fee is too high, but you get what you pay for.
If an entrepreneur wannabe wants to make the best out of Ignite, he or she should attend the program on the Stanford campus, a participant feels.
Among the “bad reasons” for attending Ignite, according to some Igniters, are these:
The “good reasons” would be to immerse yourself in the ecosystem of start-ups and entrepreneurship and to interact with some of the best professors in the world.
“Worth every cent,” is how another participants describes the Bangalore program. He says Ignite gives you excellent tools and frameworks that help you take informed decisions. Ignite is a “great forum for budding entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to validate and refine their business models and products.”
But if you have already done the start-up grind for three years, your seat at the course should rightfully go to someone who will benefit more from the program, he adds.
Another participant enjoyed attending the program as part of an “energetic network of people here in India.” The other advantages are that it is a short course, the course can be attended from Bangalore, saving travel and accommodation costs in the US, and the course content.
The professors, the intensity of the course, and the VC panel that provides feedback on venture project ideas are the highlights for one participant. The networking opportunities are as good as you can expect from newbie entrepreneurs.
A critic of the program who doesn’t think it was worth it, describes Ignite as more of a b-school crash course than an entrepreneurship crash course that costs a lot of money.
So, is it worth the fee? A participant says a b-school student would answer it with another question, “Is there a better way of investing the money?” If the answer is “No,” then you should pack your bags for four weeks in California.
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