Ask any entrepreneur about the most valuable asset a startup owner can have and the answer will nearly always be "a mentor."
While the details of the startup world change constantly, there are a number of patterns that remain consistent — and there's no better way to navigate those than the counsel of someone who has been there.
While traditional mentoring is alive and well in Silicon Valley, a number of veteran entrepreneurs are taking to the classroom to pass on their experiences. The benefits extend beyond passing the torch to the next generation of big thinkers. Many long-time serial entrepreneurs are today's angel investors and venture capitalists — and the classroom gives them an early glimpse at the potential next big names in emerging fields.
Here are 11 notable entrepreneurs who have taken to the classroom.
No entrepreneur is more active in the classroom than Blank, who lectures at the University of California—Berkeley's Haas School of Business, Stanford University Graduate School of Engineering, and the joint Berkeley/Columbia MBA program.
Prior to entering the world of higher education, he co-founded (or was part of) eight startups in the Valley, including Convergent Technologies and E.piphany. The author of "The Startup Owner's Manual," his classes focus on a methodology of starting and managing marketing, sales, and business development in high technology startups.
The PayPal co-founder (and early Facebook investor) hasn't taken to teaching full time, but earlier this year he did offer a course focusing on startups at Stanford University. The class filled to capacity in minutes, but student Blake Masters put his notes online (earning a small measure of Internet fame for passing on the lessons learned).
"To understand businesses and startups in 2012, you have to do the truly contrarian thing: you have to think for yourself," Masters quoted Thiel as saying. "The question of what is valuable is a much better question than debating bubble or no bubble."
Baehr created the entrepreneur studies program at Emerson College, but 'cut his teeth' first as a serial entrepreneur. The founder of Knowledge Based Evolution, which helps entrepreneurs launch (or turn around) their companies and Arbitron-competitor Actual Radio Measurement, he has grown Emerson's program into one of the country's most recognized. Today, over 200 students are enrolled in the program, which has launched some 40 startups.
Ackerman's a one-two punch for startup students. He was the founder and chairman of InfoGear Technology Corp., the startup that designed and built the original iPhone — and today he's managing director and founder of Allegis Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm. He teaches New Venture Finance in the MBA program at the University of California—Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
After spending 12 years as a serial entrepreneur, Bam is well-qualified to teach the undergraduate introduction to entrepreneurship at the University of California—Berkeley.
The co-founder of Modiv Media, which provides retail and mobile commerce solutions for the supermarket industry, Bam also currently serves on the board of advisers of two funded startups. He also brings a little perspective from the slower-moving corporate world, having served stints at Nokia and Lehman Brothers.
Bussgang, like Ackerman, is both a former entrepreneur and current venture capitalist. Currently General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, he was previously an executive team member of three startups over 10 years, including Upromise, which he co-founded (and sold to Sallie Mae in 2006). In the education world, he's a senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard Business School's Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship.
The co-founder of Jiffy Lube, Spinelli has completely given himself over to the world of entrepreneurial education. When he made the leap to the educational world, he started at Babson College, assuming the roles of vice provost for entrepreneurship and global management, chair of the entrepreneurship division and director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship.
Today he's president of Philadelphia University — and while that school doesn't have a formal entrepreneur program, it has an intense focus on the practices startup owners need to master.
Shearer founded Powercast in 2003 and still serves on the company's board of directors. Before that, he launched Information and Graphic Systems, Inc., growing revenues to $10 million in the first two years. Today, he's entrepreneur-in-residence at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management, where he helps MBA students found and launch their businesses — primarily by locating new technologies from other universities, research labs, and the private sector. He has held that role for three years.
Austin may not be the startup hotspot it is if it weren't for Kilcrease, who launched the Austin Technology Incubator and served as its executive director from 1989 to 1996. (The program launched 70 tech companies in that period.) She's also the founder of the VC firm Triton Ventures.
Earlier this month, Kilcrease was named entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business, a nine-month gig where she will mentor students and oversee a pair of expert-speaker events.
In 1987, Geller founded Global Mail, today part of DHL. Years later, he launched SoDel Concepts, a restaurant development company that, in 2009, was named by Inc. Magazine as the nation's fastest-growing restaurant company. Today, he's entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, helping mentor budding startup owners, and serves on the school division's board of advisers.
Suennen is a veteran of the early startup days. She joined Merit Behavioral Care in its formative days, staying with the company through its IPO and 1998 acquisition (for $800 million). She then founded Psilos Group, a healthcare-focused VC firm where she is still a managing member today.
Since 2010, Suennen has been a visiting lecturer at University of California—Berkeley's Haas School of Business, where she teaches students about health care venture capital.