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Harvard Business School Works with TopCoder in MBA Rehab

A makeover of Harvard Business School's well-known MBA program, introduced in January 2011 and begun last fall, has entered the phase where the students are turning to coders around the world for help in developing their business ideas. First-year master business students are currently immersed in the first run-through of Harvard's new Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) program. This curriculum revision places participants into small-group learning activities that are heavy on gaining experience and less focused on case study work, the traditional approach.

As part of the FIELD year, students are challenged to develop and launch a microbusiness in an accelerated time frame. Working in groups of six, the 900 students are charged with building new online businesses, from idea generation through product development and final roll out to market.

Creating a platform to contain the student team output has become a learning initiative in itself for developers around the world--both amateur and professional. The business school turned to TopCoder, which hosts online programming competitions, to create an online virtual factory environment. This crowdsourcing approach is being used by the Harvard students for setting up professional communities and gaining access to virtual resources to conceptualize, build, manage, and grow digital products and businesses.

TopCoder works with its clients to take a development project from concept through debugging. Many of the phases of the work invite a community of technical members to compete against each other to come up with the best approach to any given component within the project. Each winner receives a monetary prize for his or her contributions--money put up by the client--and the client gains the right to use the code in the application being created. The components being developed end up in the TopCoder toolbox for use by competitors in future projects.

Business School competitions began January 9 for prototype themes and wireframes. The builds of mobile and web storyboards, logo designs, and mobile and web assembly start on February 15.

"We want our students--tomorrow's business leaders--to become comfortable managing and building products in a rapidly evolving world," said Alan MacCormack, one of 10 Harvard faculty members responsible for the launch and design of FIELD. "The resources, immediacy, cost savings, and overall improvements in quality and process provided by the Internet are dramatically changing how organizations work at the most fundamental level. Business formation, product development, sales, and marketing are all undergoing fundamental shifts. We see working with the TopCoder community as a way to help our students understand this new reality."

Added TopCoder Chairman Jack Hughes, "We believe this program can be a model to help fuel entrepreneurship and the spirit of business competition by breaking down the entry barriers in terms of access to talent and overall cost."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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