Draper University seeks to train aspiring entrepreneurs

July 1, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

Draper University of Heroes, a superhero-themed residential program that aims to empower and support aspiring entrepreneurs, has proven to be a hit among Stanford students and alumni, with seven participating in the program’s first three sessions.

The school, which was created by Tim Draper ’80, offers training in areas ranging from lie detection to banking and finance for entrepreneurs between the age of 18 and 26. Following a pilot, the university hosted its first session from April 17 through June 7 and is holding a six-week summer session from June 24 to August 2.

The spring session drew 42 students from 17 countries to work on a range of projects, including examining new ways to use social media, investigating problems that plague diabetics and creating a universal translator.

Draper, who founded venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, created the program after he bought the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in downtown San Mateo and his son suggested that he turn it into a school.

“I’ve always wanted to start a school,” Draper said. “I’ve always thought something was missing — I always learned more at recess than I did in the classroom.”

Tuition is $9,500 per session, and participants are selected for the program through an online application process. Draper said that while he looks for strong students, his attention doesn’t focus exclusively on applicants with the highest grades or most impressive resumes.

“I’m looking for more of the outlier,” Draper said. “If they’re the perfect student, it is unlikely they will make the transfer…because they don’t believe that something that is impossible can actually be possible.”

According to Draper, the program takes an unconventional approach in training students. The curriculum is focused on a variety of different aspects of business, from marketing and merchandising to survival training and how to pitch to venture capitalists.

The program also replaces traditional teachers with speakers who have real-world experience, in an effort to avoid the insularity of academia.

“The way we teach business is a little bit progressive. We’ve had Ron Johnson, who started all the Apple stores and was the CEO of J.C. Penney, come in and talk about merchandising,” Draper said. “We had Mike Siebel, who started Justin TV and who started Socialcam, come in and talk about viral marketing.”

Greg Wientjes ’04 M.S. ’06 Ph.D. ’10, CEO of SUpost and a current student at Draper, said that the speakers had a significant impact on his experience in the program.

“You get a sense of ‘I could do this too,’ so it’s kind of a self-efficacy sense, where entrepreneurship is kind of tough, but you have all these success stories you hear and you start thinking about how you could do entrepreneurship as well,” Wientjes said.

While students receive guidance in more traditional areas such as manufacturing, design thinking and negotiation, they also receive instruction in fields like neurolinguistics, martial arts, yoga, cooking, music and first aid.

The program also includes a survival weekend that is intended to challenge students “emotionally, physically and mentally,” according to Draper, who noted that entrepreneurs undergo similar experiences in the real world.

Draper framed his decision to teach unique skills like SWAT training as reflecting a desire to differentiate his program from the typical college experience.

“I’d sit and listen to lectures and think, ‘Why am I bored, and why is this part of my education?’” Draper said of his time at college. “These guys [at Draper University] are not bored. They don’t know what’s going to hit them next — they’ve just been blindsided all the time. And the reason I blindside them is because when you’re an entrepreneur, you’re [often] blindsided — you don’t know what’s coming next.”

Along with preparing the students mentally and emotionally to become successful entrepreneurs, Draper also hosts pitches from startups and companies that the class can observe. Students had their own opportunity to pitch to venture capitalists at the end of the program.

Ian Proulx ’16, a Draper University alumnus, said that watching companies pitch to Draper gave students unique insight into various approaches to entrepreneurship by allowing them to “see the venture capitalist point of view.”

Draper said that the program allows him to see if students have the potential to become successful entrepreneurs, an outcome that would directly benefit him too.

“Ultimately, what I hope to get out of it is some great entrepreneurs from here who are working for capital to develop businesses, and I’ll be the first in line,” Draper noted.

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