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Five great online courses for start-ups

Friday, 21 September 2012 | By Oliver Milman

feature-online-courses-thumbGetting the skills and knowledge needed to run a business no longer requires that you take time away from your entrepreneurial activities to study at university.


A growing range of online courses are now available to start-ups, enabling entrepreneurs to build businesses while they learn.


Best of all, many of them are free – this week, Melbourne University struck a deal with US company Coursera to provide a range of online courses.


So which of the courses on offer are most useful to start-ups? We’ve picked out four of Coursera’s best subjects for early-stage ventures, as well as a further course from Stanford University.


To check out an overview of each course, click on the tabs below:



1. Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies


Dr James V. Green



For budding start-ups, this course hits the sweet spot. It covers the important steps in identifying great ideas and how to commercialise them.


Creating a winning business plan and raising funding is also part of the course, which sets out two core skills it hopes participants will learn: how to use a business model approach to analyse each part of a company, and, secondly, how to use a customer development orientation to see if anyone really wants the product.


The course, run by a University of Maryland academic, will run for five to seven weeks and include quiz questions in the videos.


2. Introduction to Finance


Gautam Kaul



Gautam Kaul is certainly a fan of all things fiduciary. The University of Michigan professor calls finance the “most awesome thing created by humanity”, which is a fairly sweeping statement but one that Kaul makes a decent case for.


This 10-week course promises to teach participants the fundamentals of finance – how to apply values to things and the major determinates of value creation, using theory and real world examples.


If your financial knowledge is a little sketchy, this course could well provide you with a helpful starting point.


3. Microeconomics


Richard McKenzie



Microeconomics is something, much like finance, that many start-ups struggle to get their heads around.


Unlike finance, however, it’s tempting to think that microeconomic knowledge isn’t really that important when getting a business up and running.


But this short course could surprise you. As University of California professor Richard McKenzie explains, the course is based around “business decision making”, giving real-world relevance to something that can seem a rather dry and distant topic.


4. Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part I


Edward D. Hess



Edward Hess states that this course “isn’t for start-ups”, but don’t be deterred – it covers the area of growth, which your business will hopefully soon be in, if not already.


Drawing upon Hess’ 30 years of advising businesses, the course will “give you tools to help you plan for growth, assess the preconditions to grow and manage the risks of growth”.


A key part of this will be the study of five different businesses and how they coped with the challenge of growth. The course consists of five, 90-minute video classes.


5. The Lean LaunchPad Online


Steve Blank



Online course aggregators such as Coursera aren’t, of course, the only source of free tutorials for budding entrepreneurs.


Several universities run their own online courses, such as MIT and the ones unveiled by Standford University in January this year.


A standout is serial entrepreneur Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad course, which he says solves a problem he puts from his own learning: “Experienced entrepreneurs kept finding that no business plan survived first contact with customers.”


“It dawned on me that the plans were a symptom of a larger problem: we were executing business plans when we should first be searching for business models. We were putting the plan before the planning.”


Blank’s course is designed to teach start-ups how to test and commercialise an idea as quickly as possible.