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TechTrek Professor Mentors IT Entrepreneurs

Boston College's John Gallaugher doesn't try to be an all-knowing mentor to his students. But he does lead them on their first trek into the galaxy of tech.
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Gurus & Grads
A new crop of grad school professors is moving beyond books and lectures and taking a hands-on approach to getting their students started in business. 

    "Information Systems" sounds like the type of tedious college course students might feel OK about occasionally skipping. But the students at Boston College's Carroll School of Management make it to that class early and stay late.

    The reason? Professor John Gallaugher, whose lectures on the technologies that drive and change the business world are really more of a master class in entrepreneurship. With an open-source textbook that he updates yearly, the course is as current as possible, touching on how social media drives consumers, what small businesses need to know about "the cloud" and other topical subjects.

    While he's got plenty of old-school cred as an academic researcher, Gallaugher isn't your average B-school prof. He sees his role as a facilitator and as the hub of a network that connects current students, alumni and the business community to the latest thinking. "There are no Yodas in this space," Gallaugher says. "The model we've used in the past to train students is crumbling. In 25 years, what I'm doing will be radically different from what I'm doing now. My job is to find the best ways to help these kids take off."

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    Gallaugher's Grads Greg Nemeth, WakeMate   Nemeth's WakeMate is a wristband that tracks sleep habits. The company was admitted to the Y Combinator business incubator and won the Yale Entrepreneurial Society contest.Shahbano Imran (pictured) and David Tolioupov, LocalOn   In 2010, these grads launched LocalOn to help small businesses get their local inventories onto the web to compete against e-commerce giants like Allen, LeaseDash   Allen, still an undergrad at BC, won MIT's $100K Mobile Track competition last year and co-founded, a real estate website that streamlines the online leasing process.  

    Gallaugher brings as many BC alumni to campus as he can to lecture at his classes and helped launch the BC Venture Competition, a business plan contest that has launched students into Y Combinator, the elite Silicon Valley technology incubator. "In traditional business school, students are conservative and timid," Gallaugher says. "They ask, 'What do I need to do to get an A?' as opposed to, ‘How do I spread my wings?' What's special about things like business plan competitions is that they give students the chance to fail. We're so hyperfocused on achievement. But to be successful, we need the opportunity to be wildly crazy and to get rid of our mistaken assumptions."

    Possibly Gallaugher's biggest contribution to the school, however, is a semester-long course called TechTrek, a seminar for top undergraduates and grad students. For the first half of the semester, students pore over case studies of prominent companies, learn the jargon and the issues such businesses face and interact with visiting alums. Then, the group travels to Silicon Valley for a series of master classes at the feet of tech pooh-bahs at Apple, Cisco, eBay, Google and other companies. Even more inspiring, the students meet with BC grads who have launched their own startups. The experience often leads to valuable networking, and some TechTrek grads end up working at the companies they've visited. Even if they don't get recruited by Google, the students often rank the experience as the most formative of their college years.

    Programs like TechTrek and the vast network Gallaugher has created--his Twitter account and personal blog, The Week in Geek, often serve as unofficial hubs that connect alumni--represent to him the future of B-school. "I would say we're in the golden age of student entrepreneurship," he explains. "The cloud, apps, low-cost development--it's so amazing what a student can do now. It's important for faculty to know what we don't know and to bring folks in who can fill the gaps."

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    Star Trekkie
    Bill Clerico, the co-founder of internet payment company WePay, took Gallaugher's TechTrek seminar in 2005.

    How did TechTrek inform your business?
    I was just a young undergrad who had no interaction with the business world. The caliber of visits Gallaugher arranged was unbelievable--[executives from] Intuit, Apple, NetApp. It had a huge effect on my life.

    How else has Gallaugher helped you?
    One of my largest investors is Highland Capital. Gallaugher introduced me to the partner we work with there, Peter Bell. Besides that, we have tons of BC students working for us. Gallaugher brings them here, then we hire them.

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