Experience-Based Learning Courses - Davis Center | Chicago Booth

Experience-Based Learning and Lab Courses

Chicago Booth has a long history of offering experience-based learning courses since the 1970s. It was clear that “laboratory” courses, which paired students and live problems faced by corporate partners, had an indelible impact on students in terms of their ownership of data collection, the power of persuasion, motivation and teamwork, and the management of a client engagement.

Chicago Booth has continued to innovate in this area and now offers a rich and diverse set of experience-based learning courses. The Davis Center will create a venue for further innovation. These courses vary significantly in terms of the topic areas covered and structure of the learning experience for students. Many of these courses include delivering insights and recommendations regarding a business challenge brought forth by an external partner organization.

Some of these courses require that students apply for enrollment. Students can access more information about individual courses via the Booth portal.

Two of these courses are particularly representative of the mission of the Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership by including the following elements:

  • Serve as a genuine laboratory for students to manage their own learning. Rather than following a highly structured framework for their work provided by faculty, students learn through their own discovery, experimentation, data collection, and reflection.
  • Provide structured opportunities for personal development, team building, and collaboration. Students are held accountable for three learning outcomes—team skills, personal skills, and the quality of their work for the organization with which they are engaging.  

BUS 40721 – Healthcare Analytics Lab 
The healthcare industry is now undergoing a transformation as data analysis is being rapidly deployed to improve clinical, operational, and financial outcomes. The Healthcare Analytics Laboratory will focus on applying data-driven analytics and insights to identify and create healthcare delivery efficiencies. Student teams will work on real-world improvements projects with prominent healthcare institutions.

Learn more about the impact of one of the recent student projects »

BUS 42791 – Strategy Lab 

This project-based course is taught by Professor Harry L. Davis in partnership with A.T. Kearney. Joe Raudabaugh, ’80, a senior partner with A.T. Kearney and founder of the firm’s Student Lab program, is the sponsor. Joe’s interest in experiential education started at Chicago when he was a student in one of Professor Davis’s original New Product Laboratory classes.

Students have two objectives in this course: (1) to address the complex, strategic business problems brought by clients and develop actionable, data-driven recommendations, and (2) to develop their own action and insight skills, both as individuals and as members of a team. In addition to project deliverables, reflection assignments throughout the quarter form the basis of the final grade. 

Industry Focused

BUS 34704 – Real Estate Lab: Real Estate Challenge

This course features experiential learning by engaging with several prominent real estate investment management firms. The student team(s) will review, analyze, and recommend strategies/actions on recent transactions entertained by these firms. The nature of these transactions and the structure of the class are fluid. However, the essence of the class is that the student team(s) will tackle a new project every three to four weeks; each project will conclude with a presentation to one or more senior managers from each of the participating firms, at which point the teams will receive feedback on the merits of their work.

BUS 34702 – Private Equity/Venture Capital Lab

The private equity and venture capital lab is an experiential program intended for students who want to learn more about what it is like to work in private equity or venture capital industries. The program is composed of (a) an internship and (b) an academic course. Internships are hosted by private equity firms, angel groups, venture capital firms, mezzanine lenders, buyout firms, and many other variations. The academic course is designed to equip students with timely practical tools and impart experience from industry veterans with the goal to accelerate the apprenticeship process of those aspiring to work in the private equity and venture capital industries. The course is split into two sections, one emphasizing private equity and the other venture capital.

The course is a mix of case discussions, guest speakers, investment committee meetings, simulated board of director negotiations, workshops, and lectures. Course material is designed to be topical and immediately useful to the student’s internship.

BUS 34706 – Energy and Cleantech Lab 

The ultimate objective of the class is to provide a strong foundation in energy/cleantech and new product commercialization. This course offers a unique blend of theoretical and practical experiences as they relate to emerging energy and cleantech businesses.

The energy and cleantech industry is a massive $6.1 trillion industry that is being disrupted by technology, with new companies appearing every day. However, like most entrepreneurial organizations, new energy and cleantech companies are often small, quick growing, and working in an evolving landscape. Therefore, the toolset required to be successful in this arena is different than that required for traditional corporate management. Teams composed of three to five students will work with a local high-growth energy or cleantech company, helping it to develop a commercialized plan for a new technology or business model.


BUS 34104 – Special Topics in Entrepreneurship: Developing a New Venture

This course is designed to allow students who have advanced to the second round of the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge to develop their ideas into full business plans. Student teams will work largely on their own to develop their business plans.

Venture capitalists, private investors, and entrepreneurs will help critique and improve the plans during the presentations. The class meetings also will include sessions on presentation skills, financial modeling, and legal considerations in a new venture.

BUS 34701 – New Venture and Small Enterprise Lab

This course is intended for students who are interested in working for a new venture/small business or are interested in consulting to such entities. This course is designed to apply Chicago Booth’s strong base of theoretical knowledge to the problems and opportunities of new ventures and smaller enterprises. Teams of four or five students work on specific strategic and operational projects for early-stage companies in the Chicago area. The students work with the venture’s management under the guidance of the instructor. The clients represent diverse industries including technology, biotech, industrial, and consumer-based firms. 

Class sessions consist of lectures by the instructor on key topics related to small-business and new venture success, including market research, go-to-market strategies, management, and legal issues, and financing new ventures through debt, angel capital, and venture capital. The course also focuses on project management techniques for small-business consulting. In addition, there are several guest speakers including an entrepreneur panel discussion, a venture capitalist, and a lawyer discussing new venture legal issues. At the conclusion of the quarter, each team will submit its final recommendations and make a presentation to the client’s management team.

BUS 34705 – Entrepreneurial Discovery 

Entrepreneurial Discovery is a hands-on course led by two industry-proven entrepreneurs to demystify Discovery, the starting phase of Booth’s D4 innovation process. Through active but practical instruction, this “fuzzy front-end” course provides impassioned innovators with the tools needed to quickly determine which of their ideas are worth further pursuit. 

Using a customer-centric design process, class participants will work in multidisciplinary teams to explore real-world needs. Each team will choose a problem area, conduct industry research, perform user-centered analysis and studies, and derive insights from customer interactions. Teams are expected to conceptualize and, through feedback from stakeholders, refine multiple ways to address the needs in their respective problem area. Leveraging these insights, the team will rapidly iterate both the problem and potential solutions. The course’s final deliverable is for each team to demonstrate a detailed and nuanced understanding of a business idea (with related business model). 

This class is categorized as a lab because it requires students to constructively identify problems or opportunities worth solving, frame their assumptions, refine their hypothesis with insights from their potential stakeholders, and reframe the opportunity as if they were in a science lab class.

BUS 42706 – Entrepreneurship: Urban Opportunities and Solutions

This is a lab course focused on entrepreneurship in the urban context. Urban challenges require new approaches and players. Entrepreneurs have an expanding and unprecedented opportunity to participate by addressing challenges in city living and governance with new profitable business models. For example, recent startups are devoted to making cities safer while earning a profit, making downtown housing affordable by offering a new “iPhone of apartments” and by a matching platform for finding roommates, saving municipalities money by bringing the sharing economy to city government, producing dramatic increases in recycling behavior in urban households, turning inner-city dropouts into graduates, and providing tailored urban commuting solutions by crowdsourcing routes.

During the quarter students will work in and out of the classroom in four-person teams to apply design thinking methods and tools to develop insights on an urban problem of choice and to develop, test, iterate, and pitch a proposed for-profit business model to address the problem. The weekly workshop will be used to advance team projects and get feedback from classmates and instructors. A mentor from the urban entrepreneurial community will be assigned to each team for additional guidance on term projects outside the classroom throughout the quarter.

Social Sector Innovation

BUS 34110 – Social Enterprise Lab 

This course combines in-class exploration of business models, management trends, governance, and growth in the social sector, combined with a unique experience to study the challenges of managing a social organization by working on a specific project in selected social ventures. The in-class and project-based learning environments come together by sharing and analyzing the project experience through classroom discussion.

The lab projects are intended to enhance the understanding of the challenges of operating and growing social ventures where “profits” are often sacrificed for mission. A large component of the course will be a group project to assist a local social enterprise, either nonprofit or for-profit, on a specific challenge such as developing or expanding income-earning programs, pricing strategies, organizational development, marketing and branding strategies, etc. Five students in a group will conduct research and make actionable recommendations for their client. These projects will be set up in advance. The anticipated time commitment from students is approximately six to eight hours per week on the lab project. In addition, there are regular meetings with the professor/coaches for updates and guidance.

BUS 34721 – Global Social Impact Practicum

This practicum course is supported by Tata Trusts, one of India’s oldest and largest philanthropies. It is designed to explore issues of sustainable development, philanthropic efforts, and the creation of a social enterprise ecosystem in emerging and developing markets with a focus on India. This practicum course will primarily be focused on researching and analyzing a sizable issue framed as a question by the Trusts.

In 2017–2018, the course will focus on selecting one of the biggest development challenges presently across the world and especially in India—currently exploring issues like water and sanitation. While Tata Trusts has been working toward improving living conditions for marginalized communities across the country, the urgent requirement of making a significant difference calls for a more rigorous intervention with a self-sustaining model that can be incubated by the Trusts and replicated by others. Booth students will engage in a market assessment to identify where the biggest opportunity lies for social entrepreneurs and will work to evaluate the potential for sustainability and for impact of various technologies.

BUS 34722 – Scaling Social Innovation Search Lab

In the past decade, funders and practitioners alike have largely coalesced around the need for innovations to scale. However, actually determining what social innovations are effective, why they are effective, and how they can be scaled effectively to other markets and context is an enormous challenge for social sector institutions.

In this course, teams of students identify a specific social issue and then seek to understand the academic research on the issue, as well as programs and policies that address the issue. Teams then identify organizations outside Chicago that have developed innovative and successful programs to address the social issue and identify a fit between these programs and the needs in Chicago. Finally, teams develop, propose, and present the best strategy for bringing the social innovation to Chicago, which could include expansion of an existing organization to Chicago, the creation of a new organization to implement the innovation, or the adoption of the innovative program by an existing local institution.

Marketing and Strategy

BUS 37106 – Marketing Research Lab

This is an experiential learning course designed in conjunction with client company marketing projects. The primary purpose is to provide marketers with hands-on experience in developing and interpreting marketing research information to enable more rigor in marketing decision-making and strategy development. The course is structured from the point of view of the marketing executive, product manager, management consultant, or entrepreneur who will use research initiatives to understand the beliefs, motivations, and reactions of key market constituents and to inform strategy decisions. The new type of strategic marketing required can be referred to as marketing engineering.

Students will work in teams to conduct original marketing research and solve real-world marketing challenges for their client companies. The course will cover, and client projects will require teams to generate, both qualitative and quantitative research. The underlying approach is designed to have students pursue marketing initiatives to help a company address business issues such as growing revenues, increasing gross margins, engaging and keeping customers, etc. The course will help students to develop a critical eye for marketing research and an understanding of how to leverage the right research approach to address a marketing issue to be solved. The emphasis is on applying research tools and templates rather than on learning the statistical underpinnings and formulas that drive data analyses.

Student teams will work closely with their clients, with the guidance of an experienced faculty coach, to uncover market, customer, and product insights through qualitative research; obtain strategic and relevant proprietary data through structured quantitative research; develop conclusions from data analysis; and provide actionable recommendations to the marketing challenge(s) faced by the company.

BUS 37201 – Lab in Developing New Products and Services 

The primary purpose of this course is to provide marketers with an in-depth understanding of current practices in new product development, with an emphasis on the early up-front stages of the product development process. Topics covered include: stage-gate and agile innovation processes, innovation strategy, platform strategy, opportunity identification, perceptual mapping, qualitative and quantitative market research techniques for uncovering customer needs, idea generation and screening, writing new product concept statements, concept optimization and testing, new product forecasting methods (including innovation diffusion models and simulated test markets), brand extendability, and new product launch plans.

Students will learn about and apply current tools for effective new product development including perceptual mapping, stage-gate and agile development processes, ethnographic market research techniques, ideation/brainstorming techniques, idea screening models, concept statements and quantitative concept tests, forecasting models, new product launch strategies, and new product business cases. This course will also highlight the different roles and functions required for effective new product development. A series of company-sponsored, real-world innovation projects enables students to apply these tools on an actual client “lab” project.

BUS 37701 – Laboratory in New Product and Strategy Development 

This course complements Chicago Booth’s strong training in business theory by providing a problem-solving experience for a small but diverse group of students. The course is designed to help students improve their skills as leaders, team members, and client managers while developing solutions to real-world business problems. Faculty provide students with tools for solving complex problems and detailed feedback regarding their performance. Students who complete this course report they learn a great deal about their abilities as business professionals and find themselves better prepared to manage complex problems and situations in the workplace.

Client-sponsors offer two distinct types of projects: those focused on developing new products and services, and broad strategy projects such as improving the business performance of existing products, identifying whole new business ventures, and estimating the commercial potential of new technologies, acquisition targets, or targets for divestment.

BUS 37703Digital Marketing and MarTech Lab

Companies today expect their marketing professionals to understand what it takes to design, execute, and manage digital marketing strategies and campaigns. In addition, marketing professionals, in both B2B and B2C environments, are now expected to have an understanding of how to select, deploy, and use a variety of marketing software platforms and services, including advertising (AdTech), content marketing, marketing and sales automation, websites, social media, sales intelligence, and analytics dashboards. The best way to gain such expertise is for these professionals to actually build and execute specific digital marketing programs/strategies using various MarTech platforms in a lab environment.

This course takes students through the process of designing and executing specific digital marketing program components, hands-on. They will work with several marketing platforms and tools including those for creating and managing digital presence, content, mobile-first design, advertising, social media, marketing and sales funnel management, and analytics.

BUS 38702 – Choice Architecture in Practice

In this hands-on course, students apply the insights and methodologies of behavioral science to partner organizations outside of Booth, with guidance from both researchers and practitioners.

This is a class about learning by doing, and most of that doing will happen outside of the classroom. Students will be handed a big, ambiguous, messy real-world challenge and asked to identify and tackle a small, manageable chunk of it during the three academic quarters. This means developing, evolving, and sticking to a project plan; understanding the relevant organizational and user context; diagnosing what is going on from a behavioral science perspective; and developing psychologically informed solutions. One or more of those solutions students will further refine into concrete hypotheses to put to the test in a randomized controlled experiment, to ultimately deliver an external partner organization with new knowledge, communications, tools, or other products to improve their choice architecture. Students will be researching, observing, writing, listening, debating, creating, testing, analyzing, and presenting—all to implement a real and valuable change in the partner organization’s world.

BUS 42705 – Reputation, Regulation and Communications—How Media Influences Business

The interaction between business, regulators, and media is of great importance for future decision-makers. In business, we see reputation, branding, and public discourse having a growing influence on most corporations vis-à-vis all their stakeholders. In regulation, we notice the significance of media in setting the agenda and influencing the regulator’s reputation, and incentives and ideas. When faced as executives with a news story, a media crisis, or a media-driven economic or business event, it is crucial to be able to map and understand the players, the incentives, and the dynamics, as well to analyze the non-market forces that influence corporations.

This lab course exposes students to live regulatory and media challenges faced by companies and provides them with a set of tools to deal with the media. This course is taught in collaboration with Tusk Ventures, a venture capital company that works with growing startups to help them navigate governmental, political, and media hurdles. Each group of students will be paired with one of Tusk Ventures’ portfolio startups to create and present a regulatory or media strategic plan, while consistently engaging with the high level of ambiguity surrounding early-stage companies. Tusk Ventures will supplement the material taught in class with consulting resources to coach and support the groups. This experience will give the students an opportunity to put into practice some of the skills and strategies that they will learn during the course.