Professor and serial entrepreneur Michael Burcham on finding success in his seminal course on starting a business

Dr. Michael Burcham understands what it takes to launch a venture. A former VP of Managed Care at Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), he founded specialty rehabilitation firm Theraphysics in 1992, which was acquired by Beverly Enterprises six years later. He went on to become president of ParadigmHealth, a specialty disease management firm that was sold to Optum (then Inverness Medical Innovations) in 2007. Eight years later, he launched Narus Health, a company focused on providing support and improving treatment for patients with significant medical illnesses. He was also the founding CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneurship Center, serving in the role from 2010-2015.

Michael Burcham

Michael Burcham

It should come as little surprise that his class “Launching the Venture” (an elective in the MBA program, and required for Executive MBAs) is a consistent favorite among the student body, entrepreneurial-minded or not. Student teams take an idea and, over several weeks, refine, validate, and build out a full-scale business plan. The course culminates in presentations to a panel of early-stage investors, who rank each project based on likelihood of investment.

Launching the Venture has been a springboard for several successful businesses, so it stands to reason that, after teaching course for many years while launching prominent ventures of his own, Dr. Burcham would have a good sense of the qualities that define a successful venture team. He shared his top three:

  1. A proven opportunity or pain point in the market. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a pain, but there’s usually an opportunity to optimize something that is suboptimal.”
  2. Deep industry knowledge. “It’s too much work (in the course) to learn an industry and learn the tools that you need to do this well. If you know the industry, you have an advantage.”
  3. People, process, or technology. “Have a sense of how you want to disrupt the business model of the status quo, how you might do this differently than how everyone else is doing it. A copy cat is a really hard thing to bring to market – you need to show customers how you’re different and better than what’s already there in order for them to switch. If you’ve innovated around people, process, or technology in some way that raises customer value, you typically do really well.”