Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

CEE 246: Venture Creation for the Real Economy

Main content start

Course Information

Are you wondering what it takes to build the next Salesforce, Amazon, Genentech, or Apple Inc.?

In this course, Stanford students interested in technology-driven startups have the opportunity to learn and practice fundamental entrepreneurial skills:

  • Assessing the business opportunity of a technology concept or product
  • Building an execution plan around the opportunity
  • Presenting the proposed startup to top-tier professional investors in a partner meeting-style setting

This approach, now in its fourth decade of delivery, has provided real-world training for hundreds of actual startups. In ten weeks, this course emulates the actual startup process up to and including fund raising. The teaching team, mentors, and lecturers include serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and domain experts in finance, corporate governance, IP, and trending technology.

This team- and project-based class teaches students how to exploit emerging materials science, engineering, and IT technologies to radically apply innovation to the “real economy” – e.g., new products and services that produce real economic value for society as well as for the entrepreneurs.

The course focuses on creating technology products and services with an innovation that can produce sustainable differentiation in selected markets. Proposed businesses must have potential venture scale which means the endeavor could be fundable by venture capital investors. 

The course is organized around two Gate presentations (coaching sessions with Silicon Valley experts) and a Final Pitch to a panel of partners from top VC firms.

Gate I - Teams, self-assembled from the cohort of participants, synthesize a proposed business opportunity, learn the difference between business models and the whole company, use an opportunity assessment framework to evaluate their ideas and product-market fit, and prosecute a customer development program mostly outside of class.

Gate II - Teams develop a product build strategy, a go-to-market strategy, and a financing strategy. Pre-built sophisticated financial models are provided to each team so that they can build the appropriate financial structure for their company and evaluate financing requirements.

Final Pitch - Teams develop an understanding of the venture capital business model, how venture funds actually work, company ownership structures, and maintaining alignment of interests between entrepreneurs and investors.

Auditors are not permitted as this is a team project course requiring significant time commitments. The course is open to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as non-degree option students.

This is an intensive course, but there are no prerequisites other than a passion for creating new ventures and the ability to put in the required time. This is a competitive class and requires a team application.

Info/Pitch Mixer #1

Monday, October 23, 2023
5:30 pm – 6:30 pm PT
Y2E2 299

Info/Pitch Mixer #2

Wednesday, November 15, 2023 
5:30 pm – 6:30 pm PT
Y2E2 300

Team Application

Rolling Admission

We invite excellent students from all backgrounds, including those from historically underrepresented groups in engineering, to consider participation in CEE 246.  In making admissions decisions, the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and its affiliated programs will comply with the requirements of the law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, evaluating each applicant based on their "experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.” We continue to value a diverse student body that benefits the educational experience of our students and our mission of generating knowledge at Stanford University.

ORCA Network

Team Formation Platform

ORCA (Instructions)

Instructions on how to use the platform for CEE 246

Course Instructors

Michael Lyons

“ You want to start a high-tech company? You are going to learn how to do it - by doing it ... ”

Course Syllabus

  • Opportunity Assessment
  • Product-Market Fit
  • Business Model Architecture
  • Pitching and Storytelling
  • Go To Market
  • Product Development
  • Financial Modeling
  • Metrics and Milestones
  • Venture Capital, Equity, and Ownership

Frequently Asked Questions

This list covers the most common questions we receive about the course. Don't see your question listed here? Feel free to email the course TA.


I'm an undergraduate. Can I still enroll?
Yes. This course is an intensive 10-week effort and requires significant time and coordination with members of the team you’ll be on. A mix of graduate and undergraduate participants has been shown to enhance the course. Go for it if your schedule allows.

I'm not in the School of Engineering. Can I enroll?
Yes. The majority of students who enroll in this course are from the School of Engineering, but we encourage students from other departments as well. Alumni have been from Computer Science, Graduate School of Business, Law School, Medical School, and Humanities. The Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) also provides participation for non-degree option students.

Can I audit?
No. This class demands a high level of commitment, therefore formal enrollment is required. Auditing doesn’t really achieve much as outside team effort is 80% of the learning.

Can I take this course for less than 4 units?
The course is listed as a 3- or 4-unit course. All students should take it for 4 units unless they have a capped number of units to work with. Regardless, you will still be required to do the same amount of work if you register for 3 or 4 units.

Team Formation

Do I need to be part of a team before I enroll in class?
Students are expected to submit a team application to join the course. Pre-formed partial/complete teams are welcomed, and there will also be many opportunities to meet other students and form teams.

Do I need to have a business idea to enroll?
No. However, if you do - great! Many great business ideas have been created in class and ended up being real companies acquired in the marketplace.

How do teams form? Will I be assigned to a team?
We do not assign members to teams. We run two mixer sessions, prior to class start, to create an environment to meet potential team members. Also, there will be opportunities in the first week of class to finalize team formation.

How many people compose a team?
Four team members is the ideal mix to address the substantial workload and to foster learning around team dynamics. Different team constructs are considered by the teaching team depending on circumstances. This can also be a factor when SCPD students are involved in teams, both wholly outside and hybrids of on-campus/off-campus groups.

Team Dynamics

What roles are in each team?
Each team will have a CEO, CFO, CTO, and CMO. These roles usually remain unchanged throughout the quarter. Pick the role that best reflects your interests/strengths. Some teams decide to re-assign roles as team functionality evolves.

What if my team becomes dysfunctional?
One of the key attributes of a successful venture is a strong team that can work through their problems together. Be selective in choosing your teammates and be prepared to work through difficult issues.

What if one of my teammates is not "pulling their weight"?
Try to resolve it within your team. If the situation continues, please approach the teaching team. Final grades will also reflect individual participation and contribution.


Does everyone in the team get the same grade?
Not necessarily. Individual participation and contributions are also considered.

What kind of feedback can I expect?
This course is a bit different than typical academic courses. We are trying to expose participants to the real-world challenges of building and funding a startup company. The members of the teaching team are all highly practiced experts in actually doing this, including numerous startups and venture capital track records across multiple funds. Therefore, the feedback can at times be blunt and categorized as tough love. This will prepare teams well for the final presentations to top-tier venture firms’ managing partners. A final grade will be assigned at the end of the quarter based heavily on the feedback from those VC judges. That feedback will be provided directly to each team. Throughout the quarter, the teaching team will monitor assignments/deliverables. Feedback on the assignments will come directly from the TAs. Much of the learning will come from feedback/discussions with industry mentors, provided to each team, and from coaching/office hour sessions with the teaching team each week. The course is largely about coaching, not grading.

Can I take this class Pass/No-Credit?
No. Letter grade only.

Intellectual Property

Best practices for student entrepreneurial courses
Entrepreneurship is deeply ingrained in Stanford's culture and we have benefited greatly from it. The Stanford Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) website provides basic guidelines to faculty and students for inventions developed as a result of entrepreneurial courses taught at Stanford.

Best practices for student startups
Both Stanford and its entrepreneurs have responsibilities to optimize technology transfer and mitigate conflict of interest (COI) when licensing Stanford intellectual property to a startup. Stanford has a rich history of translating inventions, and these practices are designed to build on that strong base.

Who owns the intellectual property?
The intellectual property belongs to the team as a whole. Stanford does not own a part of the company unless the team is working with a Stanford-related technology (i.e., either research from one of the team members or a Stanford patent). In this case, the students are highly encouraged to discuss this with the Stanford Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) to better understand what licensing and royalty terms would be applicable.

If I feel my idea may become a real company, what should I do?
The primary goal of the class is to teach you the process of entrepreneurship, not to start actual companies. However, if you feel your idea may become real, be sure to discuss intellectual property rights with your team from the beginning.

Will my intellectual property rights be protected when I discuss my ideas with the class?
You must be prepared to share your ideas openly with the class. It is a forum for you to "bounce" your ideas off your peers. The teaching team can also refer teams to work with legal counsel on founding team issues and IP protection if this is deemed necessary.

What if I feel that my idea will be the "next killer app" and I don't want others to know my plans?
Stealth companies that might have the next killer app will generally be much further along than the opportunities developed in this course. If you are that advanced, this course is probably not the right environment for your team. Many early stage ideas were developed into fundable companies in this course using both pre-formed teams and ones developed in-vivo. A sharing environment provides maximum learning. Secrecy inhibits it. Legitimate entrepreneurs do not steal ideas. There are no outsiders, except VCs who might fund you, exposed to anything done inside this class.


The teaching team would like to thank the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD), and the Department of Management Science and Engineering for the decades of their continuing support and guidance, and to Fenwick and West, LLP for their generous contributions to supporting entrepreneurship education.