From the August 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

From introducing inventive game elements into the classroom to starting mock businesses in an all-virtual marketplace, business schools are hoping to prepare students for business ownership in really cool ways.

At Towson University near Baltimore, students can participate in The Associate, a semester-long program similar to NBC's The Apprentice with Donald Trump. Eight students work on different real-life cases each week, learn about things like manufacturing and innovation, and present their solutions to a Trump-like local business magnate for review. Only one student remains at the end, winning a job with the magnate's business. "Students have said it's been the best educational and networking opportu-nity [they've had]," notes Laleh Malek, program coordinator and director of professional experience for the College of Business and Economics. For more on the program, go to www.towson.edu/cbe/associate.

Incorporating the element of chance is Waverly Deutsch, clinical assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. A fan of the game Dungeons & Dragons, Deutsch likens starting a business to playing D&D, where the skills and choices of players are tempered with chance. So she created a game called YourCo., in which students simulate running a company and present plans for launching the business, running operations, etc. When students pre-sent, Deutsch uses a series of calculators she's created to determine the probability of success. Students then roll a 10-sided die that tells them of some unexpected event (a sale fell through, for example) and they must develop a plan of action. "The setting [feels] real," she says.

In fact, simulating real-life business situations in a virtual environment is a major trend. At Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, assistant professor of entrepreneurship Jay Azriel has his students use an online simulation to run a virtual lemonade stand, determining factors like sup-ply costs and product pricing as well as weather contingency plans. Students then take what they learn and start real lemonade stands on campus.

Michigan State University professor Michael Lobbestael uses the virtual business platform Marketplace Business Simulations, which lets students all over the world create virtual companies, make business decisions and compete with other virtual businesses. Lobbestael asks his business students to run a virtual manufacturing operation. They make two years' worth of decisions in their semester-long class, then present their business plans to actual VCs to see if their ideas have legs. "You can literally spend as much time [working on the virtual business] as you would a real business," says Lobbestael.

For another virtual business platform, check out the Institute for Virtual Enterprise at City University of New York in New York City. In this platform, students can develop companies and buy and sell products with other student teams worldwide-even take the com-pany public or borrow money from a virtual bank. Says Jonathan Deutsch, an IVE fellow, "It gives students a chance to test their entrepreneurial concept in a closed economy before doing it for real."