20 Essential Open Courses for Budding Entrepreneurs


Open source has completely revolutionized higher education, providing a more democratic, self-directed atmosphere for independent learners boasting a high degree of motivation. With so many world-class institutions making available their course materials for free, anyone with an Internet connection, some extra time, and a little pluck can learn all about their favorite subjects from the experts. It doesn’t matter if you live in a remote area in Montana or in Southern Louisiana “” you can attend these open courses. This includes anyone with a little glimmer of an idea regarding a possible business pursuit. Look to the following for some guidance on how to start a brand new venture the right way.

  1. Entrepreneurship & Business, Mark Juliano at Carnegie Mellon University:

    As the title of the course says, this is the open source class to hit up when looking to learn as much as possible about starting a business. Mark Juliano has launched more than 10 companies, and he covers all the basics behind entrepreneurship here, including marketing, finances, and conceptualizations. It makes for an effective introduction for anyone nursing an idea about a possible economic venture, available in a convenient podcast format.

  2. Technology Entrepreneurship, Chuck Eesley at Stanford University:

    If that sexy new business plan involves developing equally sexy new technologies, then Chuck Eesley’s lecture series should be considered a must-watch. He pulls inspiration from the Silicon Valley boom, as well as other centers for major innovation, infusing elements of social entrepreneurship for good measure. In addition, the course offers some practical, general solutions to forging success in the industry.

  3. An Introduction to Business Cultures, The Open University:

    One of the many, many factors entrepreneurs need to consider before funding their business dreams involves the sort of overarching cultural climate they want to promote among employees. Analyzing the varying approaches executive and management types take to attract and retain workers with similar dispositions and goals obviously helps participants formulate their ultimate decisions. For students hoping to engage in some cross-nation economics, plenty of the social elements that cause different mindsets to pop into being receive thorough analysis.

  4. What is a Project?, Andrew R. Barron and Merrie Barron at Rice University:

    It may sound like a hyper-philosophical concept for a course, but up-and-coming business owners do need to know exactly what projects are and what they entail before actually beginning any. These Rice professors differentiate between projects and operations, providing examples of each and instructions about how entrepreneurs should approach them. Grasping the difference between the two hopefully means future success and more effective innovations.

  5. Ethical Practice: Professionalism, Social Responsibility, and the Purpose of the Corporation, Leigh Hafrey at Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

    Small businesses and corporations aren’t the same thing, obviously, but they remain just as subject to overarching humane concerns as everyone else out there. Accountability, honesty, and respect ought to stand as much higher priorities than profits (sorry!), and the case studies provided here help test the greenhorn entrepreneur’s acumen with responsible practices. PROTIP: Failure means that starting a business is a terrible idea, no matter how strong and sure the concept.

  6. Financial Markets, Robert J. Shiller at Yale University:

    “Risk management and behavioral finance principles” are the name of the game here, and anyone looking to start their own business venture should tune into this course and sharpen their decision-making skills. The only way to understand how to succeed within financial markets is to actually understand how financial markets work in the first place. Since this class originally went down in 2011, the information Robert J. Shiller offers remains pretty relevant to 2012′s set of economic circumstances.

  7. Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies, James V. Green at University of Maryland, College Park:

    The next session of this Coursera offering launches Jan. 23, 2013, but keep an eye out for future presentations! James V. Green specifically tailors his class for complete newbies to the business world, encouraging them to start thinking creatively and realistically about entrepreneurial pursuits. It lasts for six weeks, requires between five to seven hours per week, requires no textbook, and allows for a high degree of flexibility and autonomous inquiry.

  8. Legal Studies, Robert D. Cooter, University of California, Berkeley:

    This course covers intersections between law and economics, particularly regarding liability, contracts, and properties. Microeconomics, too, making it ideal for incoming entrepreneurs unfamiliar with the core tenets of starting their own business. Most people consider getting sued the opposite of fun, so learning all about the rules and restrictions regulating economic concerns might very well help lower the risk of that happening.

  9. Managerial Economics, Tyler Bowles at Utah State University:

    Seeing as how entrepreneurs are ostensibly leaders, understanding economics as it applies to leadership positions is crucial to keeping a business afloat. Be forewarned, however, that dipping into this class requires some working knowledge of basic economic principles as well as statistics. Tyler Bowles’ academic goals revolve around teaching students to ponder microeconomics and how they should factor into the decision-making process on a more narrow, personal level.

  10. Preparing a Project, The Open University:

    Although a graduate-level course, more savvy entrepreneurial types will be able to follow along and soak up some valuable information about creating, maintaining, managing, and completing a business project from conception to implementation. It largely targets users in executive and management positions, meaning the novice owner should know intimately how things get done. Some of the most common issues they’ll run across appear as projects and case studies so they know how to handle them as they come up in practice.

  11. Capitalism: Success, Crisis, and Reform, Douglas W. Rae at Yale University:

    For budding entrepreneurs wanting to work within a capitalist system (specifically, the United States), understanding the economics behind it all on a broad level is a good idea. This fascinating open source class pairs the subject with Darwinism and analyzes the past, present, and future of capitalistic practices.

  12. Communication for Managers, Neal Hartman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

    Yes, it’s a graduate-level course, but aspirant entrepreneurs looking for a challenge regarding communication best practices should still give this MIT course a shot. Communication for Managers features an interdisciplinary structure and hopes graduates leave with a heightened ability to mediate problems and generally get their ideas across to a wide range of listeners. After all, effective business owners can’t just dump everything onto a few managers and hope everything sorts itself out over time!

  13. Profitability Ratios, Rudy Lopes at Rice University:

    Profits aren’t everything in a business venture, of course, but they are one of the main reasons to consider one in the first place. Rudy Lopes provides detailed formulas and instructions about determining maximum money without compromising on offering a quality product. All the math and terminology needed to comprehend the fundamentals is presented here for quick, easy, and utterly painless reference.

  14. Introduction to the Context of Accounting, The Open University:

    Entrepreneurs need to know the basics of accounting before jumping into a brand new business project, even if they opt to hire someone else to balance the books. Expenditures, profits, and taxes are all kind of essential to the executive and management experience, and while mastering them can’t ensure success, it definitely heightens one’s chances. There’s even a bit of financial history mixed in with the information regarding money management!

  15. Argument Diagramming, Carnegie Mellon University:

    There is no instructor available for this open source class, so entrepreneurs participating in the program must get it done all on their own, though the Internet abounds with supplementary information on the rhetorical subject. Rather than a straight-up business class, the Argument Diagramming course covers an essential communication skill future CEOs and managers need: the ability to critically think about major points and support them with logic and facts. Deconstructing what constitutes a valid argument comprises most of the coursework here.

  16. Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part I, Edward D. Hess at University of Virginia:

    Through Coursera, University of Virginia’s Edward D. Hess will cover everything the budding entrepreneur out there should know about navigating growing pains smoothly. For five weeks starting on Jan. 28, 2013, enrollees will spend four to six hours a week independently studying what to expect once they launch their businesses and start experiencing positive returns. Unlike many of the open source classes listed here, the professor does host office hours so students can pop in and ask questions.

  17. Financial Theory, John Geanakoplos at Yale University:

    Philosophy, economics, and business collide in this highly informative open source course tacking together financial phenomena onto more international happenings. Yale professor John Geanakoplos discusses both hedge funds and “financial equilibrium … as an extension of economic equilibrium” and asks students to think more critically about how money flows throughout the world. Hopefully, this means better-informed small business decisions, even if one’s reach doesn’t extend to the global level.

  18. Introductory Probability and Statistics for Business, Philip Stark at University of California, Berkeley:

    Sorry, numerophobes, but running a successful business means possessing some degree of basic math skills. While probability and statistics aren’t the only subjects necessary for an entrepreneur to comprehend day-to-day operations, they do stand as pretty important all the same! Get started on building the basics through this Berkeley course specifically for viewers curious about pursuing their own personal innovative ventures.

  19. Economic Analysis for Business Decisions:

    Ernst Berndt, Michael Chapman, Joseph Doyle, and Thomas Stoker at Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Let the professors at MIT’s Sloan School of Management pile on the lessons about how a functioning knowledge of microeconomics leads to more informed, responsible entrepreneurship. No matter what the economy decides to throw at business owners, familiarity with its inner workings makes it far easier for them to survive (almost) anything consumers and politicians throw at them. Markets form the bulk of the lectures and course materials available here, with information about pricing, demand, and other relevant topics.

  20. Business Ethics, Jose A. Cruz-Cruz and William Frey, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez:

    Yup, we know we already included a class on conducting business like a not-terrible person, and we’re including another one. Because profits are great and all, but gaining them by skirting the law or treating employees like chattel just plain sucks “” when it’s not outright dehumanizing and sociopathic. So future entrepreneurs absolutely must know how to treat their producers, workers, vendors, and anyone else associated with their company with extreme courtesy and care.

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