The Startup Game

Ethan Mollick standing in the halls of Wharton

From a conceptual standpoint, the initial choices startups make have long-term consequences, often affecting a company for the rest of its existence…

Unfortunately for most startups, the early days of a new business venture are also the most confusing and difficult, making it hard to plan strategically in the initial battle to survive.

That’s where The Startup Game offers students with entrepreneurial ambitions a significant advantage. This clever, engaging, and deeply immersive simulation – developed by award-winning Wharton professor Ethan Mollick in partnership with the Learning Lab – incorporates a number of the key factors that affect the early days of startups, examining them from the perspectives of founders, investors, and key employees.

“I created The Startup Game to be a new kind of business simulation, one best suited to teaching about the messy and complex world of entrepreneurship. There is no underlying model with an optimal outcome that students hope to achieve. Instead, the learning comes from the ways in which students navigate the chaos of the initial part of the game and, in turn, how the resulting debrief(s) at its conclusion expand upon the complexities and tradeoffs associated with entrepreneurship that the students experienced.” — Prof. Ethan Mollick

Desigstartup_topshotned for a class of 20 to 86 students, players of the Startup Game gain a critical understanding of decision-making under uncertainty, as well as the variations in strategy among individuals when there is no “right” or “wrong” path, and guidance on the sorts of compromises that various decisions or strategies engender. Given these core concepts, this interactive simulation offers the most powerful means through which to instill the learning objectives that underscore them, creating the conditions for fiscal uncertainty and then introducing various options for structuring fluid startup environments.

Each player takes on the role of either a founder, an investor, or a key early employee – their goal is to be a part of a successful business by acquiring the right set of funding and talent, competing and cooperating with one another in order to fund, join, and grow startups. After the game is complete, the instructor (armed with The Startup Game’s teaching toolkit) leads a discussion of the strategies teams used; the simulation then scores the performance of players according to a range of key factors known to be important in startups, providing rich educational fodder for many classes to come.

startup_lowerpicBut make no mistake – Mollick, a former entrepreneur himself, also designed this simulation to be seriously fun, working with professional game designers to ensure that The Startup Game is as engaging and entertaining as it is instructive. Crafted to get students of all backgrounds interacting in new and exciting ways, the in-game dynamics it creates have been classroom-tested (and proven effective) with thousands of MBAs, undergraduates, executives and entrepreneurs – with players often deeming it a course highlight.

Moreover, The Startup Game (available through Harvard Business Publishing’s website) provides a fantastic overview of the many areas where academic studies of entrepreneurship can serve as a useful and important guide to “real world” decisions, giving students an opportunity to begin thinking of their own frameworks for entrepreneurial action – and how their coursework applies to their future business endeavors.

For more information on The Startup Game, email the team: