How an executive MBA helped these grads launch a joint start-up | TopMBA.com

How an executive MBA helped these grads launch a joint start-up

By Stephanie L

Updated May 4, 2021 Updated May 4, 2021

Sponsored by John Molson School of Business

Stephanie, Alex, Juliana and JP are all Executive MBA graduates from John Molson School of Business in Montreal, Canada. They are also cofounders of Hart Print, an innovative digital-printing service company for canned-beverage producers worldwide.

TopMBA caught up with Stephanie, Alex, Juliana, and JP to find out more about the Montreal-based startup, and how the Executive MBA helped get them and the business to where they are today. 

A lightbulb moment

Prior to studying the Executive MBA, Stephanie was a partner of a microbrewery in Montreal. It was there that she had a lightbulb moment when she questioned why they were using sticker labels rather than printed cans. It was evident that the use of sticker labels was unsustainable – both financially and environmentally.

“It blew my mind,” said Stephanie. “That’s when I had my ‘aha!’ moment. Knowing firsthand how much demand there would be, and having a first-to-market advantage really made the idea enticing.”

Fast-forward to the Executive MBA’s ‘Starting a New Venture’ class, and Stephanie is sharing her idea of coming up with a cost-effective and sustainable packing solution for canned beverages with Alex, Juliana and JP.

Shortly after graduating in 2018, the four aspiring entrepreneurs set their sights on turning the dream into a reality.

Alex recalls attending beer shows to meet and speak with brewery owners – and potential clients – about Stephanie’s innovative solution and becoming practically inundated with orders.

“Steph’s idea was so clear, smart, and attractive that no one we pitched it to could punch a serious hole in the concept,” said Alex. “Almost everyone was just simply asking: ‘where should I sign and when can you deliver orders?’”

Sixteen months later in October 2019, Hart Print was born and became the first company in North America to offer an exclusive packaging solution using digital printing technology.

Where it all began

The Executive MBA provided Stephanie, Alex, Juliana and JP with the essentials to help get Hart Print up off the ground – from branding strategy to nuances of accounting, negotiation techniques, financing options and even talent management.

But it was the ‘Starting a New Venture’ course in particular, which aims to cultivate students’ startup mentality and acts as a tool for self-development, creativity, and innovation, that was the catalyst for the group’s entrepreneurial ambitions.

“The ‘Starting a New Venture’ class was an integral part of the Executive MBA experience since it allowed us to explore our entrepreneurial spirit,” said Stephanie.

Also not to be overlooked is the fact that the programme attracted a dynamic cohort of like-minded, smart, and motivated individuals from all walks of life which ultimately brought the team of four together.

But when it came to knowing whether the decision to start a business was the right one, there seemed to be only one answer: a resounding yes; even for Alex and Juliana who, at the time, had zero entrepreneurial experience.

The idea of becoming an entrepreneur had always been in the back of Alex’s mind, but not knowing if he had the courage or strength to go for it had held him back, while Juliana had only found her entrepreneurial spark during the EMBA.

“The experiences from my peers along with the connections made with entrepreneurs from many different fields definitely helped demystify my understanding of what it is to be an “entrepreneur’”, said Juliana, Head of Operations at Hart Print.

For 20 years, Alex had been working as a software developer in the aviation industry and had some research experience, while Juliana’s background was in scientific research and marketing of technology and innovation.

While Stephanie and JP both had previous experience of helping getting businesses off the ground, together the team of four embraced and capitalised on one another’s skills, knowledge and expertise, and were able to build the foundations of what would fast become a successful startup business.

Challenges and life lessons

Navigating the competitive world of entrepreneurship and startups is no mean feat, but the Executive MBA gave Stephanie, Alex, Juliana and JP the chance to see the bigger picture of what it means to start a business.

While there have inevitably been challenges and obstacles along the way, such as financing, getting to grips with the printing technology, and balancing home life with work life, one challenge that couldn’t be foreseen, was the startup’s rapid success and growth.

“Looking back, I think the overwhelming acceptance actually had a bit of a negative effect as we were expecting an easy and fun ride, and weren’t prepared enough for the number of problems we would need to solve to make an idea (even a fantastic one) a real thing,” said Alex.

What’s more, going from a team of four to 25 in a matter of months presented its own unique set of challenges as well, said Managing Director, JP.

“The knowledge transfer was pretty crazy. We’re still kind of in this phase as we are adding a lot more structure with procedures and policies.

“But this is really where Juliana shines – she loves to organise things and establish order.

Juliana joined in the more mature stages of the startup when it was all about scaling and growth. Although there was a lot to catch up on, she brought with her a sense of order and excellent organisation and completed the Hart Print team jigsaw puzzle.

“I like to think our team is pretty well balanced and we complete each other nicely,” added JP.

Stephanie echoes JP’s sentiments about what everyone brings to the team and how they all complete each other.

“The challenges have been huge, but having a guy like JP at the helm has really made the difference in our ability to get through them.

“If it wasn’t for Alex’s ability to research and find us the right printer, or Juliana’s ability to implement structure and proper practices, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful as we are today.

““We also really care for each other as humans. We have a lot of respect for each other, which helps us get through the tough stuff,” Stephanie added.

Looking ahead…

Finding success with Hart Print in such a short amount of time wasn’t something which Stephanie, Alex, Juliana or JP had envisioned when they first embarked on their Executive MBA journey.

And although we can’t predict the future, it seems as if we’re only at the very start of some very exciting times ahead for Hart Print.

Lead image credit: Marc Bourcier Photography

This article was originally published in March 2021 . It was last updated in May 2021

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Written by

As the Head of Sponsored Content for TopMBA.com and TopUniversities.com, Stephanie creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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