MBA Entrepreneurs Destined for Startup Success

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Those applying to study an MBA to fulfill entrepreneurial dreams come in many forms, with some would-be business school entrepreneurs enacting them during, or even prior to their program. Others, intent on finding an MBA that meets their entrepreneurship goals might wait longer after graduation, gaining all-important work experience for a few years first. Though the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2013 shows that business school applicants are slightly less likely than in previous years to pursue an MBA for entrepreneurial endeavors, there is little doubt that the MBA entrepreneur is still alive and well.

MBA entrepreneurs succeeding from varying backgrounds

“I had started businesses in the past, and was quite sure that entrepreneurship was my future,” says Howard Kingston, CEO and cofounder of Future Ad Labs, a company developing a disruptive new form of online advertising. “I wanted a qualification that would give me the best knowledge and foundation for all the challenges I would meet on my entrepreneurial journey ahead,” he adds, explaining that this was the decision path that took him to study an MBA, eventually at Durham University Business School in the UK.

“Through the startup, I’ve earned respect, fame, and status,” says Frank Wang, founder of LuxSea Boutiques, adding that starting one’s own business comes with great attractions in itself.  “These could not be achieved if I just worked at a regular job,” he says.

Wang’s company LuxSea Boutiques is a retail operation that exploits a gap in the market for good quality and mid-priced fashion and clothing in China. “While the Chinese [have] increasingly more disposable income, they had only two choices when purchasing clothes: items that cost US$80 or those that cost US$800,” he explains. “Between those two price ranges there is a lot of room for fashion brands to market their products and be profitable; Wang graduated from his MBA at China-based CEIBS in 2009 and set up his company the same year, drawing on from his experience as an entrepreneur in California also, where he earned his first US$1 million in e-commerce. The entrepreneurial skills that Wang gained from his MBA have been put to best use, he says, not in setting up his operations but in the running of the company.

Essential business school training for MBA entrepreneurs

For Roger Huffstetler, a Silicon Valley based  Harvard  Business School MBA alumnus, it’s a different story. This experience, Huffstetler explains, gave him the building blocks that could be adapted on the Harvard program. “There’s no way I could be speaking the language of startups, of computers, and of management without the MBA.” Currently, Huffstetler and his co-founder are in negotiations for investment through high profile angel investors.  Wang however chose a different path for investment, one that utilized the contacts he made through business school. In terms of gaining the resources required for establishing a company by oneself, he says that it is the peripheral advantages that an MBA offers students, and not necessarily the direct courses offered that enable fellow MBAs to set up an enterprise for themselves. “Many MBA programs provide students with the skills needed to work as part of a large company, to find a job that pays more than the job they had before they enrolled,” he says.

“For students like me, who want to start their own business, the most valuable thing they can gain from doing an MBA is the alumni network, where you can find business opportunities and co-workers or partners.”

Kingston presents a different picture of the importance of an MBA to those setting up their own companies. Discussing which skills and what knowledge has proved most useful to him when establishing Future Ad Labs, he says that plenty came from his MBA.

Entrepreneurial instincts ingrained at business school

 “Being comfortable with financials and being able to strategically plan and forecast are the most practical skills,” he says. “However, I’ve found most of the knowledge you’ll learn will sink into your subconscious and become frameworks to shape your thinking.

“You won’t even know you’re using them, but once you have them you’ll speak to people with a confidence and assurance that will inspire them with the confidence they need to trust and to do business with you.”

Kingston too says that he sees his MBA as gaining in relevance as his business grows, and adds that it is the financial modeling knowledge gained during his studies that will prove more and more useful in his company’s future. Certainly, though each of the three MBA entrepreneurs has taken a differing route, the three business school graduates are celebrating early success. In fact, Kingston finishes by explaining that his own venture is just gearing up for expansion.

“We’ve just raised a sizeable investment round from venture capitalists which secures our immediate future and puts us in a really strong position for us to realize our vision and have our product used by millions globally,” he says. “That feels good.”

Discover which business schools are considered the

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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