How an Executive MBA Helped Me Launch My Own Business |

How an Executive MBA Helped Me Launch My Own Business

By Seb Murray

Updated April 16, 2019 Updated April 16, 2019

Tax is not usually a thrilling topic but Maria Scott, a female fintech entrepreneur, makes tax sound quite cool. She found it so cool that she quit her job at JPMorgan Chase to create a regulatory technology business and begin an executive MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business’s London campus.

Her company, Taina Technology, uses machine learning — a form of artificial intelligence (AI) — to help financial firms comply with tax laws. The foreign account tax compliance rules in the US and international common reporting standard have been introduced to stop tax evasion. Taina’s technology speeds up the processing of tax forms to meet both sets of rules — reducing banks’ costs and operational risk while providing a full audit trail.

According to Citigroup the biggest banks, including JPMorgan and HSBC, have doubled the number of employees who ensure they are compliant with regulation. That costs banks US$270 billion a year, or 10 percent of operating costs.

Scott says: “Evermore burdensome compliance involves a lot of paperwork. We help banks automate dealing with that paperwork. Our technology reads tax forms and crosschecks them with regulations in milliseconds.”

While fears are growing that automation may displace data-intensive work, Scott says her technology has been created to assist, rather than replace compliance officers. “They are overburdened and typically they welcome tech like this as it frees them up to focus on higher risk and more complex tasks,” she says.

Scott spotted the problem during a 17-year career as a tax lawyer, first at law firm Dechert then JPMorgan. “I could see the industry was changing, with banks becoming huge tech companies themselves,” she says. “They were very open to innovation for the first time, open to working with new businesses — if they had a new and valuable solution. So, starting this business was a no-brainer.”

Scott, a Russian who has spent the past 22 years living in London, had no real business experience when she started. Aware that most startups fail, she chose to study an EMBA to hone her management skills and develop a business plan.

She says: “I knew I wanted to start my own business. It was a question of if, not when. But I felt I didn’t know enough. I knew a huge amount about my area — tax — but the broader landscape of running a business — how to raise funds, sell, market, build a team and product — I didn’t know at all. I thought all of those things would come with the EMBA.”

Scott, who was mainly schooled in the UK, chose Chicago Booth, whose course runs for 21 months and costs US$194,000 in fees, because of its good reputation. “That’s where the EMBA was first established,” she points out. “There was no dilemma for me; Booth was my only choice.”

Establishing a business alongside an intense academic program may seem challenging yet Scott saw the EMBA as an opportunity: “It was in fact the best timing because the last quarter of the EMBA has a course dedicated to building new ventures, which is essentially a boot-camp where you can develop an idea and test it out, receiving feedback from the class and expert faculty.”

The course led her to compete in Booth’s Global New Venture Challenge, in which students and alumni compete for seed funding. Scott won the competition and bagged US$15,000, but she says the real value came from being mentored by serial entrepreneurs who were involved in the competition.

“The coaching, feedback and practice of pitching over and over and being criticized — you can’t measure that value in money,” she says. “Nothing phases me anymore, I don’t even get nervous when meeting potential investors.” Indeed, Taina raised US$2.3 million in a pre-series A investment round.

One mentor who later joined Taina’s advisory board, tech entrepreneur Chris Gladwin, helped Scott hire the engineers she needed to build the technology behind her business. “If you know nothing about tech, like me, the most important thing to do is to nail your first hire, your head of technology,” Scott says. “Chris chose the head of technology for me, which was a very successful hire. I could never have built the team I have without his guidance.”

Taina uses a mixture of 10 internal engineers, who produce the technology from the Level 39 incubator in London’s Canary Wharf, and external technicians who are housed in three European universities, who build prototypes and conduct R&D. All told, there are 29 full-time and extended employees working for Taina.

“A big challenge for London entrepreneurs is that there is a huge amount of competition for tech talent,” Scott says.  “We leverage computer science heavily in our work.”

That does not appear to have held the entrepreneur back though, and she’s now eyeing expansion in New York and then Toronto, two of Taina’s biggest markets. What does she credit with her success so far?

“We are at the beginning of our journey. There is still a long path, we are still an early stage startup,” she says cautiously. “But I wouldn’t have started the business without the EMBA. I didn’t have the confidence to launch my business. Now I do. The degree has been critical to this business.”

Find out how Chicago Booth is ranked in the QS Executive MBA Rankings.

This article was originally published in May 2018 . It was last updated in April 2019

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Written by

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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