Why an MBA is essential to entrepreneurial success

Adrian Barrett, Founder and Director at Blue Sky PR

I was recently a judge for the Association of MBA’s MBA Entrepreneurial Venture Award, during which I met some fantastic finalists who demonstrated enormous levels of passion for their projects. The quality of the business ventures each candidate presented and the way their respective MBAs contributed to their success was extremely impressive.

Of the 200 plus Association of MBA’s accredited schools, entrants boiled down to the final six:

• Natalie Cartwright & Jake Tyler – IE Business School – Finn.ai
• Nikhil Hegde – Leeds University Business School – 6Degree
• Andrea Rinaldo – Politecnico di Milano School of Management – XMetrics
• Laurence Fornari – Telcome Ecole de Management – Skylights
• Jaime Parodi Bardon & Manuel Azevedi Coutinho – The Lisbon MBA Catolica | Nova – VIABLE
• Michael O’Dwyer – UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School – SwiftComply

The first contestant (without sounding too much like Dragon’s Den) we saw was Jake Tyler, who met his co-founder Natalie Cartwright on the IE Business School MBA Programme.

Their business venture, Finn.ai, is an artificial intelligence (AI) powered, virtual banking assistant that acts as an individual banking concierge or money manager for everyday customers. Integrated with major messaging and voice platforms, Finn.ai is designed to reduce bank customer service costs, while increasing engagement with a diverse range of customers.

From raising over a million Canadian dollars in seed capital, to growing from a team of four to thirteen within six months, Jake and Natalie have had notable success so far, including securing a strong investment syndicate with executives from banking, AI and social media, and partnership with four international banks.

Jake and Natalie owe the existence of Finn.ai to the MBA course at IE Business School, where they not only met, but also benefited from the Venture Lab, a practical business incubator designed to assist business start-ups.

Next up was winner of the Leeds University Business School MBA Student of the Year, Nikhil Hegde who began his business, 6Degree, (and convinced one of his mentor alumni to invest in the project) whilst studying for his MBA.

With a background in risk consultancy, and no experience within the fashion industry, Nikhil had a great deal to prove when he began his enterprise, and thus for 6Degree’s first ten months, he paid his team but didn’t take a cent out of the business for himself.

What Nikhil has created is an online marketplace where India’s fashion designers (of which there are around 70,000 according to Nikhil) can showcase their wares on an international platform. 6Degree is one of India’s first fashion talent and tech companies and is backed by part of the Indian Government’s Department of Science and Technology, as well as having won the Chief Minister of Goa’s award for best rising start up, but perhaps Nikhil’s greatest achievement so far, is having been approached to form a promotional partnership with Vogue.

Nikhil (who was awarded second place) greatly impressed the judges, having already made a success of his venture, rather than merely being aspirational, and by remaining enthusiastic and engaging whilst fielding our many questions.

Nikhil put a high value on not only the content of his MBA course at Leeds University Business School, but in the outstanding networking opportunities with successful entrepreneurs who came in to talk to the class - one of whom went on to become his mentor and then investor.

Andrea Rinaldo, as a former professional swimmer and swimming coach, was a clear expert in his field. Andrea developed the idea for XMetrics wearable technology devices that track swimmer’s performance (in effect a more sophisticated FitBit for swimmers), after noticing the lack of scientific means of monitoring training data.

Having already raised a million Euros in funding and in serious talks with major players in the swimming sector, Andrea has clearly found a gap in the market where his background is hugely advantageous.

During his EMBA with Politecnico di Milano School of Management, Andrea was particularly inspired by the ICT Management and Innovation course and was mentored by one of the school’s professors while working on XMetrics.

Andrea says: “I am delighted to have been recognised for the results achieved by XMetrics. My background as a professional swimmer and swimming coach inspired me to create an innovative, scientific device to monitor training data in order to identify areas for performance improvement. By using biomechanical sensors and sophisticated algorithms, the wearable device gives real-time audio feedback to users. Just 18 months from idea to market, the product is available in 11 countries – I am honoured to have this achievement recognised by AMBA.”

Laurence Fornari and her team met on the MBA at Telcome Ecole de Management and combined their areas of expertise in media licencing, technology and air travel to come up with the idea for their business venture, Skylights.

Skylights provide immersive virtual reality (VR) headsets, allowing passengers to escape during flights by watching on-demand entertainment, including the films currently showing in cinemas. Offered to airlines on a leased or purchased basis, as an end-to-end inflight entertainment solution, these are significantly cheaper than in-seat media systems.

Laurence and her team have already signed a worldwide distribution contract for 2D and 3D movies with two top Hollywood studios and have been contracted by a low cost airline and the private fleet of a major international corporation.

The team would not have met, and not been able to benefit from the combined experience of their different backgrounds, were it not for undertaking an MBA with Telcome Ecole de Management.

Jaime Parodi Bardon and Manuel Azevedi Coutinho met at The Lisbon MBA and developed their idea for VIABLE during the entrepreneurial course. VIABLE is essentially an analytics tool that evaluates entrepreneurial ventures against different investment criteria to find matches (similarly to the way a dating site would compare compatibility based on specified criteria).

Jamie came from a consulting background, having previously founded a couple of successful companies; Manuel was a designer who’d worked in advertising. After meeting on the MBA course, they saw a gap in the market - there are many entrepreneurial ideas and it’s difficult for investors to know which to invest in.

VIABLE works on a subscription based model whereby investors pay for the service and are matched with entrepreneurs meeting their criteria for investment. So far, this has been rolled out on a free trial basis.

Following the significant influence of their MBA course on developing their own business venture, Jamie and Manuel are now both on the board of the Entreprenuerialship Club of The Lisbon MBA.

The very engaging and persuasive Michael O’Dwyer was our winner. As a previous wastewater engineer, and fat, oil & grease program manager, who had set up his own company providing outsourced inspectors to check restaurants, Michael enrolled in UCD Smurfit Business School’s Executive MBA (where he met one of his team and two of his investors) to further develop his business acumen.

Having a strong understanding of the sector, its challenges, and what would have helped him in his previous roles, Michael came up with the idea for a management platform that cities can use to manage environmental compliance for restaurants. There are many restaurants in every major city around the globe, along with many fast food eateries, eating out is a popular past time and the range of food available is becoming more and more diverse. Unfortunately, as a result of this, developed cities throughout the world end up with waste fat clogging up their sewers. SwiftComply allows cities to better manage the situation by collaborating between private businesses and public environmental services to reduce administration and associated costs.

SwiftComply has successfully signed contracts with several European and International cities so far, with realistic plans to implement the system on a global level.

Michael’s Executive MBA with UCD Smurfit Business School was central to his development as an entrepreneur, in teaching him things he didn’t even realise he would need to consider for the business to become successful internationally, such as building and shaping the right organisational culture.

For more information about the MBA Entrepreneurial Venture Award please visit: https://www.mbaworld.com/business-schools/golden-awards/mba-entrepreneurial-venture-award