Amazon. Starbucks. Bloomberg. Dell. Schwab. Virgin.

It’s hard to imagine the world without those names. And yet they were introduced to our every day lives by just six people: Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Dell, Charles Schwab and Richard Branson.? Over the last decade, major success stories like Amazon and Starbucks have put entrepreneurship on the MBA career map. Often the most exciting post-MBA jobs are those with entrepreneurial ventures – especially if they are among the ones that are hugely successful. There has been an increasing movement by MBAs to work for startups or dream one day of starting their own companies. Business plan competitions are highly sought after medals of honor in this tough world. The $100K MIT Competition is the world’s leading competition for entrepreneurs. Akamai, once a company with a market capitalization of $50 billion, and now a lesser-valued but still very successful startup, came out of the labs of MIT. However, it took an Indian student, Preetish Nijhawan, to write the business plan that would win a Semi-finalist award, attract the attention of the venture capital community, and result in one of the most successful Tech IPOs of all time. Akamai may have been the beginning of such a movement, but Indians at business school have been taking disproportionate part in business plan competitions ever since. If one were to visit business school competitions, we would venture that 20-30% of the entries now have at least one Indian entrepreneurial team.

B-Schools and Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurship can mean creating a new firm and it can mean dramatically reinventing an existing organization. And, it can refer to a smaller scale effort not requiring even one full-time employee or a larger scale organization with a full payroll. Entrepreneurs can be found in every industry. Beyond the entrepreneurial venture itself, whole industries have sprouted up in response to the tremendous business opportunity. While the debate rages on about whether would-be-entrepreneurs need to go to business school, a formal business education is undeniably helpful in working through the entrepreneurship process. An MBA education will be helpful as an entrepreneur takes his or her idea and creates a business plan, explores financing options, builds a business/organization and identifies a profitable exit strategy. Some students arrive at business school with an idea in mind and spend two years refining and working on their business plan – in a great environment given that faculty members, other students and alumni are fantastic sounding boards. In addition, schools like Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia and MIT have dedicated “Centers” for entrepreneurship. MIT and Stanford are the most famous universities with a history of entrepreneurship; it is not surprising that many venture-backed companies start with 1st and 2nd year business plan competitions being won by students who later go on to start these companies.

Getting Hired

Working in an entrepreneurial venture can be exciting – and risky. The efforts are sometimes met with success – and other times not. MBA graduates focused on working for an entrepreneurial venture sometimes launch their own organization or work for an entrepreneur starting his or her own firm. These positions can be more difficult to find only in that they are not hiring huge classes of MBAs to fill their ranks. They may only hire a few people (and not necessarily MBAs) every year. The best way for MBAs to identify these opportunities is to network, network, network. Choosing a business school with a particularly strong reputation in the field of entrepreneurship, strong entrepreneurship classes and a solid roster of entrepreneurial alums will help to build this network.

Social Entrepreneurship

Not limited to the for profit industry, entrepreneurship has also taken root in the not for profit world in what is called, “social entrepreneurship.” If one ventures into Starbucks, a somewhat unusual shaped water bottle titled “Ethos Water” is available for sale in the store. This was a company started by two MBAs who wanted to sell water and make a social impact at the same time. They started on the West Coast, promising to donate 10 cents for every bottle of water that was sold. The two maxed out their credit cards as they started to distribute the water out of one of their kids’ bedroom, which served as the office of Ethos Water. While the venture lost money, a grassroots movement started to take hold.
World of Good was a great story of Priya Haji, daughter of immigrants. It is a simple idea – selling the crafts of villagers from around the world online. Priya Haji was a Berkeley MBA when she pitched the idea at the Global Social Venture Competition and won. Mobile Medics was an idea that started at BITS Pilani. It was another simple idea – solve the last mile solution of rural healthcare. In collaboration with their mentor, a Cornell MBA from India and a former Wall Street banker, a Columbia MBA, this plan was turned into a sophisticated plan to create a sustainable social enterprise. Mobile Medics became the first Indian school to win a global business plan competition, in this case the Global Social Venture Competition, in 2006. India is the world’s laboratory for social ventures with the largest number of NGOs operating anywhere in the world. It is natural that when Indian students show up at these business schools, these students naturally start to think about their own homes, and have natural instincts for what would work, and what would not. In addition, Indian students have experienced some of these problems, and are quickly able to pick up good ideas and turn them into plans.
There is a reality of social entrepreneurship. Most of it does not pay well. It takes a lot to spend a $100,000 and then try to change the world with a big loan on one’s back. So HBS and Wharton have brought out schemes that cover the tuition for students who are willing to go back to their developing countries for two years. The Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani Scholarship was created with the same idea – to fund 5 outstanding young Indians with a history of an impact in India, to attend the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and return to India to continue working on the development of India.

CK Prahalad wrote a book: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. This was a watershed moment in social entrepreneurship. His simple message was: When one starts to take the poor as value-added consumers, a whole world of opportunity opens up for businesses. This has resulted in a lot of research around the Bottom of the Pyramid (or BOP). Cornell has a Center for Sustainable Enterprise located within the Business School, that attracts fellows and projects around the world. MIT has the Poverty Lab within the department of Economics, which is writing policy for countries. This lab was set up with a simple idea – that there is a lot of knowledge about what works and what does not work. Yet this knowledge is not getting anywhere in adhoc meetings with bureaucrats. Instead by writing policy, it can be turned into laws and policies that can be adopted by countries. There are many examples where one single change in behavior or incentives can dramatically impact outcomes. For example in Kenya, a single 15 cent deworming pill given to children increased school attendance by 80%. These children always complained of stomach pains. When the pains subsided, they could concentrate. In India, Akshaya Patra has become the world’s largest NGO by feeding 1 million children a day for a total annual cost of $28. This has resulted in children attending and remaining in school in significantly larger numbers, because they are being fed.
Social Entrepreneurship gets away from the notion of charity and attempts to leverage incomes and costs to create social enterprises. This concept reverberates with business students who are taught to look for opportunities, and build companies in a sustainable manner. By adding grants through foundations, and measures that are simply not measurable in the traditional sense, this field brings satisfaction beyond what people would expect is reasonable.


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