Juggling a Start-up and Executive MBA Study
It is something that surprises us, but it must be recognized that there are many cases of entrepreneurs who at the same time study an MBA. They feel the need to fill a gap, not only of knowledge, but of experiences, of sharing multiculturalism and of counting on the strength of the professional networks that are formed.
Can you launch a business along with a demanding degree like an MBA?
Of course it’s possible. This is the case of two founders, Fengru Lin in San Francisco with Max Rye. The startup has 45 employees in locations including California
How this amazing story unfolded
In 2018, Fengru Lin spent a couple of weeks in Vermont enjoying her hobby: making cheese. Little did she know how the trip to the northeastern United States would change her career: Within two years, she left her job at Google and became co-founder and CEO of TurtleTree, a biotech company that aims to produce food. sustainable.
When she discovers the orientation of the business
Lin originally wanted to make cheese in Asia. But, in her search for fresh milk, she discovered that farming practices undermined her efforts. Her mozzarella cheese didn’t stretch like she would in Vermont, Lin says, and she could see the milk was lacking in calcium. “That’s what exposed me to food systems,” she says, “how amazing they are: being able to support billions of people on the planet, but also some of the weaknesses that we’re seeing.”
As often happens, a presentation made by a businessman changed his mind
Later that year, entrepreneur Max Rye gave a talk on transformative technologies at Google’s Singapore office, where Lin worked. This sparked an initial conversation about the possibility of producing milk in the laboratory. “We started sharing this idea with scientists, dairy companies, and representatives of different food companies,” Lin says. “For us, it was the door that kept opening. Nobody said: ‘You’re crazy’, nobody said: ‘It’s impossible’.”
The importance of focusing the idea towards a viable business
That idea turned into a focus on lactoferrin, a protein in milk said to have benefits for the immune system, gut health, digestion and iron regulation. Lactoferrin is found in small amounts in milk and is resource intensive to extract, with 80% of it being used in high value products such as baby formula.
TurtleTree plans to produce it using precision fermentation techniques and make it more widely available.
In mid-2019, Lin says, TurtleTree was created and the scientists, who now work for the company, made their first “breakthroughs” and filed their first patents. She left Google and Rye moved from California to Singapore.
Lin says explaining her technology to a business school professor was good preparation for introducing it to clients.
The decision to embark on an executive MBA
Starting a business would be enough for most founders, but in 2020 both Lin and Rye embarked on an executive MBA run jointly by Essec in France and the University of Mannheim in Germany.
“We wanted to be on the same path,” Lin explains, adding that the couple didn’t think of the program as going to school, but as a supplement to what they were doing at work. They would have coffee and discuss the lessons learned and how they could be applied to the business.
Take advantage of the knowledge and experiences of fellow MBA students
Both Lin and Rye used TurtleTree in class projects, allowing them to take full advantage of the collective wisdom of their classmates. “We found a real-time way to engage our peers in our class to help work on our project, to help address some of our gaps and issues within our company,” Rye says. “And it was just a wonderful environment because the classmates also had the opportunity to delve into a new company.”
One lesson both founders learned was to focus on creating value from their technology. Lin remembers a professor who said: “An invention is only an invention if there is a business behind it.” This was “surprising,” he says, because it reinforced the notion that people and the planet would only benefit from the company’s ideas if they derived value from them.
Lin says that he resorts to this when he talks to the TurtleTree team. “It’s great that we have an idea on paper. It’s great that we can run it in the lab. How do we scale it? How do we make it accessible to people? That’s what makes the impact.” It’s great that we have an idea on paper, but how do we make it accessible? That’s what makes the impact.
Even Rye, who spent 15 years as the CEO of an IT company, found this to be a valuable lesson. “I thought turning an invention into an innovation was pretty obvious,” he says. “But it really wasn’t, there’s so much more to it and that had the biggest impact for me.”
Think about what a final consumer thinks
There were other tangible lessons. As part of the capstone project, Lin recalls, a professor struggled to understand the technology. “It was a good angle, from a layman’s point of view, to think about what the end consumer thinks,” Lin says, noting that, in response, TurtleTree changed its message to avoid scientific and technical terms.
The company has so far raised about $40 million and has about 45 employees in Boston, California and Singapore, according to Lin, with regulatory approval expected in the United States in the middle of next year and also in Singapore.
Lactoferrin is the first project, although there are others in preparation. “This product is produced using precision fermentation,” Lin says. “This is a technology where we can get microbes like yeast or fungus to ingest sugar and pump out animal protein, just like an animal would, just without it having to go through the cow.”
Greater efficiency in the use of resources
This process is more efficient in terms of water, energy and land use compared to extracting milk, he says. TurtleTree wants to partner with major food and beverage companies to bring the health benefits of more affordable and sustainable lactoferrin to products like plant-based milks, kombucha, and yogurt.
Undertaking an EMBA while building a business was difficult
The couple credits their leadership team with helping them get through it. “You have to build a strong team from day one,” says Rye. “I think hire number four was our HR business partner.” This paid dividends as the team was “able to carry the load” while the duo completed the EMBA.
The advice of successful entrepreneurs is to simultaneously study an MBA
In fact, Lin advises entrepreneurs considering an EMBA to “go for it,” while Rye says building a good team is the key to balancing the demands of the course and running a business. “If you can find the right people around you, you can delegate,” he says. “And if you don’t have the right people around you, you may not be doing something right.”
Can you build your startup while doing a one-year MBA?
From OUR EDITORIAL we have investigated and as always we went out to look for experiences, and we find the one that we relate below fascinating, that it is about a person who was attending a full-time MBA program, and who could now share some ideas from the Internet based on what you have seen and experienced. And she says it clearly: “the short answer is yes, you can absolutely undertake and take an MBA”, but there are several factors to consider. The main one of which is the following: -One of the first considerations that he put on the table, is that none of the best MBA programs offer one year. Of course, it refers to courses of more than one year and an important absorption of time.
How do potential partners and/or investors see you study and work?
Also, many VCs (Venture Capital), potential partners, employees, clients, investors, etc., could take the fact that you are not 100% investing your time from the start of the business, which could be interpreted as a sign that you are not you are fully committed.
This professional’s point of view is this: why do both with Partial Effort instead of one of them with Full Effort? Therefore, he introduces an element that for him is that there is no real reward or advantage in simultaneously studying an MBA as an entrepreneur. He’s not saying it’s a disadvantage, either, but after hearing how Tim Ferris approached this topic (he has one of the best podcasts on itunes, which is absolutely fantastic), he came to the conclusion that being fully involved in a start-up and Pursuing your goal with 100% focus and commitment becomes a kind of MBA in itself.
Why not follow your dream and if things don’t work out get an MBA?
As we have been able to observe, there are opinions for all tastes. Just as the previous one questioned studying simultaneously, other people say that if what it is about is to enter a higher and more prestigious position, even full-time to maximize your ROI, if you can also enter a good program of Full time now, you’ll have an incredibly rich two years to carefully evaluate your business idea, take classes that align with your goals, build a network, do part-time internships at local startups (ideally successful ones) to get exposure to best practices and, most importantly, tapping into the immense resources of the school to test, refine, and ultimately implement your idea. In other words, the idea of starting a start-up is refined as it evolves, for example, in an executive MBA from a category school.
Is it worth doing an MBA if you have already gone through the process of starting your own company?
There is a thing called the “Academic Paradox”. People are very cautious when it comes to their education: they recognize it as a life-changing decision. They call this being risk averse. Business schools are careful who they choose to train their students.
That means the business school won’t hire the professor with the great new and untested ideas: they will choose the candidate with a twenty-year track record in the big corporation or quasi-government organization.
But let’s see what happens in fact: will the business school do the same with the course materials, that the heavier and more impenetrable the hardcover tome, the better? And that it will also have to be written by professors from long-established institutions. Be careful with these practices! This cannot become part of the culture, to which is added the habit of giving conferences that becomes the norm when that professional and professor has withdrawn from his organization and dedicates himself to training.
So you have to avoid getting into the old habits of doing things, routinely and slowly, from the lecture circuit, academic work, all the ways to prove yourself, but that are not necessarily aligning with the objectives of governance (we mean good governance) of a current organization, which are essential to be fulfilled and that there are good professionals to enforce them. Investors are risk averse when a project does not offer security, not because of the project itself, but because of the composition of the people involved in it.
What is the result then, if the gaze remains only in postgraduate training orthodoxy?
That when the candidate enters one of these institutions, he goes back in time. That if, for example, you are doing a master’s degree in art history, that step back from 20 to 50 years probably doesn’t matter. Not even in classical literature. But for business education and training, it does matter a lot.
But in recent years the digital transformation has accelerated
Before that we had physical companies. Making changes was difficult and a deliberately complex and hierarchical process has been carried out by leaders and organizations so that too many mistakes are not made.
The systems were also being adjusted and the change was seen as an event that was becoming part of normality, so static companies were not considered normal, being doomed to disappear.
Now companies are made up of pixels and bytes of data. The difference is marked. These companies are fluid, with normal changes and when they are static organizations they are seen as having stayed in time. This is because customer expectations change daily or even hourly and companies have dynamic pricing models driven by real-time data.
There is another factor. In the 19th century, companies scaled by adding people. Therefore, managing and getting the best out of people was the core skill, and people managers took the most important positions. Now companies scale through systems and data. Data management has become a core skill of good leadership.
Business schools had to stop teaching the pre-digital business model
The problem? Are business schools still teaching that pre-digital business model? Of course not! They have adapted by force. They go with the market forces themselves. With technology. And digital has generated more revolutions that are being lost:
– Search: customers, competitors and employees have the same information that you have, or better if you are not aware.
– Social: YouTube and others have pushed peer-to-peer learning and it is now as strong in most areas as top-down “expert” learning.
– Mobile: The world is now connected and always on.
– Data: We have data on each part of each process.
We are also transitioning to a world of digital natives.
New professionals who see the world quite differently: Many core concepts and strong pillars of business strategy are now obviously wrong and fast disappearing.
In this environment, an MBA has to be a precise orientation of where the changes are taking place, how they influence decision-making, in short, demonstrate to new professionals, whether or not they are compatible with the start-up of a start-up, you are in the right direction. Obviously, there will be business schools (they will be the fewest) that lag behind in adapting to changing times and that make an entrepreneurial candidate and an MBA student waste time at the same time.
A good executive MBA has to simultaneously become a knowledge and business accelerator, teaching more about modern business methods in a few months than that same business school did before the whole digital transition.
What current is better to do an MBA if I am willing to start a startup?
If you aspire to be an entrepreneur, you have interesting options: you can opt for a general MBA whose program you see has specific subjects related to entrepreneurship.
It must be taken into account that not all schools will be able to offer you adequate exposure to that entrepreneurial spirit that requires not only conventional knowledge and training, but also an important experiential dose, especially focused on TLs and their influence on business thinking, especially in making decisions.
The business schools that are always successful stand out mainly for their management programs. It is the way to attract more students, as well as a reputable body of teachers. Let it be known by the society and especially the candidates, that it is a multicultural community in itself. This, together with the management initiatives to establish innovation laboratories, design think tanks and business incubation facilities, are what give impetus to entrepreneurial activity and favor the presence of people who want to reconcile studies and implementation of a New business.
Therefore, for these types of situations, it is imperative that you choose a business school that can provide you with the right environment for entrepreneurship.
Why do people do an MBA course after engineering?
What are the advantages or disadvantages of doing an MBA course instead of continuing with science?
When I started my career as an engineer at Delhi College of Engineering, I didn’t know how important it was to enjoy work. For me, at that age, money was all I needed from my job. I was on the merit list and got one of the highest paying jobs. I also had an MBA offer from FMS. But instant money appealed to me.
But as I spent more years with the company, I realized that if you don’t enjoy the job, everything else doesn’t bring lasting happiness. I wasn’t enjoying coding. I saw myself more as a business person. I could no longer continue with C/C++. I wanted to strategize, be part of the company’s decision-making hierarchy, and also enter a different industry.
So, I paused, wondering what I really enjoyed, what my fulfilling career could be, and how I could get there. Taking a break was not easy. Especially when money was coming to me and when my parents expected me to settle down. But I took a chance. I went for my higher studies at IIM-C. There I met many people who had left their permanent jobs to do this MBA. We all had a few things in common: we all knew how we wanted our career to be in the medium and long term; we were all willing to give up short-term gains for long-term results; we all had to balance this professional break with our personal responsibilities. Some of my batchmates had children, some were married and about to have babies, some were about to get married. The challenges that the spouses had to face in ensuring that their husbands/wives did this one-year course were not trivial. I was so impressed with them that while on campus I wrote my first book, “My Love’s MBA Plans,” about taking an unconventional career path while balancing personal responsibilities. The book tells stories of 16 couples whose love faced the test of time when their husbands/wives suddenly found themselves jobless and studying.
Many of us take an initial pay cut after their IIM-C MBA to get a job we love. Today, we are all happy to have taken that stance. I can proudly say that I enjoy my job and am passionate about every contribution I make to the world through my work. I am able to make holistic decisions, highly align senior management stakeholders, present structured results, manage my time well, and think long term. That’s what the MBA gave me. That’s what no engineering degree does.
If you want to grow as a software person, an MBA is not needed. But if you eventually want to get into the business aspects of technology, an MBA acts as a bridge.
How I launched a startup during the EMBA program
At OUR EDITORIAL STAFF, we always value the personal experiences of students who are studying an MBA or former students who report their experiences regarding the benefit that the postgraduate course will bring to the development of their career. And for entrepreneurs, there comes a time in the growth of their jobs that they are faced with the need to have more business knowledge to be successful as an entrepreneur.
This is the case with Rel Lavizzo-Maurey is equally passionate about art education and fashion design. That’s why when she founded her outerwear and accessories company, Silver Lining, she merged the two into one business model.
To facilitate the understanding of our readers, we provide them how the interested party relates her own experience:
This is how the Wharton EMBA program helped you
I had the idea for Silver Lining before coming to Wharton, but knew I needed more business knowledge to be successful as an entrepreneur. Knowing the obstacles that start-ups face, I wanted an MBA so that I could meet the challenges that I will inevitably face.
Also, I have no traditional business background. I’ve had a slightly different career path with a BA in educational policy from Princeton and a minor in fine art. After college, I did consulting before going to acting school and working as an actor in New York City.
Access the world of media
That led me into the world of media where I helped relaunch Honey, a magazine aimed at an urban female audience.
I learned a lot about startups and fundraising there. I also met the owners of Minx, a company launched by two women who design and produce nail covers. I joined his team in San Diego, and we gained a lot of traction with celebrity clients like Katy Perry and Beyoncé, as well as high-end fashion designers like Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood.
Discover the power of fashion and its influenced
When I saw the power of fashion to excite people with wearable art, I started thinking about how to use collaborations with artists and other designers to create a really interesting product. I came up with the idea to put art on the lining of luxury outerwear. The coats have an element of secrecy as one side is traditional and the other side is wilder. The idea of the Silver Lining brand is to emphasize the idea that “it’s what’s inside that counts”.
After moving to San Francisco for my partner’s job, I began taking garment industry classes and thinking about getting an MBA. I grew up in Philadelphia and my parents are Wharton/Penn alumni and former professors, so it was a complete fluke that I found out about the Wharton EMBA program in San Francisco just weeks after moving to the city.
He verified how Wharton gave importance to the diversity of experiences
At first, I was nervous about applying to the Wharton EMBA program because of its reputation as a finance school. However, when I went to an information session and an intake interview, the Wharton staff members were very encouraging. My interviewer emphasized how the School seeks diversity of experiences when putting together classes. He also put me in touch with another Wharton EMBA student who is working on a double bottom line fashion startup. That really gave me the confidence to apply to the Executive MBA program.
I didn’t launch my business in the first year because I was focused on classes and my full-time job as a consultant. In my sophomore year, I was able to take electives like entrepreneurship and design innovation, which gave me the confidence to get my business off the ground. I launched it in December through a Kickstarter campaign, and Wharton has played a big role in this launch. Many classmates have not only endorsed the campaign, but are also helping spread the word through social media. They have given me lots of helpful feedback on everything from my business model to general design features. The peer support has been overwhelmingly positive and I have been amazed and honored by the generosity of my class.
The invaluable help of a teacher who becomes a reference
Additionally, I’m working with Prof. Ethan Mollick on an independent study on the value of Kickstarter campaigns as an entrepreneurial tool, and I often speak with Irina Yuen, director of entrepreneurship at Wharton in San Francisco.
Start-up profits earmarked for support programs
Since my idea’s inception over a year ago, Silver Lining has evolved into a double bottom line company, with 6 percent of my profits going toward arts education programs. I’m partnering with Root Division, a San Francisco-based visual arts organization that provides free art classes to over 500 students, using working artists as teachers.
I’m also partnering this season with Bay Area artist Kelly Ording, who completed an artist residency on Facebook. We are working to translate her paintings into a collection of unique linings for our jackets and bags. And I do offer custom orders because we can digitally print anything on a liner. I already have a few pre-orders from people who want their children’s artwork on the liners. So far, we are off to a great start.
Being integrated into the Wharton community has been tremendously helpful.
I could never have gotten this much support, or gotten my business off the ground so quickly, without being here and launching it now. If you are thinking of getting an MBA and working at a startup, I highly recommend coming to Wharton.