Starting your own business is a complex process, but it has a few key ingredients. A great idea is the first essential, followed by a good team and enthusiastic investors—plus, of course, a little bit of luck.
For entrepreneur Dan Bedi, good fortune struck at an MBA event in London in 2015. Stuck in a lengthy queue to talk to representatives from Cambridge Judge Business School, he got talking to Cris Saudella from Cranfield School of Management.
They discussed his goals in studying for an MBA—the key ones being to start his own business, and to enhance his credibility as a business leader—and discussed the school’s entrepreneurship offering as well as its notable alumni, which include Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs Nick Jenkins—founder of MoonPig—and Sarah Willingham, who has directed a series of successful high street restaurants.
Following that conversation, Cris invited Dan to attend a prospective MBA dinner with the then-MBA director, who encouraged him to visit the campus for an open day. What he saw at both events left a great impression on Dan.
“I just really liked it!” he recalls. “The whole vibe [reflected] what I was doing an MBA for. The older cohort was good as well [the average age of Cranfield’s MBA students is 32]—I thought I could benefit from a lot more old heads around.”
When it came to making his final decision, it was down to Cranfield and Cambridge, both of whose entrepreneurship offerings Dan considered strong.
Ultimately, however, he chose Cranfield—and he hasn’t looked back since.
It was during the program that Dan founded JAFA—short for Just A Fan’s Analysis, a discussion platform for sports fans—alongside fellow MBAs Omar Abdel-Rahman and James Owen, a business of which he is now the CEO.
As well as gaining insight on leadership from the course content, the founders discovered that the course offered many opportunities for them to work on their business within their classes.
“We had to write a marketing plan in our marketing module,” Dan remembers. “I wrote it on what is JAFA today.
“We had a whole MBA team doing a big market analysis—a 10,000-word in-depth consultancy report around the business—and we had three independent projects which were [focused on] developing a business plan.”
This, plus other opportunities the group had to develop JAFA on the course, was all worth academic credit, and the result was that the founders had a robust business plan even before they’d finished their MBA.
Indeed, they even took the JAFA team to the Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC), winning the European heat and earning a place in the final in the USA.
For Dan, this success is a testament not only to the strength of the JAFA team, but to Cranfield School of Management’s strength as an institution.
“We won the European heat against Oxbridge, LBS, Insead, all of these schools—and to be honest, given the size of our cohort and the size of some of the others, that was quite an impressive achievement,” he says.
Since the MBA, the business has gone from strength to strength, and Dan largely credits the school’s entrepreneurship hub for JAFA’s swift advancement.
“The Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cranfield massively helped,” he says. “They ran startup weekends for people with business ideas, and they brought in some quite hefty alums to speak and to help you go through that process.”
This certainly worked in JAFA’s favor—a large portion of their first round of investment came from an alum who had been watching their progress at the Bettany Centre. Prior to this, the startup had also benefited from Cranfield’s pre-seed loan scheme in which they were awarded £15,000 ($19,000) to help them build a prototype, not to mention the networking access that the centre provided.
“Throughout that whole process we had various different people giving us advice,” Dan says warmly. “[For example,] our business is all around soccer, and we spoke to one of the directors of FC Barcelona who was part of the MBA network!
“[We spoke to] loads of different people, a fantastic network, all with great things to say about Cranfield—and they’re still helping us today, even past the MBA! New doors are opening all the time.”
Now, just a year on from the end of the program, the JAFA founders have taken their business to the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator, and the sky is the limit for where they go next.
When asked if he’d recommend the MBA at Cranfield to other aspiring entrepreneurs, Dan’s answer is unequivocal.
“Yes, absolutely,” he says. “If you’re opportunity hungry and take everything it’s got to give, doors will be opened to you, and it will 100% be the best experience of your life—we would not be here today as a business without Cranfield School of Management.”
If you want to find out more about JAFA, visit www.jafa.co.uk