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Two Tuck Startups That Will Inspire You To Become An Entrepreneur!

Do you want to be an entrepreneur? Dartmouth Tuck has a raft of support for entrepreneurial MBAs. These two Tuck alumni startups will inspire you to create your own venture now!

Wed Oct 16 2013

Entrepreneurial MBAs at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College enjoy a fiercely loyal alumni network, a summer business venture award, entrepreneurial initiatives and even a 50 per cent compensation pay package for those working in start-ups after graduation.

Those that fancy themselves as entrepreneurs will ponder whether attending b-school will really give them any advantage come the careers stage of their journey. MBA Jobs are still dominated by consulting, finance, marketing and sales positions - the former well known for its competitive salaries.

MBAs will hope to get a return on an expensive educational investment. US b-schools dominate the 2013 MBA Rankings, with Tuck ranked #2 behind Chicago Booth for full-time MBA programs, moving above the stalwart, Harvard.

The most recent rankings, published by The Economist this month, show that the top four MBA programs are taught by American b-schools. But Virginia, California Berkeley, Tuck and Chicago Booth diplomas are all worth a whopping $100,000+ in tuition.

Tuck will be proud to boast that after 21 months, MBAs see an average salary increase of 78 per cent, with 95 per cent of graduates within jobs three months after graduation. But an even more impressive statistic is that 50 per cent of last year’s cohort had a keen interest in entrepreneurship; those employment statistics are not reserved for the big-name companies. 

The smaller-class sizes at Tuck and a strong network of loyal alumni has made the New Hampshire based b-school a key provider of entrepreneurial success in the MBA world.

For Tuck MBAs Steve Hooper and Nathan Sharp, there was no better place to launch a start-up than Dartmouth College. Steve, a Tuck 2011 graduate, was inspired to create his restaurant business Kigo Kitchen while out having a beer with his Tuck classmates. “We were just spitballing ideas and I got really excited by the restaurant plan,” he said. “We produce Asian stir-fry rice and noodle bowls for a reasonable price.”

Steve was in investment banking before b-school but wanted to “get his hands dirty”. He went to Tuck to develop ideas for start-ups and spent a third of his time there developing Kigo Kitchen with classmates Seth Gilmore, the current COO, and John Sullivan.

Tuck’s alumni network recommended the location for their first restaurant at Northeastern University in Boston. Kigo Kitchen has just opened its first company-owned store in Seattle and the Tuck MBAs have secured funding to open three to four more in Washington. “You don’t need an MBA to run a business,” Steve says. “But I wouldn’t have had the confidence otherwise.

“At Tuck, I had the opportunity to ask every question that I wanted to understand about start-ups. The natural Tuck network got us our first restaurant. Two of my board members are Tuck alums and there is a deep Dartmouth connection throughout this business.”

It is not just students on the #2 ranked MBA program that are responsive. MBAs are able to call professors on their cell-phones and receive a great deal of personal attention. More than half of last year’s cohort took entrepreneurship classes and MBAs have access to an Entrepreneurship Initiative.

The programs manager, Joaquin Villarreal, studied an MBA at Tuck in 2008 and helps run an online start-up as well as an animation studio. He is responsible for helping MBAs pursue start-up ventures and supports them through various initiatives at Tuck.

“We guide them through projects to learn the ropes,” he said. “We have a speaker-series where we get a Tuck entrepreneur to come over for a full day and answer queries, and students can call up that person and get advice.” 

Tuck also has a raft of other academic programs to help develop entrepreneurial business leaders. “We also have a program called From The Trenches, where very recent grads come in to speak about their companies, offering inspirational and practical scenarios of launching companies,” Joaquin said.

“We have a summer incubator and a year-long incubator for second-years, for students who are serious about launching companies. We provide financial support, legal advice and all the mentorship they can get from alums and professors.

“We identify their needs and craft a timeline for them to execute their plans, and provide space for them to work in. Tuck also subsidies fifty per cent of compensation for a first year student internship if they work in a start-up, based on market pricing. That’s a huge boost for students.”

Nathan Sharp, a 2012 graduate, took advantage of Tuck’s resources and worked “non-stop” on a business plan during his MBA. He met his business partner while rooming together at Tuck and they co-founded Nifti together, an online business that helps customer’s store and track products from their favourite websites.

He was convinced he wanted to develop a start-up and was inspired to create his Internet-based business while interning for Google. He dropped his healthcare-background to study an MBA in 2010. “B-school allowed me to see into the workings of larger businesses and opened me up to an entirely new field of problem-solving,” he said. “Tuck was a great general management program, and is so much smaller and more intimate.”

Nathan credits Joe Hall, an associate professor at Tuck, for helping him develop Nifti. “The most import thing at b-school for me wasn’t what I learned, but the connections I made with other students,” he continued. “I found a ton of mentors and other entrepreneurs that had graduated and were willing to help me out.

“My business partner and I were in the same year at Tuck, and we met a third co-founder whom had graduated four years prior to us, who initially came in to teach the class on the entrepreneurial initiative. He approached us and said he wanted to invest, so it’s very much a Tuck story.”

Nathan thinks Nifti is valuable because it isn’t part of any one independent retailer. The Tuck MBA aspires to be the first thing shoppers think of when they aren’t sure whether to purchase an item online or not.

“We'd be a great place for merchants to connect with new shoppers that are already interested in the products they wish to sell,” he added. The Nifti founders are now developing an iPhone app to help customers shop online.

While many argue that an MBA isn’t necessary to launch a start-up, these Tuck alums are living proof that the network you develop can be one of the most powerful tools in business. With the entrepreneurial backing you get at Dartmouth, it is not surprising that they have jumped ahead of almost every other American b-school this Fall.

Fears may be heightened that the US could breach its $16.7 trillion debt ceiling as today’s midnight extention deadline approaches, but American entrepreneurial ventures are still vested in one of the strongest global economies.

Thanks to Tuck, Steve and Nathan have launched inspirational start-ups on both sides of the States.

Is it time to launch your own?