“It’s right in heart of the City of London and was great to go out and network, on the spot,” he explained. “The proximity to the City was crucial to me. I wanted to improve my businesses skills and to internationalize my career.”
Nicolai studied an MBA at Cass in 2008 and was drawn by the high MBA Ranking (currently #5 in the UK) and cosmopolitan student body. He may have mixed with a cohort that was 88 per cent international, but he graduated with much more than diversity.
He now runs a women’s fashion brand, based in Brixton, with his sister. Alice’s Pig was founded in January this year and Nicolai wants it to be the leading women’s urban street-wear brand in the world.
No easy feat. But Cass Business School has been helping SMEs take off. Students and alumni can take advantage of The Hangout; a super-cool working space for startups nestled just next to Old Street Roundabout in central London.
The Hangout provides everything from free coffee to hot-desking and can help student’s foster relationships with academics, other students, graduates and local “Tech City” entrepreneurs. Hot-desking costs £100 per desk each month, but is completely free for all City students and alumni who have graduated within two years.
This is one of the many startup incubators to be highlighted during Global Entrepreneurship Week which begins today. The number of new private sector businesses in the UK has increased by 102,000 in the past 12 months and up to 523,410 new businesses are expected to register in the UK by the end of 2013.
SMEs are on the rise and MBAs from Cass Business School are being given a fighting chance of success with the help of The Hangout. Parveen Dhanda, whom helps run the day-to-day operations at the centre, says that there are currently around 35 City students and alumni using the incubator and she expects that number to swell. Around 10 of those are MBAs.
“Entrepreneurship is a buzz word at the moment and there’s a lot of facilities you can use out there for free,” she said. “The Hangout provides an opportunity for students that have decided on a business idea to work in an environment with similar startups.
“We offer them the workspace for free but additionally we have a Doctor of Entrepreneurship that comes in every Tuesday and does a drop-in surgery. Every Thursday we run a program called Founders Thursday, where an entrepreneurial founder comes in and shares their business ideas with students.
“We also have another surgery once a month that allows students to bounce ideas off each other.”
In the UK, one-in-three startups fails. Many still debate about whether an MBA is necessary to become an entrepreneur. But what is clear is that business schools like Cass are increasing their support for entrepreneurs.
The London Business School Incubator houses students who are launching their own business straight from their programme, with a small cash injection.
Parveen studied an MBA at Cass in 2008 before joining the Cass Entrepreneurs Network. She provides consultancy for a number of startups and says that the challenge facing entrepreneurial MBAs is balancing their business ideas with study.
“They often come here and have decided that they want to start something, but have no idea how,” she said. “After using The Hangout, when it comes towards the end of MBA program they will have developed more relationships and have a better idea of how they want to take their ideas forward.”
For Nicolai, getting his family startup off the ground was made much easier with The Hangout. “It was great because you have space with lots of people from various backgrounds and different skillsets,” he said. “There are lots of freelancers that you can engage with on a daily basis and get the right skillsets on the spot.”
Alice’s Pig has a shop space in Brixton but Nicolai used The Hangout space after trying to work from home. “The shared office-space was much better,” he said. “It is a creative environment with a lot of room for collaboration. Lots of entrepreneurs use it, and in the beginning, it’s all about collaboration.”
The Hangout offers a valuable route into London’s Tech City but caters to all MBA entrepreneurs. Parveen says that to succeed with a startup in London, you can’t rush. “It’s great to think big and have ambition, but you need to test your idea to see if there is a market for it,” she explained.
“Test the idea, get traction, look at investment but the key thing is to have a prototype and listen to your customers to see what they want.”
After using The Hangout to kick-start his ideas, Nicolai’s startup is on the rise. After 11 months in business, he has between 10-20 freelance designers and with his sister based in Shanghai, he sees potential to expand into Asian markets. The fashion marketplace is crowded, he agrees, but he also believes their brand’s strong quality and vintage style make them stand out.
He plans to launch a jewellery line in December in time for the Christmas boom and after studying an MBA at Cass, he has the confidence to launch this SME across international waters.
“My MBA was tremendously helpful,” he added. “The fashion industry was totally new to me and now I have a strong network established in a quick space of time because of the alumni network. It really helps you speed things up.”
Entrepreneurship will remain a popular MBA career path and in the UK, more and more MBAs are taking up the trend. Cass Business School helped this MBA develop the skills to get started, but it is The Hangout that gave him the platform to launch.
Cass’s incubator system has proven popular among tech and fashion entrepreneurs alike – and this year’s MBA cohort will surely take advantage.
As Nicolai says: “Without an MBA, I don’t think I would have come this far.
“But it is The Hangout that will make a difference.”