Brandon Segal is a superstar of his business school community. Dr Segal's, the family-run start-up business that he has helped to grow into a retail force in Canada, can pin much of its early success on his ambitions to become an entrepreneur.
He believes that a master in management program has helped him to both grow the company through its conceptual phase and widen his pool of skills to include the many facets that a start-up demands of its founders. The business makes compression socks, appealing to a younger audience by keeping a close eye on both fashion and technology.
“[I] was able to utilize many of the skills that I learned at Sauder to help form the business,” says Brandon, a graduate of the Sauder School of Business in Vancouver.
“The MiM program does a good job of introducing you to a wide range of topics… Understanding the basics of each of these elements is extremely beneficial when being part of a start-up,” he says.
Brandon illustrates the way entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to business education to grow their ventures.
Entrepreneurship is fast becoming a measure of business schools’ success. By collating data on how many students have turned to start-ups and how many have secured venture funding, they are able to attract new candidates to their postgraduate programs.
This metric may soon be as important to prospective students as salary increases and job placement data, all tabled in most MBA rankings.
“Entrepreneurship has generated tremendous interest,” says Dr Andrea Belz from the Lloyd Greif Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC Marshall School of Business.
“We use a ‘teach a person to fish’ model – many experienced investors come to the classes and coach our students on fundraising, and our alumni network actively works to connect opportunities and capital,” she says.
But tracking venture success is difficult and many schools struggle to provide an accurate picture of how many students are “entrepreneurs”, and how many of their companies ultimately prove to be successful. “Certainly around half are interested,” says Andrea.
Many start-up companies are also “bootstrapped” – self-funded with cash from students’ own pockets.
Yet entrepreneurs are the new rockstars of the business school world. As students show more interest in pursuing their own business ventures, schools are going to lengths to track alumni’s start-up success rates and capital raising valuations.
Stanford GSB, a US school with close ties to Silicon Valley, is but a few minutes’ drive from a collection of some of the world’s most active venture capital groups, on Sand Hill Road. The Californian cluster is home to venture funds of Sequoia Capital, Blackstone Group and Accel-KKR, all big Bay Area players.
According to October data, 65 MBA students – 17% of the class – started a new business, but Stanford did not release any further details of students’ companies.
But alumni success stories will encourage entrepreneurs to join the school, and may paint a less corporate image than in times past.
Notable Stanford successes include OkCupid, the matchmaking website, which was founded by MBA graduate Sam Yagan and later acquired by Match, the dating website, for $50 million in cash in 2011.
At Harvard Business School, a clearer picture has emerged. Software firm EverTrue has compiled data on start-up investment for the MBA class of 2010, which has raised at least $734 million in venture capital funding.
Since 2008, when Harvard’s MBAs raised $84 million in VC funding, its entrepreneurs have been more successful in raising cash, but this has fallen from 2010’s peak to $218 million in 2012, according to EverTrue data.
Significant investments include a $249 million injection into Drafiti, an e-commerce group, and health insurance firm Oscar Insurance, which raised $150 million in investment, according to the data.
At the Booth School of Business in Chicago, start-ups that used its business plan competition have raised about $3.7 billion in market exits.
These include GrubHub, the online takeaway delivery service which raised $50 million in a series E funding round before merging with rival site Seamless, and mobile payments group Braintree, which was acquired by eBay last year for $800 million.
In London, Cass Business School dishes out up to £10 million to student and alumni start-ups through its entrepreneurship fund.
This includes an investment in Bet Buddy, a supplier of user data analytics software for gaming companies that was founded by alumnus Simo Dragicevic, which went on to raise $3 million in a private funding round in 2013.
The UK has strong entrepreneurial numbers but investments tend to be much smaller than in the US.
However, the Judge Business School will take pride in the significant investments raised by start-ups from its base, the University of Cambridge.
Cambridge has pooled £2.7 million into early-stage technology start-ups this year alone, and has over its lifespan produced 14 companies valued at more than $1 billion.
Significant investments include those into Horizon Discovery, a biotech group that that raised £68.6 million after listing this year on AIM, London’s junior stock market, and microchip designer ARM, which is listed on NASDAQ and the LSE with a market cap of £13.3 billion.
“The culture of the UK venture capital space is different in comparison to the US,” says Maria Nikolou from the Entrepreneurship Centre at Oxford's Saïd Business School.
“Oxford and other similar universities are building ecosystems with a long term sustainability approach,” she adds. “These communities of founders and supporters take time to mature and many of the important pillars are now in place.”
But data from PitchBook, a VC and private equity research firm, show that US business schools’ start-ups have raised much more in venture capital funding than ventures in Europe.
The firm's report, which ranked the top-25 MBA programs globally in terms of number of entrepreneurs, company count and VC investment, found that Harvard, Stanford and Wharton MBAs raised the most capital.
For Brandon in Vancouver, Dr Segal's has not received any investment from outside the family. But it has not stopped him from expanding; the company’s products are sold in 850 retail stores across Canada.
“The basic accounting background, entrepreneurial courses and intro to finance and economics have helped me the most so far,” he says of the MiM program. He has, however, taken part in the popular investment pitch TV show Dragon’s Den, due to air in 2015. “Although I can’t say what happened on the show,” he adds. “People should tune in to find out.”
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