Increasingly, Chicago Booth’s budding MBA entrepreneurs are using the skills and the network gained at business school, and starting their own businesses on the West Coast.
We spoke to three Silicon Valley-based Boothies to find out more.
Erin Lenhardt, MBA ’15, founder and CEO of The Food Mint
Erin started The Food Mint after an MBA at Chicago Booth. Now, her Silicon Valley-based food business consultancy has clients across the US. Alongside a full-time job and an advisory role for her family business, she’s helping America’s food startups grow.
On The Food Mint... When I was at Chicago Booth, I spent a lot of my time working with different entrepreneurs in the food startup space. They would come to me with problems relating to growing small food businesses. By the time I graduated, I was working around 40 hours a week with three different small businesses. I knew that I wanted to run my own business. It took me a couple of months to realize that I’d actually started one!
Right now, we’re a professional services agency. However, I’m interested in building an online marketplace where we end up connecting entrepreneurs with other consultants or resources they need to scale their businesses.
On moving to Silicon Valley… Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of investors, funding and startup activity in the US. It can be intimidating, but generally the people here are very open and inclusive. It’s very business-orientated. Whether you’re walking down the street or stopping in a café, people are talking about their business models.
On Chicago Booth… Because of the reputation and network of the school, I was able to have conversations with entrepreneurs and investors that I otherwise would never have had access to.
When I joined Booth, one of my goals was to be a VC. I got an internship with an angel investment firm focused on food within about four months of being at Booth. That was incredible experience for a first year MBA, and a testament to the way Chicago Booth manages to open doors for its students.
Vincent Chevalier, MBA ’11, founder of Impulse Analytics
After relocating from France, Vincent (pictured above, left) chose Chicago Booth over NYU Stern and Johnson at Cornell for his MBA. He moved to Silicon Valley where he worked for e-learning platform Udemy before starting his own digital advertising agency – Impulse Analytics – in January 2015. With the hard analytics skills that he picked up at Booth, he’s helping Silicon Valley’s startups to scale.
On Impulse Analytics… At Udemy, I worked in Facebook advertising and analytics. We started from scratch and quickly became one of the company’s main revenue drivers. I started thinking that I could also help other startups in San Francisco. Eventually, I built up a strong pipeline of clients and decided to make it my full-time job.
What really interests me is working with startups that have the potential to scale; to help companies grow from nothing to thousands of dollars in sales. On the side, I’ve partnered with a University of Chicago alumnus to launch a website for people wanting to learn yoga online. The core of what I do is user acquisition. I do that with different startups and now I do that for my own platform.
On moving to Silicon Valley… I’ve always wanted to work here, and with the Chicago Booth MBA you can work anywhere in the world. I’ve fallen in love with the area. People here are insanely optimistic and just want to have an impact. That’s very inspiring.
On Chicago Booth… I owe so much to the Chicago Booth MBA. I wouldn’t have had the tools or the drive to set up my own business without it.
Silicon Valley needs more people who can understand data and turn that data into insight. I don’t think there’s a better school than Chicago Booth to prepare you to do that. I directly apply the course that I learnt in data-driven marketing in what I’m doing today.
Brett Plotzker, MBA ’13, co-founder and CEO of Patch
Towards the end of his second year at Chicago Booth, Brett went on an international exchange to Israel where he met his business partner. Together, they moved to Silicon Valley to launch Patch.
Patch is a healthcare tech startup which helps US-based healthcare patients maximize value from their health insurance benefits at the point of service. They’ve started in vision care. Through Patch, patients can easily apply their health insurance benefits when buying glasses or contact lenses online.
On Patch… You’re not an expert of your health insurance and you should never need to be. We’re building tools that allow you to use insurance in a more user-friendly way.
We launched our paid product three-and-a-half months ago. We’ve signed deals with a couple of major institutions. Our product is already in one of the biggest big box retailers in the country. In the coming months, we’re looking to raise a substantial round of funding and expand the team. There’s a lot of stuff to build, there’s a lot of education and there’s a lot of selling to do.
On moving to Silicon Valley… Access to capital is the most important thing. If you’re meeting with VC firms, taking a trip out to Silicon Valley once a month is not feasible. It takes six months to get a meeting with somebody you really want to get a meeting with. But if they happen to be free for 30 minutes for a coffee, you’ve got to be down the road from them.
It’s also about the mindset of people out here. My mind was made up on moving when we were doing our first fundraising round. I have a lot of wealthy friends in Chicago, but they preferred to put their money into safe havens. An investor introduced our idea to someone else out in Silicon Valley, and they wrote us a check without even meeting us.
On Chicago Booth… I know my life wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t gone to Chicago Booth. I wouldn’t know my co-founder without Booth. My first investor was my best friend at business school. One of our big deals in the pipeline comes from a connection with a Booth classmate.