“While traditionally MBAs have gone into finance and consulting, we are now seeing more MBAs moving into medium, SME, micro and startup businesses,” says Paul Schoonenberg, who manages MBA careers at Aston. “Each year, MBAs decide to set up their own businesses and in many cases their businesses will be established while on the MBA.”
A good example is Simon Hague. He enrolled in the Aston MBA a decade ago after a successful career at UK telecoms giant Vodafone. “I was at the stage where I wanted another challenge and I wasn’t sure that was with Vodafone,” he says. “I had a fascination with learning and I knew I wanted to start my own business. The penny just dropped.”
During the degree Simon founded Wheresmylunch, which offers organisational development solutions such as personal coaching to business leaders. “An MBA is a case of giving stuff a go,” he says. “It comes down to going into things with full vigour. With 150% of your energy. Making things happen.”
The support on offer for MBA students at Aston Business School is immense, says Wais Pirzad, a serial entrepreneur who ran and sold a raft of tech businesses in the Netherlands before beginning the Aston MBA. “There are several startup organizations within Aston that support students with funding, mentoring and workshops.”
Startup initiatives include BSEEN, which supports budding entrepreneurs with access to both expertise, funding and mentoring schemes. Aston can also provide subsidised office space close to the business school to entrepreneurs with potential.
“Besides, MBA students have personal entrepreneurial support from our career development advisor Paul Schoonenberg. For example, he helped me search for external funding for my new startup,” adds Wais, who is currently an IT management trainee at EVG Start, a training scheme. “Overall, Aston has a great environment for entrepreneurial students.”
Paul believes the school’s location, in Birmingham, is another perk. “Birmingham was voted the second-best place in the UK to start a business, with 18,000 startups in the city in 2014 alone,” he says.
“We ensure that our MBAs are connected with local organisations. Birmingham has a strong financial services sector, with major employers such as Deutsche Bank located in the city centre. Birmingham lies in the heartland of the UK manufacturing industry, with major employers such as Jaguar Land Rover and Cadbury providing significant employment opportunities.”
Such initiatives are bearing fruit. Xiaohao Dai, a student on the full-time MBA at Aston, was recently crowned Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the UK-wide Confederation of Chinese Business Awards.
Xiaohao won the award for her business plan for an app which connects Chinese and English language learners based on their level of ability. The app uses a “freemium” model: it is free to connect with non-professional learners, but users can also purchase time with a professional tutor.
“I had confidence in my business plan, but I never expected to win,” Xiaohao says. “This has really inspired me and made me realise what I can achieve through my MBA studies. The award has really motivated me to turn this business plan into a reality, and to make a contribution to both UK and Chinese society.”