After launching a natural cosmetics manufacturing business, Kasi Naturals, and leading youth-empowerment programs in Ghana, he went in search of ways to hone his startup skills.
He’s now using his MBA from Asia School of Business (ASB) to run companies across Africa and Asia.
Why MBA: Asia School of Business
During his time as an early entrepreneur, one thing played on Awal’s mind.
“I quickly realized that I didn't have enough business knowledge, concepts, or frameworks to understand what I was doing,” he says.
It became clear to Awal (pictured) that an MBA would be a step in the right direction.
He was initially drawn to ASB—a Kuala Lumpur-based business school formed in partnership with the MIT Sloan School of Management—due to its Action Learning (AL) curriculum. AL is a core part of the ASB MBA program that sees students undertake five projects across different companies and countries, one of which is specific to entrepreneurship.
“To have the opportunity to try many things in different industries made me feel like the program was crafted for me as an entrepreneur,” Awal notes.
The ASB MBA further appealed to him when he heard about the school’s test-optional policy, which waives the GRE or GMAT test requirement for students from underrepresented socio-economic backgrounds. Instead, ASB considers things like previous work experiences and career motivations.
“The MBA admissions policy showed me that this was going to be an unconventional path because [ASB] wasn’t doing what every other business school was doing.”
Delving into entrepreneurship from new angles
On the 20-month ASB MBA, Awal was keen to get stuck into the AL projects and apply the entrepreneurial theory and frameworks from his MBA courses, such as Entrepreneurial Strategy, in a real-world setting.
He gained experience working on a go-to-market strategy within the digital telecommunications industry, as well as working for an e-commerce company. But it was in the Entrepreneurship Trek where Awal thrived, working with a team to create a brand, test the product, and create a prototype.
Awal says that working in diverse teams improved his soft (‘Smart’) skills, such as his ability to leverage multiple perspectives. 70% of international students typically make up the ASB MBA.
“The project and the training received on the MBA helped me to feel like anything was possible when it comes to entrepreneurship,” he notes.
Awal even had the chance to enhance his own business through the Entrepreneurship Trek, part of the ASB MBA’s Summer Associate Program (SAP), where he travelled to Ghana to implement his learnings from the ASB MBA.
In Ghana, he conducted content analysis and interviews to inform his market research, enhancing his hard (‘Sharp’) technical skills, such as data-driven decision making. Informed by his research, he launched another natural cosmetics brand named Avela, enabling him to enter new markets like Senegal.
He credits the ASB and visiting MIT faculty—who lead certain courses like entrepreneurship and innovation—with helping to boost his business ten-fold. “I was able to apply the marketing analytics tools I’d learned [at ASB] directly to my business and see the value of my company increasing multiple times.”
The power of MBA networking
With industry experience under his belt, Awal feels more confident than ever about his entrepreneurial projects.
During the MBA, he met the CEO and co-founder of Appsaya, a Malaysian-based firm that creates business networking platforms. Post-MBA, Awal worked with the company to offer business advice but quickly went from that to leading the company's strategy as vice president of strategy and business development.
Awal is also a co-founder of Wasabih, a professional networking community for the Halal and Islamic economy, in Malaysia. Alongside his co-founder, who is also the founder and CEO of Appsaya, Awal advises on anything from a business’ next steps to deciding which companies to partner with
“Before my MBA, I knew nothing about strategy or business management, but ASB has completely changed this,” he says.
He adds that he’s still in touch with ASB faculty, including the dean of ASB and several ASB and MIT professors, who offer guidance whenever he needs it.
“Sometimes you need somebody to brainstorm an idea with and you need somebody to believe in you.”
“Building that kind of relationship with ASB faculty and my colleagues at large is really helping me with my entrepreneurial ventures,” says Awal.