It’s a bold goal—but one that business schools hope to assist with, with entrepreneurship classes, networking events, and, most importantly, startups incubators.
At American University in Washington DC, a student incubator is hoping to turn some of their MBA students’ dreams into reality. The AU Entrepreneurship Incubator—run by Kogod School of Business faculty—provides AU students, including those at Kogod, a space where students can physically grow their business ideas into fully-formed companies.
Currently, the incubator is home to more than 20 student startups all looking for the boost their companies need to get off the ground—and this includes not only for-profit companies but social enterprises too. Aligning with Kogod’s mission of ‘business for meaningful change’, the school is also helping social enterprises in the DC area impact their communities.
Seda Goff (pictured) is an alumnus of the MBA program at Kogod—she graduated in 2006—and after her business degree spent time founding a number of her own companies—“some that went well and some that did not!” she laughs. It’s her experience in startups that led her career back to Kogod in 2017, to work with students as a teacher in the incubator.
In early 2017, Seda was managing director of an incubator in the DC area that helped military veterans and their spouses create and grow their own companies. Later that year, she connected with Kogod and was asked "to lend a hand, given that I was an alumnus and had experience in being able to coach and grow startups," Seda says.
In her time working with veterans, Seda says she experienced a fundamental interest in founding social enterprises. "85% of them come in wanting to start some type of social entrepreneurship, whether that's a true nonprofit or a for-profit that has that tilt," she explains. More often now, she’s also seeing students come to her with ideas for social enterprises.
“I think that, in general, and especially in the DC area, there is a tilt towards social entrepreneurship,” she says. “This new generation of entrepreneurs feels a desire to make a difference and to be bigger than themselves, and social entrepreneurship gives them that opportunity.
“It has a huge impact on these students,” Seda states. “Students can test out their ideas, but also make them real.”
Helping new mothers
Victoria Tollossa an MBA student that Kogod’s incubator directly impacts. Originally starting in the music production and marketing industry—one of Victoria’s clients was even nominated for a Grammy Award in 2013—a move to DC and some big personal changes, including leaving one of her companies, led her to the MBA at Kogod last year.
“I had a baby and there were some challenges I experienced as a mom navigating everything,” Victoria says. “I had no clue on how to teach my kid different educational concepts—there's speech and different motor skills—and I thought, ‘how do I do this?’”
It was this frustration that led to Victoria creating First Edventures, a social enterprise that aims to “streamline the whole parent education process for families,” as Victoria explains.
While in the process of starting the company, Victoria realized that she might need more “formal training” in business if she was going to make the company a success, and decided to enroll in the Business@American online MBA program at Kogod School of Business.
“When I was looking for an MBA program, it was really important to me that they supported entrepreneurship,” she explains. “I’m now able to utilize the whole online experience, but also physically attend more of the incubator stuff—that was the main reason I chose Kogod.”
Currently, Victoria is in her first year of the MBA program and the incubator experience but says that so far it’s had a huge effect on how she’s grown First Edventures.
“With the incubator, they more or less formalize the whole process of starting a company, and learning that was really, really helpful—I didn’t really do that before,” she says.
Helping social entrepreneurs
Of course, it’s not just social entrepreneurs Kogod support in the incubator, but Victoria says that the professors do have an invested interest in seeing more socially-minded companies succeed.
“The professors who run it, Bill Bellows and Tommy White, they’re people who have done this before and are so passionate about this—they’re just as passionate about our success as we are,” Victoria says. “Obviously they cater to all sorts of ventures, but that’s the beauty of it— it’s great to have all of those businesses and experiences in one room as you get to learn a lot.”
Having experienced working in the incubator, Seda agrees. “These students are craving that true mentorship, and I think that’s what’s attractive and draws us in as well as teachers. These folks are doing big things, and that makes us want to help.”
Looking back on her MBA experience, Seda considers it a pivotal moment in her life. “It was the foundation to everything I’ve been doing the last 15 years,” she says.
“If you’re a student that wants to get into entrepreneurship, right now there’s no better place in the DC area to do that than Kogod School of Business,” she adds.
Victoria agrees. “The incubator is a really great resource,” she says, “and some of the things that I’m learning in my MBA classes is directly related to where I am in my journey with First Edventures, like my financial accounting class.”
“Could you build a business without the incubator? Absolutely. But I think it helps minimize some of the mistakes you would have made without it."