As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.
For Italian-born lawyer, Virginia Soana and logistics manager, Barbara Manni, this phrase rings true.
The pair are MIP Politecnico di Milano School of Management (MIP) international part-time MBA graduates, and not only did they develop their skillset on their MBA, but they also built up a close friendship during the 20-month program.
Now, over a year later, Virginia and Barbara are developing their own social startup, Neogenes. Here’s how it all unfolded.
“I understood that I was missing something”
Virginia had around six years of experience in export, marketing, and international sales before starting her MBA at MIP, and she spent most of that time working abroad in Australia and the US.
Once she came back to Italy, she worked for luxury sports apparel manufacturer, Sigoa, leading a team of 10, managing global export opportunities, and designing annual strategic, marketing, and sales plans.
“I understood that I was missing something, because a lot of the activities and tasks related to business were something that I couldn’t manage,” says Virginia.
It was after this realization that she found MIP, but she knew that she didn’t want to leave the working field for a year to study—the part-time MBA seemed like the perfect solution.
As for Barbara, she had worked in logistics services for eight years and was beginning to seek better job prospects.
She was already familiar with MIP, having studied a management and engineering bachelor’s degree there in 2004, and wanted to stay in her city of Milan. Like Virginia, she was looking to expand her skillset.
“I had a lot of confidence in terms of organization and logistics, but there was something that was missing in terms of knowledge,” she says.
“[With the MBA], I could maintain my job, maintain my salary, and invest in my future as well.”
How an MBA led to a joint startup
General management lessons taught on the international part-time MBA at MIP are held on one weekend a month, during which students get the chance to network with companies while attending classes on their premises.
Both Virginia and Barbara value the soft skills they acquired during these sessions, particularly teamwork.
At the end of the program, each student puts their work into a final project.
Although Virginia and Barbara were split into different groups for their projects, they decided to also develop their own company, Neogenes.
Neogenes is a rental service company that periodically provides a customized kit of clothes for babies and toddlers, in line with their development.
The idea for the company came about casually last year, when Virginia was speaking to a pregnant friend who brought up how expensive clothes for babies are, considering how little time they last.
“Neogenes was initially just a game for us,” says Virginia. “But, when working on our final project, we followed the same path and applied the same rules to the organization.”
After some research, Virginia received an email from Innovits, a business development service in Italy, calling for ideas for social startups.
She told Barbara about the idea and together they put Neogenes forward for consideration.
Now, they’re ready to take their company to the next level, leaving their full-time jobs behind.
“To launch something as a startup requires a little bit of madness,” says Virginia.
“When you know exactly what you want to do, you can overcome all the anxiety and problems.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
The goal for Virginia and Barbara is to enter Milan and Lombardy in July, and then spread Neogenes across the whole of Italy by January 2020.
They aim to branch out into a second country by 2021 and become the ‘Amazon’ of rental baby products.
“Being an entrepreneur alone is very hard,” says Barbara. “It’s not impossible to do business alone, yet if you have the right partner, you can definitely make better choices and support one another.
“We were lucky because we found each other during the MBA—it was definitely very important for me. Otherwise, I don’t think I could be an entrepreneur.”
As business partners, the pair bounce off each other, and they credit the MBA with the strong synergy they have built between them.
The program allowed them to test out working under pressure, which ultimately defined their relationship.
“We are two halves of the same apple,” says Virginia. “We have very opposite skills, not only in terms of knowledge but in terms of personality and attitude.
“The strength of Neogenes is made by us, but not because we are ‘us’, but because we really can work together, merge what we know, and [each] acquire what we don’t know from the other.”