With ongoing business challenges such as meeting sustainability goals, the transition to a digital economy, and heightened cybersecurity threats, business leaders must be poised to tackle complex issues using an array of skills.
Aware of the challenges that lie ahead for future business leaders, many top business schools understand that practical learning, in addition to the valuable knowledge taught in the MBA classroom, is essential.
Here are three ways an MBA can prepare you to innovate and make an impact in your career:
1. You’ll engage in MBA experiential learning
While the typical classroom set-up is necessary to engage with theoretical business concepts, it’s in experiential learning activities that students can put their skills to the test.
HEC Paris is one business school that encourages learning by doing.
The 16-month HEC Paris MBA program offers specialist courses in innovation such as Data and AI for Business Transformation, and Sustainable and Disruptive Innovation.
MBA students who wish to push their innovation skills further, however, can apply for the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL). The CDL is an accelerator program that first began at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto but now runs at sites across Canada, the United States, and Europe.
“The main idea behind CDL is for MBA students to work as consultants to a real company, where the company founders have received objectives from a group of mentors, and are required to achieve these objectives in an eight-week period,” says Thomas Astebro, the director of CDL Paris.
The company founders access support from MBA students at HEC Paris, where students work on real-world projects with early-stage, deep-tech companies to solve an issue in the given timeframe.
CDL Paris currently offers two tracks: Climate and Space. The program will be adding the third track of AI and Machine Learning in fall 2023.
MBA students choose to study the program alongside their degree, or towards the end of their MBA, with intakes for the CDL taking place in September and January.
“Business school students need to apply theories they pick up from MBA classes to real situations. The CDL helps students marry their technical training with specialist skills,” he says.
2. You’ll work with innovative startups on real problems
Being immersed in a real-world business setting is a great way to gain an insight into the outside business world.
Depending on the track MBA students at HEC Paris choose, CDL students could work on anything from nuclear fusion, climate mitigation, or machine-learning algorithms.
“Students help the founders achieve their goals by helping with everything required to scale a business,” says Thomas.
These tasks might involve creating financial spreadsheets, forming pitch decks for founders to present to venture capitalists, or identifying internal scale-up issues related to production, planning, and operations.
“The CDL trains students to deal with outside parties, while helping students identify their own skills or weaknesses,” he says.
Thomas adds that it doesn’t matter which track students choose as the skills they gain will be equally valuable for innovative careers.
“It’s a matter of accelerating a venture that’s going from zero to first sale, covering all the processes in-between,” he says.
3. You’ll gain vital skills for MBA careers in innovation
Since artificial intelligence is becoming more and more entrenched in the business world, there’s likely to be no role untouched by innovation.
Angie Wu (pictured) is an MBA alum from HEC Paris and participated in the CDL Climate stream in 2022. She now works in an innovation-focused career as head of operations at Carbonfact—a carbon management platform that aims to decarbonize the fashion industry.
She says she was excited to join the CDL upon first hearing of the scheme. Across the CDL, she worked on sustainability projects including with a startup transforming fish waste into leather.
During her work with the startup, which was founded by a biologist and co-founded by an investment banker, Angie took part in exercises such as valuing the company, working on funding for the next 16-months, go-to-market strategies, and high capital investment.
“You gain so many learnings from a business running point of view,” she says, “the most important thing I learned is that every startup wants to make its product fit the market, but you don’t see the trials and errors behind this.”
The program isn’t just about developing technical skills, either. Since CDL students work closely with founders and mentors, Angie says she also improved her soft skills in areas such as communication, leadership, and teamwork.
The CDL can be great training for anyone looking to become a business consultant, marketing consultant, or financial specialist, and students can tailor their career interests to the projects.
“You really get to see how a company can develop rapidly within a short period of time,” says Angie, “it’s about learning how to divide and conquer and prioritize, which is important for a career in innovation.”
I have met the most competent and diverse batch in this school. These people not only thrive on their own but also makes sure that you are doing it with them. The professors will take your had and walk you through all milestones and make sure you are not left behind. I have found their extracurriculars extremely engaging. There was always a room to have social life after academic life. The only hindrance is the location of the school, it is slightly outside city and living in city is expensive.
Internationality and diversity of opportunities
About my programme I would say it is very international and flexible: we have the opportunity to choose exactly the courses we want. But at the same time, the frame of the campus is crucial in students' life and enable us to create friendships.
Great selection of people
While HEC's MBA is highly selective, I really enjoy the type of people HEC's selects to make sure everybody gets the best out of their MBA experience and networking opportunities. Not only it's an incredibly diverse pool of people (~60 nationalities) but most importantly they make sure to let in friendly empathic and curious people.
Best in France for Grande ecole
A prestigious business school. Languages are important. It is better to have a scientific baccalaureate with excellent grades in high school and good assessments. The courses are well designed as per the latest trends and practicality of learning in stressed upon. Overall, a very good experience.
Diversity and quality of fellow students
Very international and interesting place to be and opens a lot of opportunities, however the administration is very french and facilities are subpar (gym, classrooms) meaning the academic affairs is pretty much useless and lastly we are graded on a curve which can create a toxic environment because of the competition. With that being said the pros outweighs the cons by far.
The quality of the teachers, the campus, the clubs
The school is very international indeed, we have courses with international students and share things with them within the extra academic life (in the social clubs especially). We have great career prospects if we prepare ourselves well - however, the global curriculum is still very finance-oriented, which is a pity for other interesting domains of the company world, which does not rely on finance only. The social clubs are good practice for the management and for now, are quite independent.
HEC Paris awaits you
HEC Paris is really a nice place to do a master's in business. Many classes are useful and interesting (corporate finance, financial accounting, contract law…), some are less - but the curriculum is to be reviewed in the year to come. Regarding the student life, it is incredible, with about 130 clubs, lots of great parties with even greater people. The Jouy campus offers a lot of opportunities to do sports, and you can breathe fresh air every day. HEC also helps a great deal to find an internship or a job.
A dream institute
Enrolling in the HEC MBA was by far the best decision I made for myself. The people and faculty are great, with lots of opportunities to meet people and expand your horizons. Very nice campus where I have had some good running sessions. The alumni network is superb and very helpful. It also has a good support system for entrepreneurs. Would definitely recommend it!