MBA Entrepreneur Launches Airbnb-Style Co-Working Start-Up, Explores Virtual Reality

Emlyon graduate also works with French biotech venture

“It’s like an Airbnb for office space,” says Kerranna Williamson, an MBA graduate from EMLYON Business School, who started up her own workspace sharing business in 2014.

Kerranna’s business venture is yet another example of the sharing economy taking off, disrupting traditional ownership patterns and, in this case, the property sector itself.

Operating in seven cities across three continents, Vaga is a co-working platform helping companies and freelancers to find office space for short-term rentals of 18 months or less.

Yet the ambitious American aims to take her business to the next level. As early as April this year, Kerranna plans to move into the virtual reality space and announce a new immersive web-based product to replicate the entire office experience online.

Alongside Vaga, Kerranna works as a transatlantic consultant, helping to launch Lyon-based biotech start-up Neolys Diagnostics, which aims to reduce the side effects of radiation treatment for cancer patients, into the US.

The technologically-minded entrepreneur has a strong professional background in healthcare, having worked in cancer prevention research and patient advocacy. She thinks that a digital skill-set, including data analytics, is crucial for MBA students looking to pursue a career in the industry.

How did the idea for Vaga come about?

I was travelling a bunch and working all over the US. I needed short-term space and I started negotiating and collaborating with companies to use space within their offices. I saw a huge capacity within companies [and] a way for them to make and save money.

What challenges do you face?

We’re in a bit of a rat race because the idea has really [taken off]. Even a year and a half ago when we started, people didn’t understand what co-working meant. Now, it’s a highly competitive market. We’re having to be really creative about how we scale.

What are your plans for the business?

We’re figuring out how to build a virtual reality office so people can interact and have a social connection from wherever they are.

Sure, there’s tools like Skype that help people who are in distributed teams. But there’s still the missing piece of that social presence in the workplace.

Why is the trend of sharing office space taking off now?

It’s a mix of a generation that demands flexibility, and technology making it possible. People want to choose how, when and where they work. There’s so many start-ups that don’t fit into the traditional real estate model and that don’t know how long they’re going to be around.

Collaboration across different companies and different ideas creates business opportunities as well as a more enjoyable workspace.

What do you see as the future for the sharing economy?

I see a lot of opportunity. The great advantage of people being able to convert idle assets into revenue streams is changing the way people are able to work.

I think it will keep growing and move into areas people haven’t even thought about.

What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?

Find a mentorship network. My early success came from having people near me who knew more than me. Starting a business is a huge learning curve. Understand that it’s going to be a rollercoaster, and hang in there for the ride!

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at EMLYON?

In the US, “international” MBA programs tend to consist of Americans studying international topics and maybe having some experience abroad. Doing an MBA internationally meant that all of my classmates were from around the world and all of my exchanges were in an international context.

I was really impressed with EMLYON’s focus on entrepreneurship and its relationship with companies in the local area.

Why do you think biotech firms are attracting big investment?

If an investor finds a product after due diligence has already been carried out, their return is pretty much guaranteed in a big way.

The benefit of something like Neolys, which is a technology-based service, is that the process to take it to market is much faster than something like pharma or drug development.

How important is it for MBAs looking to work in healthcare sector to have a digital skill set?

Healthcare is only going to become more embedded with technology, and tech literacy is critical if you want to be in a space of innovation.

Technology is changing the amount of patient data we are able to collect, analyze and organize. MBA students with analytical skills are at a huge advantage.

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