Julia McInnis turned her business idea into reality during a full-time MBA at Chicago Booth.
Working as a film producer in New York prior to her MBA, she saw first-hand the difficulty around sourcing and hiring the best visual creators for her movies.
She came up with the idea for Lancealot, a sharing economy online marketplace where organizations can hire and collaborate with freelance video creators who specialize in live content—like an Uber for movie-makers.
At Chicago Booth, she met her co-founder, put a team together, and took her startup idea through the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), Chicago Booth’s top-ranked startup accelerator and the birthplace of multi-million-dollar success stories like Grubhub and Braintree.
A 2017 NVC finalist, Julia has now gone full-time with Lancealot, matching clients—creative agencies, sports organizations, news companies, and live performance venues—with the talent they’re looking for. Now, she’s raising funding and ready to embrace new visual content creation technology like Augmented and Virtual Reality.
Julia had entrepreneurial ambitions even before business school. She created and hosted her own international film festival, featuring 24 short films from 12 countries. She’s also launched her own lifestyle website, dedicated to music, film, design, and food. At Chicago Booth, she co-chaired the school’s Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Group.
How did the idea to start Lancealot come about?
Lancealot was inspired by my pre-Booth career as a film producer. I noticed that finding the right people, camera, sound, editing, etcetera, was a lot more complicated than it needed to be, and I spent so much time trying to recruit talent for our shoots.
I also noticed that when non-film people heard about my background as a producer, I would get emails and texts all the time asking me to recommend colleagues for video work. So, I started making these matches with the rolodex that I had and thought, I could do this for more people if I had a bigger network and more data points on what that network can do.
Lancealot moved from an idea to a business when our team came together. I met my co-founder, put together a team of Booth students for the New Venture Challenge, and we were off. The New Venture Challenge was huge for us. We got a lot of momentum and mentorship from it, and I don't think we would be where we are now without it.
What do you hope to achieve?
Over the next six months, we're hoping to raise some more funding and finish building out more of the website and our team. Looking down the road, we want to be the source for hiring the best visual creators. The technology behind visual storytelling is changing so much. We're embracing those new skills and content formats as key parts of our product.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own business?
Industry experience counts for a lot. I’d say consider a few years of work experience in a given industry before starting a company in it. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs I've met at Booth have solid experience in particular industries, and they're able to use that knowledge to create new and exciting things.
That aside, embrace everything that the MBA curriculum has to offer. Being an entrepreneur means that you're doing marketing, operations, taxes, accounting, HR, all day, all the time. Make the academic experience as well-rounded as possible, because the early stage of a business is so hard and you're not going to have a ton of help. Being able to bring as much as you can to a new venture will make the whole process just a bit easier.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Chicago Booth?
I get that question a lot and the answer always surprises people. There were many reasons but the main was Booth's admissions essay. The essay question when I applied was ‘Who are you?’ That was it, and I loved it. It gave me the feeling that the school wanted students who are self-directed and can think outside of the box, and that was the sort of community that I wanted to be in.
There were other more pragmatic reasons for going to Booth too. The flexible curriculum with its emphasis on quantitative problem solving was a big appeal.
Booth also has an incredible entrepreneurship program and resources available through the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which I felt would be a perfect fit with my interests. And then of course Booth is part of the University of Chicago.
What stands out from your Chicago Booth MBA experience?
Competing in the New Venture Challenge finals was amazing. I had wanted to do it since I got to Booth, and when it was finally the moment to pitch Lancealot to the audience of friends, professors, judges and all of the Booth alums watching the live stream, it was surreal and I took a moment right before the pitch to soak it all in.
Plus, the people who became my close friends at Booth are some of the most amazing people I've ever met. Booth has an all-star faculty, and I never expected them to be as approachable as they are. It's pretty amazing who can have coffee with if you just ask—and make sure you show up to class!