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How ESADE Became A Startup Haven

A classroom at ESADE

A classroom at ESADE

When Brian Gale started his MBA school search, he knew one thing very clearly: he was not going to apply to an American school. As an American, he felt the experience on U.S. campuses would give him too little exposure to what mattered most: international experience. So instead of applying to one of the best U.S. MGA programs, he went to ESADE, the business and law school just outside of Barcelona, Spain.

But why did he choose this proudly Catalan school over other European players? Like most applicants, his search started with rankings. Poets&Quants’ latest ranking of the best international MBA programs puts ESADE in 7th place in a tie with Cambridge University’s Judge School. The Financial Times has it 23rd best in the world and eighth in Europe, behind the very schools it sees as its closest competitors: London Business School, INSEAD and HEC of France, IMD of Switzerland, and the Spanish IESE and IE business schools. The Economist ranked ESADE  21st as well and sixth in Europe.

Its students, for their part, on average score 660 on GMAT. A decent score, certainly, but an average that would put the school in 45th place, significantly lower than its general ranking. UC-San Diego Rady’s School of Business has a similar score, for example, while Stanford GSB tops the class with a much higher average of 728.

FROM STARTUP GARAGE TO CREAPOLIS

But facts and figures can only tell you so much. What sets ESADE apart from it’s many rivals is its place in the entrepreneurial firmament. Upon entering the school’s Catalan campus, located in a small medieval city half an hour north of Barcelona, you can’t help notice its location. On the campus, made a few years ago after ESADE decided to leave its beautiful but limited Barcelona campus in favor of a new business school annex technology park in Sant Cugat, the student-entrepreneur is king. One of the major reasons, ESADE’s communications manager Francina Ribes says, “was to strengthen our ties to early-stage companies”.

Josep FranchIt has succeeded in that goal. The school breathes entrepreneurialism. It starts with gimmicky ideas such as the “startup garage,” which allows students to meet in an un-school like setting for creative brainstorming. But it gets much more real still with “Creapolis,” a business incubator and accelerator which is based on campus. Here, the interaction between existing startup companies and the MBA students is ensured as much by official exchanges as by them simply being in the same place physically. It is applied learning on steroids.

“An entrepreneurial mindset has always been ESADE’s DNA,” says Josep Franch, the Catalan dean of ESADE, and the only man on the entire campus dressed in a suit and a tie. “We have had an institute for entrepreneurship for many years, where you could come and write a business plan. But over the last years our focus on entrepreneurship and innovation has really been increasing, and with the creation of Creapolis, has become our main differentiation point.”