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Our Favorite MBA Startups Of 2016

MBA startups were more popular than ever this year. Entrepreneurship has overtaken finance as the most popular major at several business schools, and Poets&Quants has covered a whole bunch of MBA-led companies.

Looking back on the ventures we’ve written about — from the Bain employee whose MBA experience prepared him to open a noodle shop, to the mule-powered portable coffee shop, to social entrepreneurship of all kinds — we’ve compiled a list of our favorites. These startups are in various stages of growth, but they’re all ambitious, they’re all exciting, and they all have smart MBAs behind them.

Founder Rena Pacheco-Theard

Prepify

Before Rena Pacheco-Theard (MIT Sloan ‘16) ever thought about getting an MBA, she wanted to start Prepify – a company that offers free SAT prep materials to students anywhere in the world. She was no stranger to students who thought college was something “other people did,” she says. She was a first generation college student herself, and studied for the SATs in just one night, after a friend lent her an SAT prep book.

After graduating from college, she co-founded an after-school program that paired soccer with free academic mentorship. She tutored high schoolers, contacted admissions offices on their behalf, and helped them through the FASFA process. It was more rewarding than her 9-5 job, she found, and she started thinking about how she could help underserved students full-time.

In August 2015, Prepify launched a pilot in five community groups: American Youthworks, Breakthrough Austin, HYPE Los Angeles, the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium, and Noble Impact. It was also one of the 2015 winners of the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge. Long term, Pacheco-Theard hopes Prepify will be a one-stop shop for college prep, where students can access information about scholarships, financial aid, test prep, the admissions process, and also research schools.

Matt Bishop has an MBA and a mule. And he is putting them both to use while launching a craft cold brew coffee company in Boise, Idaho. Photo by Nathan Allen

Café Mulé

Social media, coffee, a Georgetown MBA, and a mule are changing the Boise foothills. Co-founders Matt Bishop (Georgetown McDonough ‘10) and Andrea Hovey met in the Naval Academy when Hovey lived on the same floor as Bishop’s now wife. They mostly lost touch after graduating in 2003, but stayed connected on Facebook.

More than a decade later, Bishop retired from military life, and his wife was accepted into a physician’s assistant program in Boise, Idaho. They moved there with their three children, and every day, while his wife was in school, Bishop would take his children on hikes in the Boise foothills. And every day, he wished he had some coffee.

So he decided to sell coffee on the trails. And to carry the materials up the foothills, he bought a mule named Richard. Shortly after, Hovey saw a post on Facebook titled “Meet Richard the Mule.” She was on a bicycle trip in South America, but when she read the post, she wanted in. She reached out to Bishop, and when she returned to the United States, she would move to Boise to join the new company: Café Mulé.

And so Bishop, Hovey, and Richard transport a makeshift coffee station around different points of Boise’s extensive trail system, using social media to tell hikers where they are. But they’re still inching their way around some Food and Drug Administration hurdles, and are currently giving the coffee away for free.

They’ve inspired something of a cult following among the Boise trail hikers, and Bishop says that even if Café Mulé ends up being a bust, and never earns them any money, he still thinks they’ve learned a lot about entrepreneurship.

Haas MBA John Hanke

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go’s not really a startup. But the MBA behind it is a serial entrepreneur. John Hanke (UC Berkeley Haas ‘94) thinks of his MBA as a turning point, where he was given the tools and confidence to pursue entrepreneurship. After graduating in the mid-1990s, he co-founded multiple companies, the last of which was acquired by Google.

At Google, he led the development of Google Earth, Maps, and StreetView, and later Niantic Labs, which spun out as a separate company last year. He’s now the CEO of Niantic Labs, which created Pokemon Go –  an augmented reality game that users can download for free on their smartphones.

And the game took the world by storm this year. It went viral, and millions of players could be spotted outdoors “catching” Pokemon – animated Japanese characters, beloved by those who grew up playing the video games, watching the TV show, and trading Pokemon cards.