CORRECTION: This story has been substantially updated since its original publication to reflect the fact that several business schools have come back to Poets&Quants to inform us of other MBA startups that met our criteria for inclusion.
The entrepreneurs behind the Top 100 MBA Startups were so impressive this year, we thought we’d include other founders and their startups that fell just short of the list. The cutoff to make the Top 100 this year was $6.1 million in funding, a significantly higher hurdle than the $1.6 million cutoff last year.
In fact, if the minimum funding on last year’s list remained intact this year, at least 36 companies out of these startups would have been ranked in the Top 100. In all, these startups collectively raised more than $177 million. For this list, the same Top 100 startup rules apply: A company had to be founded in 2009 or later by an MBA who graduated in 2009 or later. So who comes out on top?
Olapic, founded by Columbia Business School MBAs, Circle and Thanx, both founded by Stanford MBAs tied for No. 1, each having raised $6 million. Figure 1, a photography startup founded by another Columbia grad followed closely behind with $5.7 million.
But many of the startups just missing the Top 100 show the great diversity in these new enterprises. On this ranking, outliers from the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business and Arizona’s Eller snuck into the list. Mile High Organics, America’s first online organic grocer, was founded by Leeds graduate, Michael Joseph and Steve Markowitz. Jarret Hamstreet and Micky Thompson of Arizona’s Eller founded Post.Bid.Ship, a commercial transportation startup.
STANFORD, HARVARD, MIT SLOAN & COLUMBIA SHOW UP WELL
Stanford and Harvard once again proved startup dominance. Stanford had 14 out of the 50 schools while Harvard claimed nine. Also showing well was MIT Sloan with six startups. Columbia had the most after Sloan with five startups making this list.
Despite the lower funding numbers, the central theme behind the startups remained the same: An MBA program at a top business school can be an ideal place to accelerate or incubate a startup. Regardless of the setting, MBA students are able to use the ample resources a business school can offer, be it funding, a working space, expert advice from professors, mentoring, an extensive alumni network or the classmates sitting next to them.
For Adam Louras, a 2011 graduate of Northwestern’s Kellogg School and founder of Koa Organic Beverages, Kellogg was the main reason he founded his company. Despite entering the school in 2009 with a partial sponsorship from Bank of America and his heart set on a career transition to consulting, Louras came out an entrepreneur. An unhealthy lifestyle and bad report from his doctor all within the first six months of his time at Kellogg led to an organic juice startup.
AN ALUMNI CONNECTION LED TO AN IMPORTANT SUPPLIER IN CHINA
“I pitched the idea in business plan competitions and had about 40 business students helping me out,” Louras says. “I had resources at Kellogg I would have never had anywhere else.”
Still, it was two specific Kellogg connections that helped to bring his business idea to life. First, Louras gained vital funding and connections to fruit distributors from a fellow classmate whose father was a successful fruit distributor in Mexico. Second, it was an unlikely connection through Kellogg’s alumni network.
“I was having big issues finding the exact type of plastic to be able to mold into the shape of a bottle I wanted,” Louras says. “It was actually about to derail my entire idea. So I was walking through a Michaels Crafts in Carrollton, Texas, and I saw a do-it-yourself snow globe. It was the exact type of plastic I needed to be able to mold.”
Louras picked it up and copied the model and serial number of the plastic. Next he checked the Kellogg alumni database to see if he could find anyone who worked for Michaels. He found a 1978 Kellogg graduate who was high up at the retail chain.
“He was the head of international strategy on legal services and I thought, how is this guy ever going to know what type of plastic I need,” thought Louras. “But I emailed him anyway and attached a photo from my cell phone. I got a reply almost immediately and the head of sourcing and supply chain was cc’d. Then I was cc’d on a flurry of emails and within an hour was called by the guy in China who made the globe. After a two-hour conversation with his manufacturer, my problem was solved.”
Similarly, 2011 Harvard MBA graduate and founder of Shoptiques, Olga Vidisheva, left a career in finance to pursue her entrepreneurial passions. Before Harvard, she worked as an investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs but loved travel and boutique shops.
“When I got to Harvard I had no startup idea,” Vidisheva says. “But I love local shopping and always purchased at local boutiques. When other women would complement my clothes I had to tell them I got it at some random local place. And I thought there are so many amazing local stores around the world I wanted to bring online.”
Vidisheva interviewed more than 800 boutiques around the world, gathered the necessary funding and the company has taken off. “The experience at Harvard taught me everything from how to write a business plan to taking advantage of a good idea,” Vidisheva says.
Whether MBA students intend to catch it or not, the startup bug is alive and well.
“I could probably rattle off 20 or 25 of my classmates who started a company,” Louras says. “Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. But where I really see the value of an MBA is being able to continually take a startup to the next level. Many startups get to a certain size and the the founders are out. Everyone here wants me to stay. An MBA gives you general management skills. Those skills get more and more applicable the larger and more complex the startup gets.”
(See the next pages for the Best of the Rest Top 50.)