Ever hear the stories about pajama-clad dissidents who leveled industries from their basements or garages? It’s a popular archetype…one based on the humble beginnings of Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and Larry Page. If you’re an MBA, the best route to riches may not be hunkering down in a split foyer, like a sleeper cell readying to pounce on docile financial services or telecom giants. Instead, your best bet might be to leverage the resources in the wider ecosystem of your host university.
That’s one of the reasons for the success at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. This year, Anderson placed three firms in Poets&Quants’ Top 100 business school startups, ranking the program ahead of such luminaries as UT McCombs, UVA Darden, and Chicago Booth. Among the top MBA programs, Anderson may be poised to breakout many more top startups to go along with Silicon Beach’s proud tradition of churning out category definers like Hulu and SnapChat.
UCLA ENTREPRENEURSHIP DEFINED BY CROSS-CAMPUS COLLABORATION
One reason is the larger university itself, known for its blue ribbon research capabilities and strengths in the engineering, medicine, mathematics, and psychology. Anderson isn’t shy about leveraging this cluster of brainpower, says Al Osborne, senior associate dean at the school. In fact, it is his defining mission. “What’s different about what I’m trying to do,” Osborne explains in an interview with Poets&Quants, “is to allow our students to collide with scientists and principal investigators and see if there are ideas that can be licensed to solve real problems.”
He cites Leo Petrossian, founder of Neural Analytics, as an example of this approach. A biotech and nanotech engineer by trade, Petrossian was fascinated by how technology could be used to treat and reduce brain trauma. With experts in computer science and medicine within a short distance of Anderson, Petrossian took research developed at UCLA and applied it to commercializing a device that’s under FDA review. In the end, the device is expected to potentially detect strokes and track brain health. Such solutions are emblematic of Anderson’s entrepreneurial strengths: “consumer-facing, digital content, entertainment tech-enabled that solves a problem in either the b-to-b or b-to-c space,” says Osborne.
UCLA MBAs HELP SPARK THE SURGE OF TECH FIRMS IN “SILICON BEACH”
Beyond the UCLA campus, Anderson is blessed by deep-rooted and wide-ranging industry brawn inherent to the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Osborne touts the region’s defense and aerospace industries, adding that he believes the area boasts the largest collection of job-creating middle market companies in the country. While LA may be synonymous with entertainment, its richest resource is technology, mythologized in the form of “Silicon Beach.” Stretching from Westwood to Manhattan Beach, this tech hot spot ranks among the world’s largest and wealthiest tech hubs. It features plucky startups such as ZipRecruiter and TigerText springing up among seasoned digital players like Google and BuzzFeed — with plenty of angel investors hovering on the lookout for the next game changer. When SnapChat goes public, Osborne predicts it will only amplify the virtuous cycle that the region has enjoyed.
“It will increase the effectiveness of Silicon Beach as a place because we will have a very significant valuation and some exits from those that came down here to build. The big thing that I think is going to make a difference is the tech- enabled consumer entertainment digital content space that has the comparable advantages of the Disneys of the world, along with all the support networks — the support companies that deal with them in the movie business — is going to be a comparative advantage that other places just don’t have. It’s huge. When you have a valuation or exit like Snap, it will instantly create the millionaires that have the money necessary to attract others from other spaces to come down here.”
Such a response would only be good news for Anderson MBAs. “Anderson taps into this network of startups and established firms,” Osborne adds. “We are the place where companies look for talent and students can be part of internship programs to work in these companies.”
PRICE CENTER ACTS AS THE HUB FOR UCLA STARTUP EFFORTS
At UCLA, the Anderson School —and the Price Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, in particular — acts as the epicenter of entrepreneurship across the UCLA campus. From organizing one of the largest clubs on campus (Entrepreneur Association) to housing a brand new 10,000 square foot accelerator, Price is gearing up to become the go-to school for ambitious MBAs looking to stake their claim at the intersection of digital technology and burgeoning industries like entertainment, supply chains, and retail. “I think that by adopting an active learning approach, one that tries to leverage relationships with the rest of the campus, we can have a rich experience,” adds Osborne.” Being in LA, we are able to bring on a real set of opportunities for students to work with and interact with folks who are doing big things not only in Silicon Beach, but middle market companies that bring a variety of experiences with emphasis primarily in technology like consumer-facing ecommerce and retail.”
Osborne himself is a bit of an institution, if not a legend, at UCLA. Holding three advanced degrees, including an MBA and a Ph.D. from Stanford, Osborne has spent 42 years at UCLA, interrupted in the 1970s by a stint as a Brookings Fellow at the Securities and Exchange Commission (after he’d already earned tenure). In 1987, he founded the Price Center and has served as both mastermind and champion for it ever since. While he could easily retire knowing he’d left his mark on thousands of successful entrepreneurs at UCLA and beyond, he is far too engaged and ambitious to settle back. Instead, he intends to continue working as a servant leader who helps others drive the action.
“UCLA is an amazing place,” he shares. “Southern California is blessed with a tremendous set of natural resources. This is an area where the process of discovery in the next century will blossom. There is something special about Southern California that has not been tapped that is in the process of being developed.”
Last week, Poets&Quants sat down with Osborne to learn about the resources available to Anderson entrepreneurs, along with how he sees the nature of entrepreneurship transforming in the coming years. Here are his thoughts in an intensive and far-flung interview.
P&Q: In 2016, you launched the Anderson Accelerator to nurture UCLA-based startups. Talk to us about the services the accelerator offers; what it takes to be accepted into it; and some of the companies there now and success stories that have come out of it?
AO: The accelerator has been around a little over a year. We made a decision that those accepted into the accelerator would come from those who came out of our cohort-based curriculum in what we call our Business Creation Options. Those are the projects that students need to do for their MBA degree. The Accelerator facility is not unlike others, in that it has a co-working space along with a kitchen, presentation room, and conference rooms. We’re located in first floor of the Anderson Library, so our students also have assistance from the research librarians. We have mentors and advisors. We’ve started with MBAs, but we are adding undergraduates. We actually just started an undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship as well.