Sometimes, it is best to let the numbers speak for themselves. Austin, Texas is a case in point. Home to 2.1 million people – a third of whom are Millennials – the ‘Silicon Hills’ of the Southwest has developed a mystique as a tech and startup hub – and ground zero for progressive values and outdoor life.
Every day, 50 people move to Austin, where 51 of every 10,000 people is an entrepreneur – the second highest concentration in the United States. Here, you’ll find nearly 46,000 companies with fewer than 100 employees and a 3.2% unemployment rate. Is it any surprise that the city is expected to nearly double in size over the next 25 years?
A TOP CITY FOR STARTING A CAREER AND QUALITY OF LIFE
Such numbers have turned Austin into the city to watch. Look no further than its 2017 accolades. The Milken Institute ranked the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ as the 2nd highest-performing city based on job and wage growth. It finished 3rd in NerdWallet’s ranking of the Best Places to Start a Career, based on criteria like workforce diversity, job security, housing affordability, and commute times. And Austin finished 1st in U.S. News’ ranking of the Best Places to Live, buoyed by high quality education and hospital systems.
Austin is also blessed with the University of Texas, which fills the talent pipeline that firms need to innovate and grow. It would difficult to quantify how the university’s “Hook ‘em horns” brashness and the city’s “Keep Austin Weird” ethos feed into each other. Rather, most just marvel at the result: a culture that fuses technical wizardry with aesthetic vitality; bold originality with nuts-and-bolts execution; and a can-do spirit with a down-home lifestyle. The McCombs School of Business has taken full advantage of this booming startup scene, becoming one of the top MBA programs for entrepreneurship. This pairing of opportunity and expertise makes McCombs a luxury that’s hard for ambitious MBA candidates to pass up.
Angelise Hadley, a 2019 MBA candidate who has already launched a subscription startup, argues that you would be hard-pressed to find “a better place for a budding business” than the McCombs-Austin combination. The school’s Texas Venture Lab, for example, awards two full-ride scholarships to promising entrepreneurs as part of its Texas Venture Lab Competition. The lab also facilitates a myriad of opportunities for MBAs, ranging from partnerships with area startups and cross-campus teams to hosting an accelerator. In fact, where 40% of launches make money thanks to the program’s data-driven philosophy.
TECH BOOMTOWN INSPIRES DEEP INVESTMENTS FROM GOOGLE AND ORACLE
More than that, the school’s inclusive, laid-back vibe reduces the pressure of taking the risk inherent to starting a business, says Jacqueline Sigler, a first year who plans to make the transition away from finance. “The biggest area I wanted to focus on in business school is entrepreneurship,” she explains. “I applied exclusively to schools and in cities that were centers of tech excellence and bolstered a start-up environment. I very much liked Austin’s culture — food, music, sports and humility. I felt I would have more creative liberty to experiment and to do so without feeling pressures of suits and billion dollar valuations around me at all times.”
Startups aren’t the only segment fueling Austin’s growth. Google is putting the finishing touches on a 200,000 square foot building that opens downtown at the end of 2017. Oracle is building a 560,000 square foot campus on the south side so it can boost its city workforce by 50%. At the same time, Accenture, Apple, Dell, IBM, Samsung, Facebook, and Amazon each maintain a substantive presence in the area. That is only good news for McCombs, where tech firms hire roughly a third of its MBA graduates.
“One of the interesting things about the MBA program is how integrated it is with the city (of Austin),” says Tina Mabley, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program at UT-Austin McCombs in a 2017 interview with Poets&Quants. “There are many schools that are in major cities, but the University of Texas and the city have really grown up together so there is a nice symbiotic relationship between the two. We have been the fastest growing city in the U.S. for the past four years. So students have incredible opportunity, whether it is serving on boards in the community, working with startups, mid-sized companies or Fortune 500 corporations. We really view Austin as a live laboratory that our students have access to, and we are creating a new building that is right on the edge of campus that puts us in that Venn diagram overlap between the campus and the city.”
CLASS ENTREPRENEUR HAS ALREADY SOLD A BUISNESS TO MARCUS LEMONIS
In a city that prides itself on being wired and wacky – the birthplace of SXSW and Austin City Limits, no less – the McCombs Class of 2019 is going to fit in just fine. Art Sokolov calls himself “a polyglot by day, a pianist by night, and a race car driver by weekend.” Not only does Sokolov speak four languages, but he builds his own race cars! Before he was busy founding three companies, Dan Ben-Nun served as a sergeant in the Special Forces battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces. Oh, and he sold his fashion brand to investor Marcus Lemonis, the star of CNBC’s The Profit. And classmates may do a double take when they see Nathan Dyer on family weekend. He has a true doppelgänger.“My twin brother and I attended school, rowed on the crew team in the same shell, majored in the same subject, and after graduation served overseas together.”
Those aren’t the only intriguing backgrounds for a class that can list ExxonMobil, Evercore, and JP Morgan as previous employers. Hadley was once a cheerleader for a pro soccer team – and the Notre Dame grad still takes hip hop dance classes. Chances are, a meet-and-greet with Sigler would be like bracing for a tornado. She describes herself as “Well-rounded, family-oriented, action-oriented, high expectations, empathetic, athlete, corny, open-minded, former finance lady, battery recharging necessary.” When you want to celebrate a big milestone, be sure to do it in style like Mohit Maheshwari.
“In the last couple of years, I have developed an interest in adventure activities,” he admits. “It started when I went skydiving in the UK. After I took my GMAT, I went for a paragliding course and completed two levels. A couple of months before joining McCombs, I went trekking and climbed 15,000 ft. Each of these experiences has motivated me to challenge myself further. I hope to complete a course in skydiving after graduating from McCombs.”
IMPROVEMENT ACROSS ALL CLASS MEASUREMENTS
The Class of 2019 has also tasted succeed in a number of industries and roles. At the Wallace Foundation, Jaclyn Le, “a crazy, loud and aggressive” tennis fan, designed funding streams that made summer learning programs sustainable long after gifts were made. Rodrigo Lascurain spearheaded efforts to purchase two oil fields, which enabled a large Mexican oil and gas company to boost its reserves by nearly a third. And you could call Kristen Diaz a force of nature at General Mills, where she grew a $26 million dollar business despite little support from her company – and little experience in marketing.
“I created innovation launch plans, pricing strategy, and marketing support plans for several brands and over twenty-five markets, and worked closely with my customers, creative agencies, and internal cross-functional teams to execute on them,” she remembers. “I am especially proud of this accomplishment because I did not have any formal education or training in marketing or general management, but I was able to ask questions, try new things, fail, learn quickly, and work with my team and limited resources to ultimately grow the business.”
The Class of 2019 represents a continued improvement in key admissions metrics. During the 2016-2017 cycle, applications rose by 1% to 2,586, with the acceptance rate holding steady at 28% for the 265-member class. Academically, average GMATs climbed by three points to 703. This represents a nine point jump in just the past two years. In turn, average GPAs also bumped up from 3.42 to 3.48 over the previous year.
Go to next page to read 12 profiles of incoming McCombs MBA candidates.