Our Favorite MBA Startups Of 2017

Jan Hoffmann-Keining and Julian Jost launched Spacebase in 2014. Courtesy photo


If there’s a business model to hitch your wagon to, the Airbnb model seems to be one of the most popular. Jan Hoffmann-Keining and Julian Jost launched a near carbon-copy called Spacebase in 2014, which rents out meeting spaces instead of rental rooms and homes. “Airbnb has created the blueprint of how marketplaces should look nowadays,” Jost, who graduated with an MBA from Oxford’s Saïd Business School, told us last January. At the time, the meeting rental platform was operating in more than 30 cities in a dozen countries.

For Jost, the idea came from his consulting background. “Throughout the consulting life, you experience the hardcore meeting culture,” Jost said. “Meetings everyday. Tons of meetings. And they were all pretty much the same.”

It also makes you a creative problem-solver.

“Consulting makes you very good at putting problems into boxes and working your way around or through them,” Jost said. “That also takes away a level of creativity.”

Jost said he was able to bounce ideas off his diverse classmates at Oxford, and that’s where the idea was generated.

A Bevi water dispenser developed by two MIT Sloan grads and an industrial designer. Courtesy photo


Hustle might be one of the most annoyingly overused words when it comes to describing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. That or disruption. But a little bit of hustle and a lot of ingenuity is what it took to get Bevi off the ground for a team of MIT Sloan grads. Sean Grundy, Eliza Becton, and Frank Lee were in the application process to enter the Boston Techstars Accelerator program, which included a video portion. The problem? Their futuristic water bottle dispenser wasn’t dispensing water. They figured they’d have the kinks worked out by the time they got to Techstars, but first they had to be accepted. So they got crafty.

“We had Eliza hide inside the machine and then manually act out the functions of the prototype from the inside,” Lee told us at the time, noting Becton was the only one with the stature small enough to fit inside the defunct machine. “We filmed the prototype as if it was functioning properly and then submitted the application with little hope.”

It worked. By the time the team was selected for an in-person interview, the kinks were worked out and the product was working flawlessly. That was 2013. Now the team has 40 employees spread across three offices, $14 million in venture backing, and their product has infiltrated the offices of some heavyweights like Netflix, General Electric, Intel, Twitter, and Lyft, among others.

Sidharth Kakkar (left) and Alexandr Kurilin launched Front Row Education in 2013. Courtesy photo

Front Row Education

Often times, startup success comes down to some random luck. That’s what happened for Sidharth Kakkar, an MBA grad from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. First, was an unlikely love affair with computer programming. Kakkar randomly signed up for a computer programming class at Carnegie Mellon University, which he soon adored. Four years later, he graduated with a computer science undergraduate degree from the school. Second, was a more random response to a Craigslist add asking for website creation training. After many people responding by asking for help building their websites, Kakkar found a suitable teacher. He was a homeless man looking for $10 an hour for 15 hourlong sessions.

“He had a laptop, backpack, he often slept in shelters, and he helped me at Starbucks. Because, you know, they have free Internet there. He taught me how to make a web app in PHP (hypertext preprocessor),” Kakkar recalled last January, when the article was published.

It was enough to give him the basics to feel comfortable building education software for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The software, which focuses on math and language arts, is now in more than 41,000 classrooms in all 50 states and more than 25 countries. More than 5 million students have used the software, which currently has more than $6 million in investment backing.