One of the best ways to learn about the diversity and interests of elite MBAs is to study what they create and where they spend their resources, time, and passions. Startups are a prominent way those unique passions manifest. Each year, in an effort to identify the very best, we rank the top 100 based on venture capital investments raised. Throughout the year, we also learn of interesting startups that haven’t yet caught the eyes of VC investors, but that are often equally fascinating. We’ve cultivated a list of our 10 favorites that we covered in 2017 that span both venture-backed and bootstrapped young companies.
This year the list includes a tricked-out water cooler company, a health food venture, and a bra company, among others. They come from schools spanning the United States and are made up of teams of men, women, and women and men. They’re in various stages of growth, but they all represent the growing trend of MBAs catching the entrepreneurial bug while in B-school or very soon after.
Devised in Ethan Mollick’s Management 801 course at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Burrow is the brain child of Stephen Kuhl, Kabeer Chopra, and the painstaking process of moving furniture. Both experienced annoyances moving to Philadelphia to start the full-time MBA program. And both decided to do something about it. For Kuhl, it was Ikea’s not-as-simple-as-it-looks couch setup that can often require multiple tools and people. For Chopra, it was a horribly botched West Elm order. Either way, Burrow, a direct-to-consumer startup is taking aim at the Ikeas and West Elms of the furniture world. When we published the article at the end of May, the company had already generated a quarter of a million in revenue and were having week-after-week of furniture sellouts.
Playing on the same field with the likes of Ikea and West Elm is a lofty goal. But Burrow has the entrepreneurial chops to potentially make moves in that direction. It has roots in the same course that produced direct-to-consumer giant Warby Parker. Chopra and Kuhl were accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator. And according to reports from The New York Times, millennials are carrying the booming billion dollar industry of direct-to-consumer furniture sales.
“You’ve got two years to figure out if your business is going to work. And if it doesn’t work, you’ve got this great story to tell and you can go join another startup or get a job,” Kuhl told us about launching a startup while in B-school. “The alternative is partying all the time for two years and recruiting. And you can always recruit last-minute and get a job.”
Branch — an app-linking software company — was also born while the co-founders were in business school. Like so many other software companies, this one was built and is based in Northern California’s Silicon Valley. To be sure, the team was a hit before the idea. Alex Austin, Mada Seghete, and Mike Molinet found each other in Stanford’s infamous Launchpad course, held within the Design School. Since 2009, more than 50 operating businesses have been conceived in the course. After one failed “Fitbit for dogs” startup, and struggling through another venture, the team, which includes the three GSB graduates and Dmitri Gaskin, who dropped out of Stanford University’s undergraduate program, founded Branch. Since launching in the summer of 2014, Branch has raised more than $53 million in investment-backing.
The team weathered the storm of two dropped ventures, turned down multiple internship and job offers, and persisted for one main reason. They came to business school to start something.
“Ultimately I went with the intention to start a tech company based on software,” Molinet told us at the time. “I remember thinking if I’m going to go, quit my job, spend $200,000 on an MBA, I wanted it to be at a top five institution. It (Stanford) is at the center of Silicon Valley and the center of tech. Also, I was living in Minnesota at the time, so, sunshine and warm weather were a draw.”