Most MBAs associate Babson College with entrepreneurship…for good reason. For over 25 years, U.S. News has ranked the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business as the top program for aspiring entrepreneurs. That’s just the opinion of elite faculty and administrators.
In the Financial Times ranking of graduate entrepreneurship programs, Babson ranked second only to Stanford. By the numbers, 37% of Olin MBA students started their own firm – the highest rate among any graduate business program. By the same token, 76% of these startups were still operating within a year of graduation – a testament to a curriculum that hammers home business fundamentals while fostering a zeal for calculated risk and inspired solutions.
“WE LIVE ENTREPRENEURSHIP ALL THE TIME”
That’s exactly what the Class of 2020 is seeking. According to Ashley Taylor, a first-year MBA who describes herself as a “mountain climbing mom of four,” the classes are “taught through the lens of the entrepreneur.” That’s because, says Elena Cavalca Knack, the program brings an entirely different mindset to the table.
“We live entrepreneurship all the time,” writes the Brazilian project manager. “That’s not about just creating your own business, but about doing things creatively. It is not about just thinking outside the box – it’s about thinking as if there is no box. Every subject we learn, professors are trying to push us to think beyond what is common.”
When it comes to entrepreneurship, the Class of 2020 has tackled it from all angles. Take Claudia Monteverde. In her native Venezuela, she started her career as a dentist. Over time, her small practice grew into a dental center, employing 16 professionals whose background enabled patients to solve all their dental issues in one spot. Monteverde’s success came with a tradeoff, however. It was increasingly difficult to both work with patients and handle her backend responsibilities.
“I decided to dedicate almost entirely to the business,” she says. “Working long hours, studying complex dental cases, and coordinating schedules did not seem like work at all. Without realizing it, I became the manager of my own business.”
BRINGING MICROFINANCE TO EAST AFRICA
So why come to business school? For starters, Monteverde cites her countries “hyperinflation,” not to mention its political woes. More than that, Olin is her chance to gain a better rounded understanding of business complexities for the next venture. “Working in my business during the last years has made me aware that I still lack critical abilities to manage a business to reach its peak. This is the perfect time to fix this. An MBA will help me have a far better business understanding and give me the necessary tools I am missing.
Dancan Onyango didn’t start out as an entrepreneur. Two years ago, we was a financial services consultant…until an assignment with a microfinance bank changed his worldview. Here, he was exposed to the issues that women faced in securing loans and even basic financial services. At the same time, he also identified the potential that these women possessed in starting businesses.
That led him to found Jiwo Paro, a microfinance organization in his native Kenya to help women become successful entrepreneurs. Noting that just “one in hundreds” of women in East Africa hold a bank account, Onyango’s enterprise reduces the barriers that women face in accessing collateral – a situation that keeps most in poverty.
“We loan low income women sewing machines to enable them start their apparel microenterprises,” he writes. “Little as my contribution may be, I believe that it has been instrumental in molding these women into successful entrepreneurs in the textile industry and become successful leaders in their community.”
OVERHAULING THE FAMILY BUSINESS WHILE HIS FATHER IS AWAY
Ever hear the proverb, “When the cat is away, the mice will play.” That’s certainly not what Hamad Alfares’ father expected when he put his son in charge for his kitchen retail company for two months. Alfares’ scope of responsibilities? “Just run the business and sign the checks on my behalf until I get back from Germany,” said his father.
To do that, of course, Alfares had to first learn how the family business was run. Much to his surprise, the company was losing money courtesy of long cash cycle lengths and high storage costs which required deep price discounts to cover. In his research, Alfares also “stumbled” upon a potential solution: an unused proprietary software suite that enabled consumers to create custom-designed kitchens that they could see in 3D before ordering.
This outside-the-box thinking yielded immediate results. The “build-your-own-kitchen” branding becoming a marketing staple – and the franchise’s manager even visited to learn if Alfares’ strategy could be implemented across the board.
“Not only were our operations costs exponentially decreased, our sales also grew,” shares Alfares, who has gone on to co-launch three apps, work for Kuwaiti government’s entrepreneurship department, and write research papers on the startup field. “Storage areas became obsolete…The operating cash cycle length was heavily decreased and constant at around two months, decreasing cost variation and allowing self-financed growth.”
DON’T HAVE TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR TO GAIN A LOT
You don’t have to be an entrepreneur like Monteverde, Onyango, or Alfares to get a lot out of a Babson MBA. Just ask the Class of 2018. Carola Leiva, a Poets&Quants MBA to Watch, touts the Olin community as “diverse and full of people with great ideas.” For her, Babson wasn’t just a spot for students who wanted to launch their own company. Instead, it was a place for students from all walks of life…even within her own family.
“I wanted to do something different from what I knew (very structured thinking) and put myself out of my comfort zone – and Babson has done it,” she points out. “My older brother studied at Babson seven years ago and he is a VP at Liberty Mutual. My younger brother is currently working at MetLife Chile and he will be part of the Babson Class of 2020. Here are examples of three siblings who don’t have family business and have always worked for corporations. Still we have all chosen Babson.”
Arriving on campus in 2016, David James, a 2018 Best & Brightest MBA, expected to see classmates “founding new businesses left and right.” Like many before him, he soon discovered that entrepreneurship can take many shapes beyond simply starting your own business.
“I’ve seen many more forms of entrepreneurship than I expected, including classmates running and growing family businesses; expanding businesses they had personally founded before grad school; working on the innovation team of large, Fortune 500 companies; or applying an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset to a social justice problem. Babson does an exceptional job of infusing an entrepreneurial perspective into every course you take so that you learn how to think like an entrepreneur across many contexts like finance, strategy, operations, and human capital.”
FINDING AN INTERNSHIP…THROUGH TWITTER
That applies to the Class of 2020 as well. Fupeng Pei, for one, worked as a district sales manager at Eli Lilly. Likewise, Masayuki Kameo was employed in Toyota’s public relations arm, where he served as the Strategy Planner for the Chief Communications Officer. At the same time, Alex Green loves marketing data analytics – and hopes to lead a team in that area in the coming years. Don’t forget Claudia Monteverde, who plans to work in healthcare and life sciences after graduation – until she comes up with her next ‘big idea,’ that is.
Not surprisingly, an entrepreneurially-minded class excelled in sports, where competition, teamwork, and sacrifice were the norms. As an undergraduate, Tricia DiGirolomo made First Team All American for women’s lacrosse, collecting an NCAA National Championship along the way. Will Gray played hockey at Trinity College. Whatever you do, be wary of Alex Green hitting you up for a game of ping pong. He is a former Division I tennis player.
If you’re looking for a feel good story, just ask Benjamín Mujica Dittborn how he landed his first internship. “Music and radio are my passions. For my first internship, I deeply wanted to work on a radio station. I didn’t know anyone in the radio industry, so I tweeted the famous radio personality Constanza Stipicic of Radio Duna, in Chile, and expressed my desire to work at the station. Thanks to this tweet I got the internship!”
‘EXPOSED TO SOMETHING NEW EVERYDAY’
So how does the Class of 2020 feel about their classmates three months into the program? Mujica Dittborn admits to being struck by the diversity of the program, where 80% of the class hails from overseas. “If you want a global mindset, this is the right place,” he says.
Indeed, you could argue that Babson is the American answer to IESE Business School, a deeply international two-year program with deep roots in entrepreneurship. However, the school’s diversity extends beyond a 158 member class who hail from 26 different countries.
“They come from all different countries, industries, and backgrounds, but they are open to others’ ideas, anxious to learn about and experience other cultures, and very helpful and collaborative in nature, observes Ashley Taylor. “You get the sense that everyone wants to help you succeed, and that creates a cycle of generosity in the school.”
It also fosters an amazing learning environment, adds Tricia DiGirolomo. “Every day you are exposed to something you’ve never heard of before.”