AFRESH TECHNOLOGIES HIGHLIGHTS NEW BREED OF MBA ENTREPRENEUR
On the sixth floor in a brick building near the birthplace of Jack London in San Francisco’s China Basin, a small team of buzzing entrepreneurs represents this shift. It’s a classic microcosm of Northern California. Matt Schwartz, who earned his MBA from Stanford in 2017, and his team are using one of the highest forms of technology — artificial intelligence — to solve a big issue: food waste. To do so, Schwartz has launched Afresh Technologies, which has software to help grocers stock the correct amounts of such perishable products as produce, meats, and bread.
The Schwartz-breed of MBA is not uncommon anymore, says Stefanos Zenios, Stanford professor of entrepreneurship. “We are adding in our curriculum models in which we inspire entrepreneurs to think about social responsibility for their venture,” says Zenios, who is the architect of Stanford’s infamous Startup Garage course and oversees the Stanford GSB Venture Studio.
“And it’s not something we’re doing just for a social venture,” Zenios adds, “it’s something we’re asking of every student who goes through our startup garage course to think about their responsibility to society as they’re starting their ventures. So we wanted to be more mindful about how their venture will be perceived by their main stakeholders beyond investors.”
ENTREPRENEURSHIP’S ROLE IN THE RENEWAL OF AMERICAN CITIES
Back in St. Louis, the health of a university-led entrepreneurial ecosystem is visually — and statistically — felt.
“The entrepreneurs have really been the anchor of the revitalization (of) downtown,” Holekamp says.
Visually, gastropubs full of 20-somethings sit across the street from abandoned lots. Instead of knocking over buildings and starting over, many new startup hubs like Cortex and T-Rex have flipped buildings, taking old rotary phone and furniture factories and placing coworking and office space that rivals anything you’d see in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Statistically, Holekamp says, the residential occupancy in downtown is at 97% but the commercial occupancy is under 70%. “It’s become a hugely popular place to live but they’re struggling to fill up their commercial occupancy,” Holekamp says. “So what we’re trying to do is create the next generation of occupants — both residential and commercial.”
Since 2010, St. Louis’s downtown population has surged by 43.5%. Going back to 2005, the rate climbs to 153.5%. Between its graduates and current tenants, T-Rex claims it has created more than 4,300 jobs with a combined economic output of more than $607 million. Before 2012, just 51% of companies coming out of Washington University’s Hatchery course stayed in the St. Louis region. Since 2012, Holekamp says that rate has climbed to 91%.
“That’s the goal of T-Rex, to incubate these companies and as they grow out of this space, they go into the nearby community,” Holekamp says. “And a large percentage do stay downtown because they got their roots here. And then they hire young people because young people want to be down here. They don’t want to work out in Chesterfield.”
Just as Stanford became the epicenter of Silicon Valley’s ecosystem, universities across the country are attempting to play the same role in their regions. The University of Minnesota and, specifically the Carlson School of Management, which ranked eighth on this year’s ranking, have been instigators of Minneapolis’s entrepreneurial rise. Launched by the school in 2005, the Minnesota Cup has grown into the largest statewide startup competition in the country. More than 15,000 entrepreneurs have gone through the Cup and participants have collected more than 400 million in investment-backing.
“There’s a lot of talent that are doing entrepreneurial things that might not always be the classic unicorn venture headline but are building really interesting businesses,” Stavig says on a phone call. “The Twin Cities has staked a claim in solving meaningful problems and that stems from the healthcare background and computing history in the Twin Cities and really building over the long-term businesses that solve important problems.”
Creating that entrepreneurial ecosystem from the inside, out has been key for the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor community. “When you look at the landscape of entrepreneurship education in the 90s, it was pretty barren and now there’s a pretty rich set of schools across the country where entrepreneurship education has sprung up,” says Stewart Thornhill, the executive director of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurship at the Ross School of Business. “Because we aren’t on a coast and don’t have the scope and scale of the investor community and the broader ecosystem that you get in a Boston or a San Francisco, we really had to invest in creating a version of that here.”
ENTREPRENEURSHIP’S ROLE IN THE ECONOMIC FUTURE
Researchers within academia and in the field see the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation not only for the economy but for the future of capitalism as well. Business schools — and the current generation of students occupying them — are at the forefront of this innovation and change.
“Entrepreneurship is updating capitalism,” says Ted Zoller, director of the Entrepreneurship Center at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “And the truth of the matter is, we’re going through a fundamental restructuring of our economy. The models that were set up after World War II, which were much more distributed models, are breaking down. We’re now seeing most innovation happening in small enterprises. We’re hearing from corporate partners that they’re valuing adaptable leaders over any other skill set — therefore, entrepreneurship is a core element of MBA education.”
Hank Webber at Cortex is watching it play out right in front of his eyes. “Whether Cortex turns out to be very good or transformative for St. Louis depends on our ability to continue to grow at something like the pace we’ve been growing at,” he says. “And it depends, I think, over the long run, on a few of these companies that we’ve incubated turning out to be a huge deal.
“If you tell the story of Silicon Valley, there’s a Stanford story. And there’s a Stanford research park story. But without HP, it’s a different story. There’s no Seattle story without Microsoft. It’s early and we have many companies that are doing very well, but we haven’t had anybody explode yet.”
Look to the 20- and 30-somethings for that potential unicorn, he says. “I grew up in an era where my parents won the Great War against a genocidal maniac who had taken over Europe,” Webber continues. “People came home and they won the Civil Rights battle — or they thought they won the Civil Rights battle — and made a bunch of progress. And there was this enormous confidence of my generation.
“Today we’re in an era where there’s much greater distrust in all institutions and all sort of institutional efforts. My students want to start things. Lots of kids whose parents would’ve gone to law school now start companies. It’s a very entrepreneurial era. If you don’t have a vibrant entrepreneurial program, you don’t get lots of really good students these days. It’s how they express themselves.”
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