Poets&Quants’ Top MBA Startups Of 2020

An aerial view of Tangen Hall based on an artist’s rendering of the new building


While year-to-year founder numbers might be dropping at some schools, MBA programs continue their arms race for entrepreneurial programming and resources. Top business schools continue to erect buildings aimed at helping their entrepreneurial ecosystem flourish. Some recent examples include the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship placed strategically in the middle of Carnegie Mellon University’s campus to foster cross-collaboration among the university’s colleges. The Wharton School will soon open its seven-story, 68,000-square-foot Tangen Hall which will serve as Penn’s first dedicated space for cross-campus entrepreneurship and innovation. Besides a Venture Lab, the new digs will boast a virtual reality lab, maker spaces with 3D printers and laser cutters, as well as street-level “pop-up” retail space for student ventures.

“Tangen Hall enables us to take our entrepreneurship program to the next level for all Penn students,” says Trang Pham, the executive director of Wharton’s Venture Lab. “The winners, of course, are our MBAs.”

Venture Lab at Wharton is the organization of all “student-facing resources” available for Penn students interested in entrepreneurship, Pham says.

“This co-location enables us to offer an integrated set of programs and attract a broader, more vibrant Penn-wide community with whom to test ideas and build potential partnerships,” Pham explains. “Instead of navigating multiple schools to find help with prototyping, designing or funding, Venture Lab will consist of smaller ‘hubs’ that can offer those services to our aspiring entrepreneurs. This democratizes innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, because Wharton MBAs, even those without a technical background, will have the accessible tools to quickly transform their ideas into businesses.”

FlyHomes founders Stephen Lang (left) and Tushar Garg. FlyHomes photo


Besides building massive structures housing top student entrepreneurs, many MBA programs continue to innovate curriculum and programming surrounding entrepreneurship. At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Stefanos Zenios, the co-director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies says the school’s emphasis on search funds is one of the most exciting areas in which the GSB is branching into entrepreneurship. “The GSB has been a leader in the search fund space for quite some time now,” Zenios, who teaches the GSB’s famous Startup Garage course says. The school recently launched Search Fund Garage modeled off Startup Garage.

“We recognize that not every one of our students is going to become an entrepreneur in the traditional sense,” Zenios says. “But a very large percentage of our students might work for an entrepreneurial venture at one point or another.”

Zenios says the GSB has been strategically building out its entrepreneurship programming over many years. One of the ways it’s done that is making sure it’s entrepreneurial classes have people in the industry in the classroom among the students. “Pretty much every entrepreneurship class at the GSB is taught or co-taught by an entrepreneur or an investor,” Zenios says. “There is this network we have been building at the GSB that can give feedback essentially on-demand.”

But at the end of the day, Zenios says, a lot of Stanford’s startup success has to do with the type of students it enrolls.

“Our students are brilliant, they’re hard-working, and they’re hustlers,” Zenios says. “They invest a lot in relationships with investors and their teams. In the end, investors are investing in people and strong teams and our students are investing in creating those relationships and the early-stage team that will get the company off the ground. In many ways, our students can leverage the learning and community in those two years to explore different venture concepts.”


Ruangguru’s Co-founder and Chief Product and Partnership Officer Iman Usman and Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Belva Devara. RuangGuru photo

At Harvard, the entrepreneurship team has recently placed an emphasis on helping recent alumni find resources and a community after launching a business and leaving the safe-zone of the business school. HBS’s biggest recent innovation in that space is the development of the Rock 100, a network for HBS-founded high-impact, early-stage ventures. Among the Rock 100 programing includes an annual summit for members as well as local chapters that include mentoring and networking opportunities.

“That program is there to support our alumni founders and those that are scaling,” says Jodi Gernon, the director of the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship at HBS. According to Gernon, the program takes startups that have raised at least $1 million to $2 million and helps them with product-market fit and then scaling. Gernon calls the program one of HBS’s most “thought out” programs for alumni. One of the most valuable pieces of the program is that it brings together founders across industries and graduating classes. “Their commonality is that they are founders,” Gernon says.

Wharton has a long-standing similar program called the Venture Initiative Program in San Francisco focused on helping Bay Area-based alumni that are interested in pursuing entrepreneurship as a “next act in their careers.” It operates as an accelerator that provides alumni with “feedback during biweekly group advising sessions with advisors, including VCs, angel investors, attorneys, and successful entrepreneurs located in the Bay Area,” Pham says.

Stanford has a similar program, except its available to entrepreneurs world-wide, called Embark. Launched in the summer of 2019, the program, which features resources from the GSB’s faculty is meant to available world-wide. “It’s not just for alums, it’s for the broader aspiring entrepreneurship ecosystem,” Zenios says.


Of course, the current elephant in the room is the global spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on the markets, venture capital funding, and entrepreneurship. Wharton’s Pham equates the current situation to a Chinese proverb.

“’When the year grows cold, the pine and cypress show their quality,’” says Pham, quoting the proverb. “This Chinese proverb reminds us that many companies can grow only with plentiful resources but the evergreens thrive in market adversity. With coronavirus, we’ll see access to capital tightening for startups, who are already considered riskier by investors, and that may impact their ability to seed and scale.

“Nevertheless, lean ventures will continue to flourish if they can offer a great, unique product that scratches a real itch in the market. Overall, now is a great time to undertake a Wharton MBA and possibly start a venture as the opportunity costs are lower and our student startups can access the founder-friendly, non-dilutive funds that we offer.”


Gernon points out that in the aftermath of the Great Recession following the 2008 market crash, some of HBS’s most prolific startups were born. “Rent the Runway, Blue Apron, Plated, Grab,” Gernon ticks off examples. “That’s when you saw some of our most successful startups coming out.”

“A lot of times you hear, oh it’s a recession, nobody’s going to want to go to a startup,” Gernon continues. “I actually think that’s when you start to see people thinking about their other options and many look at startups.”

Gernon does think it could be a tough funding environment over the next year or so. May investors will likely double-down on their initial investments instead of doubling down on new ones, she says.

Stanford’s Zenios says he wouldn’t be surprised to see some new higher education-related startups popup in response to the massive shift in universities moving to online learning.

“Fundamentally, I think they will take that experience and start thinking about business ideas,” Zenios says. “I don’t know how that makes me feel as a professor, but I’m really curious to see what sort of startup ideas they’re going to be working on next year.”

See the next pages for all Top 100 MBA Startups of 2020.

Editor’s note: The original version of this article did not include Oishii Farm, founded by a UC-Berkeley Haas MBA, which is now ranked 32nd with $22.8 million in funding and Xendit, also founded by a Haas MBA, which is now 35th place with $20.6 million. It also had UC-Berkeley-founded Ping, Inc. at 98th place, missing a funding round. Ping is now listed at 36th place with $17.3 million. We regret the errors.

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