Since Poets&Quants first launched in 2010, we’ve covered many aspects of business education. One of those growing areas has been entrepreneurship. In 2013, we really ramped up our coverage of the startup scene when we created the first annual Top MBA Startups list. Last fall, we created another annual project, ranking the Best MBA Programs for Entrepreneurship, a joint project with Inc. magazine.
All along we’ve kept a finger on the pulse of the entrepreneurship beat with our in-depth coverage of trends in business schools and beyond, all over the world. From featuring entrepreneurial MBA programs in Israel to the most disruptive MBA startups coming out of B-schools to stories about how small, Midwestern MBA programs have developed robust entrepreneurial networks, Poets&Quants has continually and closely reported on entrepreneurship in graduate business education. Over the past decade, we’ve been fortunate to feature and cover many of the world’s biggest and best ventures, and as part of our 10-year anniversary story series, we want to honor 10 of the most impactful startups we’ve written about.
There are many ways to measure the success and impact of a startup. There’s the amount of venture capital investment it has raised. There’s the revenue and profits generated. And there is the customers reached. In the case of the startups listed here, there’s another measure: how the venture has changed an entire industry or way of life.
We’ve decided to take a holistic approach to evaluating MBA-founded startups we’ve covered over the past year. Below are 10 of our favorites in no particular order.
POETS&QUANTS’ FAVORITE MBA STARTUPS OF THE DECADE
When Dan Macklin and Mike Cagney were studying at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in 2010 and 2011, federal Stafford loans carried a 6.8% interest rate, and federal Direct PLUS loans had a 7.9% rate. At that time, the national average for defaulting on a student loan was around 9%. But for MBAs it was less than 1%. The two put their heads together — along with Ian Brady and James Finnigan — to form a “social finance” company, that was eventually dubbed SoFi.
Now a bona fide unicorn, SoFi has acquired three different companies and raised at least $2.5 billion in venture capital funding. It employs more than 1,300 people and generated more than $500 million in revenue in 2018.
While Macklin and Cagney have both since left SoFi — Cagney after a sexual harassment lawsuit — we still list SoFi as one of the best MBA startups of the past decade. Not only has SoFi raised an absurd amount of VC funding, it’s changed the loan game for forever.
It’s nearly impossible to talk to anyone involved in entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School without hearing about Warby Parker. Current students, faculty, recent graduates, and staff alike gush about the school’s entrepreneurial golden child. It’s easy to see why. The glasses-selling venture was founded by a team of Wharton students — Neil Blumenthal, David Gilboa, Andrew Hunt, and Jeff Raider — in 2010 while they were all students at Wharton. It used the school’s Venture Initiation Program and a $2,500 seed investment from the school to launch what is now considered a unicorn, valued at about $1.75 billion.
Both Gilboa and Blumenthal still work at Warby Parker, which now has nearly 100 retail stores, and serve as co-CEOs. Warby Parker took off on the back of an innovative model where they send five pairs of glasses to customers for free. The customers have five days to try out the five pairs and decide on one or more or send them all back. They also created a way to skip the middle companies by creating the frames and selling them direct to consumers.
“Business school is the best time to start a business,” Gilboa told us back in 2013. “You have plenty of time, plenty of flexibility. You don’t have to make the tough choice to leave a job and paycheck, and you are surrounded by business experts.”
We also dig Warby Parker in particular because of its name, which is based on two Jack Kerouac characters and its by-one, give-one model.
Stitch Fix, founded by Katrina Lake in 2011, is Harvard Business School’s version of Warby Parker. Lake founded the personal styling platform during her second year at HBS and has done nothing besides level up the company since then. Stitch Fix is a subscription service that regularly sends customers new wardrobes. The idea was a game-changer in the fashion and retail space and has since tried to be recreated by other competitors.
But Lake’s venture has continued to impress over the past decade. When Stitch Fix went public in 2017, it was valued at $1.6 billion. It currently employs around 8,000 employees around the world, generated more than $1 billion in sales in 2018, and reportedly had about $3.4 million customers earlier this summer. More impressively, Lake has been able to craft this massive fashion retailer without huge amounts of VC-backing, raising $79.4 million in total.
Stitch Fix has found success by innovating in the fashion space. It currently has more than 100 data scientists on staff and combines data science with fashion to create a very personal styling experience. Lake and Stitch Fix continue to thrive during the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to its totally virtual format.