Poets&Quants’ 10 Best MBA Startups Of The Decade

Guild Education cofounders Brittany Stich (left) and Rachel Carlson. Courtesy photo.

Guild Education

We’ve been following Guild Education since it got its start at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The Denver-based education software startup topped this year’s Poets&Quants list of Top MBA Startups, thanks to $228.5 million raised in VC funding. Late last year, Guild Education was given a $1 billion valuation, giving it that elusive unicorn status. Founders Brittany Stitch and Rachel Carlson met on Stanford’s campus and despite having very different educational family histories, immediately bonded over a common passion in education.

“My family has worked in education reform since I can remember,” Carlson told us in 2017. “And for Brit, she’s the first in her family to go to college. So thinking about what allowed her to navigate that path — a lot of that is what we do at Guild.”

At its simplest, Guild Education helps companies offer education as a benefit to employees. That is, it connects employers like Chipotle, Walmart, Lowe’s, and Walt Disney to universities like the University of Central Florida and Purdue Global to help employees earn advanced degrees. Almost half a million people have used Guild’s platform.

We love Guild Education not only because it’s a very successful business, but also because of the impact it has in making education more accessible and inclusive.

Off Grid Electric founders Xavier Helgesen (from left), Erica Mackey, and Joshua Pierce. CEO Bill Lenihan is second from left. Courtesy photo

ZOLA Electric (formerly Off Grid Electric)

ZOLA Electic, which was founded as Off Grid Electric at Oxford’s Said Business School in 2012, has ambitious plans. It wants to democratize renewable energy while helping the world reach universal energy access. ZOLA is tackling that issue by providing pre-paid solar energy to people living off the grid. It was founded by Xavier Helgesen, Erica Mackey, and Joshua Pierce and has since raised $239.1 million in VC backing.

When we first covered ZOLA in 2016, the company was installing home solar kits primarily in Africa for just $6. While definitely a social enterprise, thanks to its ability to help power parts of the world that have never had sustainable electricity, the founders very much want to be put in the normal business category when being evaluated.

Either way, the business was fully hatched in Oxford’s MBA program. Helgesen fleshed out the idea in Oxford’s Entrepreneurship Project, required course that puts MBAs in teams to formulate a business idea and then build a business plan around it, and got its big break after winning the $250,000 grand prize in Oxford’s business plan competition.

We picked ZOLA to this list because of its ability to show that double and triple-bottom lines are attainable and can be successful.

Matt Bishop has an MBA and a mule. And he is putting both to use while launching a craft cold brew coffee company in Boise, Idaho. Photo by Nathan Allen

Café Mulé

Matt Bishop doesn’t have a bunch of fancy venture capital funding. He doesn’t spend all of his time toiling behind a screen in the middle of San Francisco, Boston, New York City, or any other major metro area. Bishop sources and sells micro-roasted coffee in Boise, Idaho. And on some weekends when the weather is good, you can find him and his mule, Richard, handing out free coffee to mountain bikers, trail runners, and hikers on Boise’s extensive network of trails.

Bishop and his coffee company, Café Mulé, doesn’t have the same customer reach or impact as the other startups on this list. But the Georgetown McDonough School of Business MBA has created a fun venture that many outdoor enthusiasts in Boise look forward to. It also takes some creativity, skills, and hard work to create and sustain a coffee shop in a mountain town, where the competition can be intense.

So Café Mulé makes this list because of how fun it is and its impact on a small city. With an elite MBA, people can do just about anything. We like that Bishop has chosen to spend his Saturday mornings hiking up trails with Richard to give out his product for free.

Cotopaxi founders and Wharton MBA grads (from left) Stephan Jacob, Davis Smith, and Jordan Allred. Courtesy photo


They call it Gear for Good. Launched in 2014 by a team of Wharton MBAs, Cotopaxi has taken the outdoor gear market by storm thanks to its high-quality — and relatively inexpensive products — and its social enterprise-like model. With a company creed of “Do Good,” Cotopaxi founders Stephan Jacob, Davis Smith, and Jordan Allred have baked social good into their clothing and gear company since the get-go.

A B-Certified company, Cotopaxi has a foundation that puts 1% of revenue towards alleviating poverty and assisting in community development. It has a grant program that has awarded 42 grants to organizations in six different countries. According to its 2019 Impact Report, Cotopaxi has given out over $300,000 to help fight poverty, distributed more than 5,000 malaria-preventing bed nets in Latin America, distributed emergency kits to refugees stuck at the Mexico-U.S. border, and helped with literacy and education projects for indigenous tribes in Latin America.

Cotopaxi products have won multiple awards, and the company has built a sustainable CPG company thanks to online sales and retail stores across the U.S.

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