Entrepreneurs come to business school with a different mindset. They are proactive and self-reliant, confident and decisive, flexible and outcome-driven. To them, every problem is an opportunity and every setback is a temporary blip. Shunning comfort, these risk-takers embrace what’s new and disruptive, obsessed with expanding possibilities and enriching experience. In their minds, the biggest threats are doubt, complacency, and waiting. That’s why they look to the future instead of relying on the past.
Sophie Randolph exemplifies this ‘Don’t take no for an answer’ spirit. For nearly four years, she has lived in a “scrappy, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of way.” As a first-year MBA at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, Randolph is going to continue growing her small business consulting firm. Like many entrepreneurs, she pictures building a “customer-centric and data-driven” organization – one that eventually becomes a destination for MBA graduates. In the meantime, Randolph says, she intends to apply business school lessons to her startup.
YOU WANT IT, WE GOT IT
“I took that leap and have spent the last several months building Crescendo,” she explains. “This has prepared me for business school in several ways: I’m more comfortable taking calculated risks and leaning into the scary yet exciting world of running your own company; I am even more motivated to learn because I have an even better understanding of my knowledge gaps heading into the program.”
At Rice, Randolph will enjoy plenty of platforms to sharpen her entrepreneurial skills, including an Entrepreneurship concentration and an array of electives ranging from building biotech enterprises to financing startup ventures. As part of the programming, MBAs learn a 24-step entrepreneurial methodology that takes them from idea to launch. Students can also earn a spot in OwlSpark, Rice University’s startup accelerator. Here, students enjoy a mix of classes, coaching sessions, networking events, and pitch competitions. The real differentiator, however, is the Jones entrepreneurial philosophy, which is customer-driven over product-centric. As a result, students focus on speaking to customers and observing how they operate. At the same time, they are grounded in the fundamentals, reinforced by startup-flavored programming in areas like strategy, pricing, and financing that helps them identify misconceptions as much as possibilities.
“As an entrepreneur, it was important that I be in an entrepreneurial environment,” Randolph explains. “I found this type of environment at Rice alongside myriad resources available to me will help me propel my entrepreneurial pursuits forward. Courses like the Entrepreneurship Labs, as well as resources such as Rice’s Lilie Lab, OwlSpark, and the Rice Alliance provide opportunities to work on growing my business while in school.”
THE TOP BUSINESS PLAN COMPETITION IN THE WORLD
Notably, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship is housed in the school’s second floor. The space features venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and creatives. The Lillie Lab also enables MBAs to collaborate with undergraduate and graduates students from the sciences and engineering (among other disciplines). The school also maintains an Entrepreneurship Acquisitions Lab for MBAs seeking to evaluate and scale existing ventures. On top of that, Jones is spearheading the development of an Innovation District in the City of Houston.
Still, the school will always be best-known for its annual Rice Business Plan Competition. Held in April, the competition doles out $1.5 million dollars to 42 university-grown startups. Over 20 years, participants have collectively generated $2.7 billion dollars in funding and created over 3,000 jobs. What’s more, 35 competition alumni have appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 over the past decade alone.
Such resources have impressed Justin Rose, a Teach For America veteran and administrator with the Houston Independent School District. “Rice has the #1 Graduate Entrepreneurship program in the country and is internationally recognized for producing talented entrepreneurs. For example, the Rice Business Plan Competition (the richest and largest of its kind) is just one of the unique opportunities Rice Business creates to maximize its MBA’s growth. I look forward to being a part of the next generation of entrepreneurs to improve the way we live and work, our standards of living, and to create social change.”
FROM ACTRESS TO ENTREPRENEUR
In true entrepreneurial fashion, you’ll find the Class of 2022 monetizes a passion outside working hours. Take Raisha Smith. A customer relations manager by day, she founded EveryDopeGirl, an online community of 20,000 female entrepreneurs who support each other in their pursuits. To Smith, her startup doesn’t compete with her 9-5 job. Instead, it serves as a pursuit that enhances her skill sets and deepens her fulfillment from work.
“EDG showcases amazing women who are making efforts outside of their 9-5 and globally through social impact and entrepreneurship. EDG represents diversity and inclusion within the entrepreneurial space and gives women access to the tools to be successful business owners. The idea of women that balance careers and “side hustles” should be normalized. I wanted to pursue an MBA to further tap into hard skills to further grow EDG, while still adding value to my full-time career!”
Not surprisingly, the entrepreneurial bug hits people you might least expect. Case in point: Rachel Garforth-Bles. An actress by training, she completed a movie for The Hallmark Channel before joining the Class of 2022. Before that, she played Glinda the Good Witch on the Broadway National Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard fo Oz – where she would be “flying from the rafters into Munchkinland.” However, Garforth-Bles aspired to do more than execute someone else’s creative decisions. Like engineers and marketers who aspire to the c-suite, she wanted to be involved in setting strategy. That started with a writing, producing, and performing her own web series, which attracted over 10,000 followers. Soon enough, Garforth-Bles had stretched outside artistic pursuits to co-found a fine spirits distributor.
“These first ventures into entrepreneurship were exciting and gave me confidence in my current skill set. However, they also showed me where I had room to grow, and made me want to learn more. When I realized I was more excited about my entrepreneurial efforts than my next acting gig, I knew I was ready to focus my attention on business full time.”
This summer, Garforth-Bles arrived in Rice’s Business, an MBA program located in the energy capital of world. The school is described as the “Ivy of South” for its academic rigor, while being tagged with a “Rice is nice” moniker for its close-knit cohort. What’s more, Rice Business is known for its generosity – to the tune of 85% of students receiving financial aid according to Dean Peter Rodriguez in a 2019 interview with P&Q. At the same time, the program is regaled for its hands-on learning approach, highlighted by its 13-week Action Learning Projects with H-Town’s deep roster of Fortune 1000 juggernauts.
That approach fits well with Christina Tamayo. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, she served as a U.S. Army Police Officer, where she spearheaded an intricate emergency response plan project in perhaps the most dangerous region on earth.
“[The project] included analyzing logistic chains, security, and integrating this plan into the broad Korean country level plan. Our team’s high level of shared understanding resulted in our emergency response centers performing with outstanding results during the Korean and U.S. Army rehearsal. We were complemented by general officers for our attention to detail and the new questions we raised. Our team was driving higher level commands to react to our ideas, rather than the other way around. As the plan chief, my team achieved fantastic success at both the operational and strategic level.”
AN AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY
Elaine Dong didn’t have to travel far to attend classes at the Rice MBA. After all, she was a medical student and Student Senate co-chair at the Baylor College of Medicine, a mile walk down University Boulevard from Jones. A Forte Fellow and Harvard grad who studied visual arts, Dong directed a documentary on plastic surgery in South Korea. Once a cleft lip and palate patient, Dong has returned the favor as a member of the Global Smile Foundation.
“Using my visual arts experience, I have created educational films and animations for the free education of plastic surgeons around the world in hopes of improving local healthcare opportunities for patients like me.”
The Class of 2022 has certainly come a long way to join the Rice Business community. A decade ago, Pedro Martinez-Berrios arrived in the United States – landing in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport – as an immigrant from Venezuela. He quickly made the most of his opportunity, earning a master’s degree in business analytics and a corporate management position at Hertz. Unlike some classmates, who joined the MBA program after a summer living the ‘swimming pool lifestyle’, Martinez-Berrios was tackling issues worthy of a business school case study after Hertz declared bankruptcy in May.
“The process of going through a bankruptcy and being a leader within the company is an experience that not many people have been a part of. I led conversations with different suppliers and fellow employees within the company to keep operations going. I was also involved in conversations with the restructuring lawyers and consultants. I learned a lot, and I was also humbled by many changes that have been made, affecting the company and the employees.”
Our Meet the Class of 2022 Series
* To read profiles of 11 first-years, go to Page 3.
* To read an interview with Dean Peter Rodriguez, go to Page 2.