2020 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Praxis Lab, Stanford GSB

Praxis Labs

MBA Program: Stanford Graduate School of Business

Industry: Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development, Corporate Training, AR/VR

Founding Student Name(s): Elise Smith, Stanford MBA MA in Education

Brief Description of Solution: Praxis Labs is a B2B learning and development company that advances diversity and inclusion outcomes through immersive learning experiences in VR and advanced analytics on our platform which measures the efficacy of our learning modules. We work to increase empathy, reduce bias, and create sustained behavior change for individuals and organizations.

Funding Dollars:  Bootstrapped to date (Closing a seed round soon)

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our goal is to make society more equitable and our accomplishments will always be tied to our impact. We’re excited about our early efficacy data and the value we’ve provided to our clients in helping them increase their culture of inclusion.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Being at the GSB while working on this venture made the process of starting a company accessible. There were professors and other classmates whom I could bounce ideas off of and encouraged me forward. There were classes, fellowships, and centers that provided in-depth guidance and assistance in getting the idea off the ground. It made entrepreneurship – which inherently feels inaccessible to many – like a real possibility and helped me de-risk the opportunity before taking the jump.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Prior to business school, I worked at NewSchools Venture Fund, a philanthropic fund that invests in innovation in learning, in the Diverse Leaders portfolio. The entrepreneurs we invested in were majority women. Black and Latinx, who were focused on solving diversity and inclusion challenges. Getting to see the ups-and-downs of entrepreneurship through that portfolio – and to see them overcome the extra challenges they faced as underrepresented founders – has inspired my entrepreneurial journey.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? I took many entrepreneurship and social impact focused courses at the GSB – all of which were very valuable in helping me refine ideas for Praxis Labs. The class that probably had the biggest impact on Praxis Labs was The Lean Launchpad, which is actually out of Stanford’s Engineering Department. I took the course in the winter of my MBA1 year, worked with my co-founder in the class, and really began to tease out the business from the idea that was in my head.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Adina Sterling and Fern Mandelbaum have been powerful advisors for me. Their class, Equity By Design, pushed my thinking on how our learning modules could effect change and also connected me with leaders who became our first clients! They remain great mentors and sounding boards.

How did the pandemic impact your startup plans? The pandemic has shed light on some of the inequities in our systems and that shows up in the disproportionate effects on communities of color and communities with fewer resources. Additionally, we’ve seen a greater need to upskill and provide training and development on these topics while needing to do so for a distributed workforce. We’ve accelerated our ability to deploy our learning experiences remotely and are ensuring our curriculum acknowledges the current realities we’re all experiencing.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our goal is to play a part in making society more equitable. We’re targeting workforces because we believe we’ll reach the most people that way. If we can help everyone become leaders for inclusion in their professional lives – to create more equitable policies and practices and respond and disrupt bias and discrimination – we believe that will spill over to their personal lives and the places that we work. Thus, the places that we frequent everyday will be more inclusive, foster a greater sense of belonging, and produce more equitable outcomes.


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