The Most Disruptive MBA Startups Of 2020


The coursework certainly proved invaluable. Yale SOM’s Daisy Rosales will never forget her Innovator course, where Professor Rodrigo Canales broke students into teams to build marshmallow-topped towers supported by dried spaghetti strands. The lesson: entrepreneurs spend too much time planning and not enough building. At Babson, the Digital Transformation course cut close to home for Dan Edlebeck, whose Exidio startup delivers encrypted VPN technology.

“As we moved from in-person to virtual courses due to the pandemic, we, as a class, had to make a digital transformation. The process of transitioning to virtual lectures, group projects, breakout discussions, case study analysis, and guest presenters was completely seamless. Not only did we gain deep insights as to how small business and corporates have pivoted to being digitally native, we lived the experience in real-time within higher education.”

Alexander Spencer, Tack, University of Virginia (Darden)

Indeed, the pandemic tested the mettle of these founders like no other. That was particularly true for Tack, a Fintech startup launched out of the University of Virginia’s Darden School. Initially, Tack was designed to help consumers tip service workers digitally using options like an app or QR code. When COVID-19 forced lockdowns – and the restaurant, hotel, and tourism industries plummeted – the founders pivoted to the last game in town: church donations. Rather than shuttering their business, says Alexander Spencer, COVID-19 actually accelerated it.

“With classes completely digital, we had more time to double down on the development, branding, and vision for the company,” Spencer writes. [My partner] was able to spend some additional time really getting our technology platform ready to bring on a number of clients. [I] was also able to use [my] network to find some former undergraduate interns that worked with [me] at Toast last summer to help with the sales effort.”


In fact, COVID-19 served as a boon for many of these fledgling startups. MIT Sloan’s Brett Sternfield called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity – one that forced his team to re-evaluate and ultimately dump their “mediocre plans.” For Northwestern Kellogg’s Din Din – a Brazilian Fintech catering to underserved small businesses – the pandemic reinforced the value of online services.

“People couldn’t go to bank branches in person, or even receive check payments physically,” explains co-founder Brunna Beccaro. “For us, this increased the pace at which customers adapted our solution. One of these customers, who was piloting our payroll payment solution before COVID hit, ended up rolling out DinDin to almost 3,000 of its underbanked employees.”

HEC Paris’ Sam Abazari, who founded a property management firm as an MBA, also found plenty of silver linings to this spring’s outbreak. “It almost feels counter-intuitive to say this, but COVID-19 was the secret catalyst for AJAN’s launch,” he asserts. “With social distancing in place, I was able to work on my business plan with almost no distractions and more importantly, no FOMO. Moreover, as cost-cutting measures were taken across the corporate world, I was able to get the talent I needed on board.”


Evan Quinn (L) and George Youmans (R), hiyo, UCLA (Anderson)

No, MBA entrepreneurs are wired differently. You won’t find them heading off to the MBB or bulge bracket after graduation. And their startups don’t just follow the ‘faster, cheaper, easier’ template. For these disruptors, entrepreneurship is a means to realize a mission – one that starts with an impulse. “When creating a business, inspiration is found just about everywhere,” explains UCLA’s Evan Quinn. “Each trip to the supermarket is R&D, scrolling through your Instagram feed can be the spark that creates a new campaign idea, and having a difficult time asking for a non-alcoholic beverage at a bar can be the “aha” moment to go all in.”

As MBAs quickly learn, ideas are the easy part. That may have been the main lesson from the Venture Velocity class that Alexander Spencer took at the University of Virginia. Here, Professor Damon DeVito posed the one question that will dog every would-be change agent:

“Are you playing a pretend entrepreneur?”

“He challenges us with this fundamental question because…playing a pretend entrepreneur is more fun than doing actual entrepreneurship,” Spencer notes. “Actual entrepreneurship requires commitment, grit, and failure.”

More than that, it requires education – one that offers resources, coaching, technical training, and accountability. In other words, it comes down to the support — the faculty, staff, and classmates who share their passion and generous with their insights and experience. For these disruptors, the best place to find that support and community was business school.

“I had many professors I could turn to, trust, and build trust with,” adds the University of Minnesota’s Eric Muckey. “You might hear jokes about “Minnesota Nice.” “But “nice” isn’t what I needed. My advisers were kind, certainly, but they were also extremely effective, seasoned, and knew how to motivate entrepreneurs. I was very fortunate to land at Carlson for that reason.”

MBA Startup MBA Program Founding Students Industry Funding
Empower Coffee Roasters Arizona State (W. P. Carey) Denise Napolitano Food & Beverage NA
Exidio Babson College (Olin) Dan Edlebeck Computer Software NA
Hoamsy Babson College (Olin) Richard O’Brien Internet Technology $1,000
CheerNotes Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) Asha Banks Retail NA
LUKH University of Chicago (Booth) Rajul Parekh, Kinney Sheth, Karen Desai Retail NA
Sprout University of Chicago (Booth) Alana Taube, Niki Tadiparthi Nonprofit $15,000
AVEC Drinks Columbia Business School Alex Doman, Denetrias Charlemagne Beverages NA
avoMD Columbia Business School Laurence Coman Health Tech NA
Hopscotch Cornell University (Johnson) Marla Beyer, Nicole Beck, Kelcie Lee Health Tech NA
BIOMILQ Duke University (Fuqua) Michelle Eggers Biotechnology $3,500,000
Kleta ESADE Diego Casabe Cycling/Mobility $100,000 Euros
LeverEdge Harvard Business School Nikhil Agarwal, Chris Abkarians Student Loans $2,500,000
Stride Funding Harvard Business School Tess Michaels FinTech $3,750,000
AJAN Management HEC Paris Sam Abazari, Davina Chang Real Estate NA
Soterias Solutions HEC Paris Andrew Quinn Water Sensor Technology $1,400,000 Euros
Mapo Tapo INSEAD Alessia Fontanari, Daniele Packard, Anuj Karkare,  Daniele Calvo Pollino Sports/Travel NA
Thawra Network University of Michigan (Ross) Rima Imad Fadlallah Media/Entertainment $45,000
Lost&Found University of Minnesota (Carlson) Erik Muckey Mental Health $431,000
Ocular Technologies MIT (Sloan) Grayson Armstrong, Zoan Liu, Brett Sternfield Healthcare  $400,000
MyOwn Communications North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) Ricky Rosati, Kevin Sun, Chihao Tsui Healthcare $11,000
DinDin Northwestern University (Kellogg) Brunna Beccaro FinTech $220,000
UnifiHealth Northwestern University (Kellogg) Olivia Cameron, Ross Klosterman, Brodie Stone Healthcare NA
The Ugly Company Notre Dame (Mendoza) Ben Moore Consumer Packaged Goods $100,000
ONE432 New York University (Stern) Umar Belal Social Impact Fashion NA
Women Offshore Foundation Rice University (Jones) Ally Cedeno Offshore Energy $15,000
FarmRaise Stanford GSB Jayce Hafner, Sami Tellatin AgTech NA
Praxis Lab Stanford GSB Elise Smith Diversity & Inclusion NA
Twentyeight Health U.C. Berkeley (Haas) Amy Fan Consumer Health NA
hiyo UCLA (Anderson) Evan Quinn, George Youmans Beverage NA
Tack University of Virginia (Darden) Alexander Spencer and Stephen Joy FinTech $2,500
Hum Industrial Technology Washington University (Olin) Byron Porter Freight Rail $525,000
Aureum Wharton School Yunhan Gao; Xufei Yu, Shuaiqing Liu, Shujing Peng Telemedicine $30,000
Connected Mobile Wharton School Andie Kaplan Telecommunications NA
Brio Yale SOM Daisy Rosales, Aaron Rosales Global Mental Health $150,000


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