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How Two Harvard MBA Students Grew Their Startup In B-School

Harvard Business School in a wintry scene

How Two Harvard MBA Students Grew Their Startup in B-School

Roughly 7% of MBAs from Harvard Business School’s Class of 2019 started their own business at the time of matriculation.

HBS is constantly viewed as a hub for innovation and talented thinkers.

Chris Abkarians and Nikhil Agrawal, both HBS Class of 2020 MBAs, are no exception. Abkarians and Agrawal co-founded Juno, a startup that uses group buying power to negotiate better student loan rates. The company has helped hundreds of students access over $100 million in loans, often at better rates and terms.

In the latest MBA Voices blog, Abkarians and Agrawal tell the story of Juno and how HBS helped foster an environment of success for their startup.

JUNO IS BORN

Juno, previously known as LeverEdge, was founded in June 2018.

Before starting at HBS, Abkarians and Agrawal used social media to organize a group of over 700 students across 10 schools including Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Northwestern Kellogg, and more.

“Over a few months, we convinced 700-plus students across top MBA programs to join a negotiation pool — then we contacted executives at dozens of banks, fintech companies, and credit unions and got them to bid on the portfolio of loans,” Abkarians tells P&Q.

Collectively, the students were able to negotiate lower rates for the entire group, saving each student roughly $15,000 each. Since then, Juno has grown its community to more than 25,000 members saving borrowers over $26 million.

Juno works by tapping into this idea of group buying power. Essentially, the group negotiates with lenders to get students the best interest rates available.

“Think student loans, with a volume discount,” as their website states.

Juno then asks lenders to compete for their member’s business. After selecting a winning lender, Juno shares exclusive deals with its members.

“The most competitive rate we found generally for most people was around 6%, and it came along with a 2% origination fee, essentially a little higher than 6%,” Agarwal tells P&Q. “I think what was happening in the market was, the federal rates were around 6.6% for the first $20,000 and the private market essentially said, ‘Oh, as long as we beat the federal rate by a little bit, we can attract customers.’ When we stepped in, the game changed, because no longer were they just competing against the federal rate, they were now competing against each other. I really felt they had to offer more attractive interest rates.”

ATMOSPHERE OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

At HBS, Abkarians and Agrawal were able to tap into a strong +ecosystem of tools and resources to help Juno succeed in entrepreneurship.

They joined programs such as the Venture Incubation Program, a unique program within Harvard’s Innovation Labs ecosystem that allowed them weekly check-ins with an advisor and hours with entrepreneurs-in-residence to see how they could grow their business.

Abkarians and Agrawal were also part of the Rock Summer Fellows Program, which gave them peer and community support and access to a stipend to cover rent and living expenses for the summer.

On top of programs, Abkarians and Agrawal had access to the expertise of experienced faculty at HBS. Abkarians cites EC Negotiations Professor Kevin Mohan as playing an integral part in helping them grow Juno early on.

“We literally spent 30 minutes meeting with Professor Mohan, and he completely changed the way we structure negotiations we do with banks,” Abkarians tells MBA Voices.

For Abkarians and Agrawal, HBS offers a unique atmosphere where entrepreneurs support one another in making their ideas reality.

“There is a magical window while you are at HBS, where you can get in touch with anyone in the world, through LinkedIn, through the HBS network, or even a cold email, and they’ll respond,” Abkarians tells MBA Voices.

Sources: MBA Voices, P&Q, Juno, Harvard innovation labs, Harvard Business School

To read more about Juno and 35 other disruptive MBA startups, click here.

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