The Most Disruptive MBA Startups Of 2021

Dr. C. Malcolm Roberson, Ultra EM (Virginia Darden)


MBAs are trained to identify industries and inefficiencies that are ripe for disruption, to go where no one is, to do what no one else wants, and to use models that no one else is considering. This year, there are several industries where disruptive startups clustered. Take healthcare. Here, Capim has carved out a ‘buy now pay later’ niche, reducing financial hurdles to make healthcare more accessible in Brazil. In contrast, Virginia Darden’s Ultra EM approaches healthcare from the student practitioner standpoint. An ultrasound simulator, it uses gaming principles to prepare medical students for the FAST exam, where physicians “screen blunt trauma patients for blood or abnormalities in the abdomen, pelvis, and chest.”  The solution dips into the experiences of Dr. C. Malcolm Roberson, a 2021 Darden MBA who was raised on gaming and understood its potential in a COVID-ridden world.

“Our simulator makes training and practicing of these ultrasound exams fun and engaging, testing users’ ability to acquire and interpret ultrasound images, as well as make appropriate medical decisions,” Roberson writes.

Food and beverage was another popular industry for MBAs to stake their claim. At Babson College, Aakash Shah started High Time Foods, which markets a plant-based chicken that has already passed its biggest test.

“We did a successful blind taste testing with my college mates,” Shah says. “They were invited for dinner and the participants included an Argentinian, a Japanese student and a Peruvian. They were different dishes using samples from my venture. Everyone was really complimenting the food and spoke about how the “chicken” was so tender and really tasty. That’s when I knew that this has potential.”

Kaitlyn Lo, Just Enough Wines (Michigan Ross)


Ian Weng collected $60,000 in Euros when his startup, SPATULA, won this year’s INSEAD Venture Competition. Like many recent ideas, SPATULA began when Weng was stuck indoors during the pandemic lockdown. Unable to travel, he indulged in Picard’s gourmet frozen meals. And he wondered why his native Canada didn’t have similar chef-to-consumer frozen meals. Soon enough, his culinary empire was born. Kaitlyn Lo was inspired by the transition of spirits like seltzers to cans. A California native, Lo decided to apply this can concept to premium wine with Just Enough Wines. The result?

“Within one year of our initial launch, we sold out of our first vintages of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and are now on our second vintage of each,” she tells P&Q.

Growing up, Emily Mohr developed gluten and lactose intolerance. As a result, she missed out on her favorite foods: desserts. In response, she converted her favorite recipes to gluten- and dairy-free versions. As a Northwestern Kellogg MBA, she turned those recipes into a venture. She opened Nine Times Bakery, an artisan operation that didn’t let restrictions get in the way of taste and experience.

“In August, we supplied desserts for Butler University’s freshman orientation weekend. It was amazing to know that thousands of students were tasting our products and hopefully feeling a sense of comfort on their first weekend away at college.”


Laura Zwangzinger, Fit For Everybody (MIT Sloan)

Apparel was another area that MBAs found ripe for disruption. For two startups, the entry point was customization. That was the case for MIT Sloan’s Fit For Everybody, the Fashiontech creation from Laura Zwanziger, who is working to stockpile $2 million in seed funding by the end of the year. A womenswear firm, Fit For Everybody enables consumers to input a “flattering fit” that designers can use to make better sizing decisions for production. At Washington University’s Olin School — the top MBA entrepreneurship program in the world — second-years Lloyd Yates and Giorgio Guttilla partnered to start Tylmen Tech. After consumers enter their sizes online, Tylmen Tech accesses apparel that fits their sizing profile and tastes. And then there is Sunga Life, a startup paid for by Jeffrey Gum’s $55,000 Iraq re-enlistment bonus. Think of sungas as a form-fitting synthesis of shorts and speeds popularized on the beaches of Brazil. Gum has added a patriotic twist to sungas, including camo patterns, while expanding his line to training shorts and silkies. Thus far, Gum has notched two major accomplishments with his venture.

‘[I’m] on track for 1M+ revenue in 2021 while just using cash flow to grow as well as all the incredible veteran foundations I support with my company,” Gum explains. “The second is the incredible community I have built and all the celebrities, professional fighters, and veteran & fitness influencers who wear my brand just because they love what it represents.”

One strong motivator for the founders of this year’s MBA disruptive startups: environmental justice. Challenged at Columbia Business School to “Think bigger,” Martim de Mello developed Changing Room, a platform that enables users to track sustainability in their clothing purchases. In 2020, Ted McKlveen and Bav Roy, two Stanford GSB alumni, founded Verne, a zero-emission hydrogen storage system for heavy-duty shipping vehicles that boosts both vehicle range and payload capacity — a solution that has already attracted $1 million in seeding funding. Working in the slums, ESADE’s Keerthana Karunakaran witnessed how children would play alongside walls of plastic waste next to homes and along beaches. Working with Dr. Shantanu Bhowmik, she discovered a technology that enabled them to return plastic waste back to 95% of its original strength. Along with Akash Jayakumar, an aerospace engineering student, Karunakaran and Bhowmik launched RCube.

“We have a patented composite, a distributor network of over 28 in India, installations in 5 sites, and we are ready to launch our recycled plastic tiles into the market at a highly competitive price to mainstream tiles,” Karunakaran writes. “We are also cutting off carbon emissions that would’ve actually been around 10,000 times the weight of one tile. With expanding deals across two countries, we are presently launching into the market with a forecast of reaching a revenue of USD $250,000 by June 2022.”


Linda Alvarez, Lavelle (Cornell Johnson)

Women’s needs have also sparked promising MBA startups. At Cornell, Linda Alvarez and Stephanie Schrauth started Levelle in response to 97.5% of sports nutrition products being designed around men’s physiology. As a result, many women struggle to process these products and enjoy their full benefits.

“Compounding the problem, many female athletes felt as though their bodies were the problem, rather than products on the market,” Alvarez notes. “Levelle aims to redesign current sports food products by focusing on the needs and preferences of the female athletes. Our first product is Levelle Set: our all natural, organic, vegan, no-sugar added, gluten-free endurance gel. Our formulation is designed to ease digestion while providing sustained fuel.”

Food isn’t the only area where female athletes lag behind their male counterparts. Mitchella Gilbert and Patrick Ayers, 2021 UCLA Anderson MBAs, started their OYA Femtech sportswear operation to combat apparel that traps sweat and creates health issues like chest rashes. Notably, Gilbert writes, OYA Femtech markets a signature product — “the first gynecologist-tested, athlete-approved, patent-pending legging for all kinds of moisture and leakages.”  Along the same lines, the company is prototyping stylish tops with the same benefits for a marketplace that’s clearly ready for change.

“It was clear how many millions of women were secretly dealing with sweat and moisture-related health issues, either out of shame or because there were few solutions,” Gilbert adds. “I became equal parts determined to fix sweat-related health issues and enraged. Why was no athleisure brand stepping up to help women be healthy AND look and feel beautiful at the same time?”


Emilie Mendes de Leon, Mystery City Games (IESE Business School)

Alas, many disruptive startups grow out of side hustles. IESE’s Emilie Mendes de Leon met her business partner, Geert Sillevis, during a rainy guided tour of Amsterdam. He suggested a treasure hunt, an idea that turned into Mystery City Games. Not only has this concept expanded to London, Barcelona, and Naples, but has also developed into an online phenomenon. Mystery City Games has even partnered with companies like McKinsey, Google, and Netflix for team-building excursions.  At Rice University, Sophie Randolph has become known as that “crazy gal” busy working on her startup. That’s ‘crazy’ as a fox — as the first-year has already raised $35,000 for Green Room.

“The goal is to become the backbone of the live music industry, providing a holistic set of business tools that make it so artists can spend more time doing what they love and venues can spend more time focusing on their customers and less time doing administrative work,” Randolph explains.

Speaking of nicknames, Lloyd Yates became known as the “tie guy” as an undergrad for selling ties around campus. That passion, which he channeled into his Tylmen startup, helped him be recognized as an Innovator Under 25 by the St. Louis Business Journal this fall.  That’s just one of the big achievements racked up by this year’s MBA entrepreneurs. Harvard Business School’s SXD, a Designtech featured in Harper’s Bazaar Japan and the recipient of $250K in funding, has landed a contract with a top international luxury brand. At the same time, Dartmouth Tuck’s VerprSolar startup has developed a V-Clamp that’s used by some of the world’s largest solar companies. It has also been recognized as a Top 10 innovation by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


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