Most Disruptive MBA Startups Of 2023

Lauren Biegler, Northwestern University (Kellogg)


Sharp Performance leverages a different underutilized population – Green Berets and Navy SEALs – to provide coaching to public safety professionals who range from firefighters to police officers. The startup was fashioned at Columbia Business School by ’23 grads Benjamin Curley and Andrew Sakmar. For them, the coaching is a proactive measure that brings together high-risk professionals to address potential issues without any stigma attached.

“We believe that the Public Safety function is essential to America’s social fabric and prosperity,” Curley adds, “and the men and women in Public Safety need and deserve all the support we can give them. Every time you call 9-1-1 it’s the worst day of your life. First responders answer those calls all day one after another, and then go home, take off their uniform, and answer the call of being a parent or partner. Our team understands this difficult transition because most of us have lived it and know that some of the tools and techniques previously reserved for Special Operators can help.”

The firm itself, Curley adds, has already signed contracts with several law enforcement agencies nationwide. That’s just one sign of success among this year’s Most Disruptive MBA Startups. Booth’s Zelia fashion app has already enticed 49,000 users in less than a year – at a cost of just $8,000 to the firm!  At London Business School, Koji Muto’s Ki Hydrogen venture, which boasts an innovative waste-to-hydrogen technology, has already garnered a million dollars in pre-seed funding from four institutional investors. Flagler Health, an AI-driven software suite from the Wharton School’s Albert Katz, has also amassed a million dollars in funding – and scaled its operations to 430 physicians who’ve recommended over 1,500 procedures. In contrast, Zeestr targets fundraising and nonprofit events, collecting donations and supply real-time market intelligence at the same time. How is this for an impressive start for Zeestr?

“Zeestr has hosted 24 digital fundraising campaigns, processed over 12,000 transactions, raised $5.1M in donations for our clients, increased donor retention by 26%, all resulting in $144,719 revenue so far,” says Zeestr founder Lauren Biegler, a Kellogg MBA who launched the beta site in the fall of 2021. “However, the biggest accomplishment was placing second at VentureCat, Northwestern’s annual student startup competition.”


Maggie Boreham, Yale School of Management

Indeed, the 2023 class racked up a pile of accolades. At the University of Michigan’s Ross School, epiSLS – an allergy testing medical device – was approved for clinical trial by the International Review Board. Speaking of devices, MT Sloan’s Corina Negron was busy developing medikana during a business school. The platform – which “streamlines and automates international medical device commercialization” – was accepted into MIT’s delta v accelerator, where it lined up 35 platform distributors. And then there is Yale SOM’s Banofi Leather. A sustainable fashion firm, it competed against 10,000 student startups for the Hult International Prize – which challenges young founders to apply their startup concepts to fixing the world’s toughest issues. To prepare for the competition, the Banofi Leather team participated in a variety of accelerators, even making weekly pitches to experts and champions to hone their messaging.

The result?

“Their insights helped us refine our pitch and led us to success in the final,” writes co-founder Maggie Boreham. “In the end, we walked away with the $1M prize, valuable insights about our business, and closer as a team.”

Of course, not every achievement can be benchmarked, publicized, and awarded. Last year, Washington University’s Olin School, again ranked as P&Q’s top business school for entrepreneurship, churned out another winner in Benchmark Learning. While his online tutoring firm has raked in over $130K in investment, founder Paarvv Goel keeps closer tabs on less quantitative metrics.

“Our tutors are trained not only to be academic teachers, but also to build lasting relationships with our students and become key mentors in their lives. As a result, I regularly receive messages from parents telling me how Benchmark has transformed their child’s life in ways beyond academics. I hear about our students becoming more confident both in school and out and becoming empowered to find their interests and passions to inform their future careers. This impact is our greatest accomplishment.”

Tuck Rescale Team (Julia Megson, Center)

Rescale founder Julia Megson’s firm focuses on “match[ing] food brands with food manufacturers.” Even more, it has shown enough promise to attract $2.5 million dollars in funding. That doesn’t mean the venture consumes her entire life. Look no further than last spring as Megson approached graduation.

“I wrapped my classes up six weeks early, closed our first pilot customer, brought in angel funding, and welcomed my second child all at the same time.”


That’s not to say the process was easy. Julia Megson herself had to overhaul her business plan “from the ground up” after classmates recognized her firm was a better fit as a “manufacturing finder” than a “warehouse finder.” Similarly, Wharton’s Flagler Health tripled its user logins early on after discovering its adoption efforts were aimed at the wrong audience.

“[We were] focusing too much on the needs of the buyers, at the expense of the clinic’s schedulers and medical assistants, the ultimate end-users,” explains founder Albert Katz. “Flagler’s earlier efforts were aligned with clinic organizational goals, prioritizing ROI, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness, which provided clinic executives with the necessary operational and business metrics to get their sign off. However, it did not capture the nuanced needs or expectations of the clinic’s schedulers and medical assistants. This became evident with more market research and end-user feedback.”

Kevin Long, University of Texas (McCombs)

Make no mistake: The 2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups faced the same issues as any fledgling ventures. Booth’s Zelia entered a fashion niche where there were no established models or relevant data. In other words, says founder Laura Mattos, she had to “start from scratch.” This lack of precedent also dogged Halo Braiding in building a working prototype. Like many startups, Outmore Living lacked working capital to build their outdoor furniture early on. This turned them into risk-takers who spent money before they could replenish it. At the same time, Benchmark Learning faced the proverbial “chicken and egg” issue of new ventures: how can you reassure prospects with testimonials when you are still working on closing and servicing your first customers?  How did founder Paarvv Goel break this vicious circle?

“I learned two very important things during this time: the importance of a clear, convincing, well-crafted marketing message and a robust recruitment process for new tutors – the combination of which ultimately landed us our first few customers.”

Indeed, early hires set the tone and culture. Signing up the right people has been a huge differentiator for Miguel Caruncho, a Kellogg who launched Habit, a health food ghost kitchen, as a Northwestern Kellogg student. In contrast, Georgia Tech’s Sarah Naumann attributes some of her team’s success to “focusing on the right things at the right time”, particularly when MBA entrepreneurs are wrestling with limited time and resources. More than that, the founder of Rice’s Goldie startup learned that perfection can often undercut performance.

“In launching our [Minimum Viable Product), we decided the product would never be as perfect as we wanted.,” recalls co-founder Viviane Nguyen. “It just needs to perform the core function of Goldie, even if it was missing features or required some manual work…Letting go of that perfectionism really helped propel Goldie. The biggest lesson we learned was to stop waiting for the product to be perfect or for the perfect timing and to “just do it.” Get feedback early and often.”


That feedback often comes from fellow students. Call it the secret weapon of MBA entrepreneurs. Every day, they’re surrounded by accomplished, curious, future-thinking peers who’ve seemingly worked in every region, industry, and function. They’ve been exposed to different markets and strategies. Many times, they’ve experienced what works and what fails – and the how’s and why’s behind them. These insights are just one of the benefits of learning entrepreneurship through an MBA program, says Harvard Business School’s Yinka Ogunbiyi.

“The networking opportunities among students and alumni have helped us find team members, customers, advisors, and investors. The tangible learnings have also been extremely helpful—from the fundamentals of financial planning, fundraising, equity, and cap tables, to social media marketing strategy and design thinking. It’s easy to make countless mistakes at any stage of a startup. Our MBA education has helped us make fewer mistakes and make them faster.”

Miguel Caruncho, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

While business school teaches aspiring founders how to understand financials and unleash analytics, they also provide coursework and coaching that helps them enhance the soft skills that often make-or-break their relationships with employees, clients, and stakeholders.

“I like to say that Kellogg not only sharpened my hard skills, but made me into a better person,” observes Miguel Caruncho. “As Habit grows, I am mostly divorced from the actual day-to-day work and much more immersed in managing people, setting our direction, and motivating the team to get on board with that vision. I had managed people before, but everything at Kellogg unraveled my previous norms. I attended social events with people so different from me, classes that forced me to explore my personal needs, and workshops that helped me understand how I show up and how that can come across to others. I found myself constantly challenging my own preconceived notions and making decisions about what kind of leader I wanted to be.”

In fact, Outmore Living’s Kevin Long argues that he couldn’t have pulled off starting a venture without help from the McCombs School of Business. “At the beginning of my MBA experience, all I had was the idea for heated outdoor furniture and little sense on how to turn that idea into a company. By my second semester of my first year, I met my co-founder Alex while fine-tuning Outmore Living’s business plan in our New Venture Creation class. That summer, we incorporated, raised our first outside capital, and further incubated Outmore through the Student Entrepreneurship Accelerator and Launch (SEAL) program. By the time I graduated, Outmore Living was a venture-backed startup that employed three McCombs MBAs.”


Other founders credit campus clubs for contributing to their success. At Cornell University, Florence Luna and Johanna Schneider launched Fig Medical, a software suite designed to streamline healthcare access. For them, the most valuable lessons came from the school’s Big Red Ventures fund

“It provided a unique opportunity to source, assess, and invest in early-stage startups alongside other associates and fund managers,” Luna writes. “The most profound lesson I learned was the incredible diversity of founder journeys. There is no one-size-fits-all path to starting a successful company. Hearing about the various routes that different startups took to reach their product-market fit, when they decided to bring on a full-time engineer and the myriad of trials-and-tribulations they encountered, was truly eye-opening. It underscored the fact that entrepreneurship is a deeply personal and diverse journey.”

Max Holmes, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)

At Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, you could describe one course, Commercialization and Innovation Strategy, as a post mortem on failed startups. It proved to be the perfect tonic for founder hubris, says Max Holmes, co-founder of Conduit, a workforce management platform.

“We rewound the clock to the early days of companies who launched innovative products or services that ultimately failed; we identified where things went wrong, and proposed different directions the companies could have taken. It was incredibly valuable to get honest looks at the earliest days of startups who all thought they were going to change the world, as each of us in class did. It was a sobering experience to see just how easily things can go wrong, especially when founders think it’s going perfectly right.”


However, the Class of 2023 reserved their strongest praise for faculty members. In business school, they are the cheerleaders who don’t just teach entrepreneurs, but also open their networks and even get into the trenches to serve as their board members and investors. At the Tepper School, Holmes found Dave Mawhinney to be more than just a professor.

“He is a wealth of knowledge, experience, and connections and seems to rely on an inexhaustible energy. He will be your biggest supporter and your biggest critic, champion, evangelist, and antagonist all in one. He inspired the moments of brutal self-reflection that were critical to building a successful startup.

By the same token, Albert Katz credits Professor Jeffrey Babin for re-directing his team to the big picture – and what will mean most to investors and customers. “Initially, my co-founders and I were so engrossed in the technical aspects of our product that we overlooked the importance of clear and relatable communication. Professor Babin taught us the importance of conveying why the problem we are solving is relevant, how to explain healthcare to a non-expert audience, and why we are the team to get it done.”

Stwart Peña Feliz, MIT (Sloan)


The surrounding startup ecosystem have proven equally valuable to launching the 2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups. You can count MIT Sloan’s Stwart Peña Feliz among those who are smitten with the opportunities available to founders in Boston.

“Being at the greatest engineering school in the world unlocks an incredible amount of resources, he tells P&Q. “The number of mentors, competitions, programs, venture capital firms, startups, companies, and enthusiasts that are located in this space have been of tremendous help as we scale up this venture. If we ever have questions specific to any climate technology, we are only steps away from asking the right person. As we fundraise, all the main investors are just one or two train stops away. And as we start hiring, we know the schools that have the talent.”

Kevin Long is equally bullish on his Austin digs. “There are few cities in the world that have as high of a concentration of events and people as there are in the Austin startup ecosystem, and we have really leaned into establishing ourselves in this community.  As a result, most of our team, including 80% of our investors, are based out of Austin, Texas, and our plan is to further establish our place in the Texas startup ecosystem as we grow.”

Next Page: In-depth Profiles of 42 Disruptive MBA Startups

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