Hi, I’m Chip L., an MBA and Management Consulting Coach on Leland. I started a company during business school at Kellogg, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This article will tell you why, and why business school is the best time to start a company. If you’d like to work with me on anything related to MBA applications, consulting interviews, strategy & ops, or entrepreneurship, book a free intro call on my profile.
While at Kellogg for my MBA, I started Romphim, the original male romper company. I was able to take part in the entrepreneurial curriculum, complete an independent study, perform customer research, create a prototype, and launch on Kickstarter, all before graduation. The company went on to raise $300,000 in our first week and appeared on Saturday Night Live. Needless to say, that was one of the best weeks of my life. While the company and market did not have lasting power, it did cement the idea that if you ever think you may want to start a business in your life, give it a real shot during your MBA program.
P.S. Read our Northwestern MBA guide here: The Kellogg School of Management-MBA Program and Application Overview
Now, five years after finishing business school, the biggest regret I hear from people out in the workforce is something along the lines of, “Man, I wish I would have started a business.” But, with the demands of daily life at home and in a career, the likelihood of starting a business at that point is very low. It’s too difficult to dedicate the requisite time and energy.
Don’t be those people. Don’t have that regret. There are a number of not only unique and not only rare, but super rare factors that coalesce during business school that make it the best time to pursue entrepreneurship. Here are several of them:
- You’ve got loads of free time. – There will never be another time in your life where you have so few demands on your time. The key responsibilities are often manufactured; the need to go to another information session or social event. Take care to ward off FOMO and free up time for ideation, decompression, and brainstorming with other classmates.
- You’re surrounded by amazing people. – Relatedly, you will never again be surrounded by such a group of like-minded people who are extremely talented and in a similar stage of life. Your classmates are your best potential co-founders. If you engage with them and ask them questions, you will find that they have some amazing ideas about how to change the world.
- You can take advantage of classes. – Given how much schools focus on entrepreneurship as a way to recruit talent, there is sure to be a robust curriculum waiting for you to take advantage of it. At Kellogg, it was the “New Venture” series that guided you from development to launch.
- You’ve got flexible operating licenses as a student. – People love helping students. Whether you need an expert on LinkedIn to give you some time, or you are standing outside of Whole Foods wanting to ask customers what they bought, your “status” as a student can help immensely.
- You’ve got tons of mentors and resources. – Behind the curriculum are many professors, alumni, and other administrators who want to see you succeed. In no small part because if you succeed, you’ll elevate the school. Use this to your advantage and ask for time and feedback, network with important alumni, and build relationships with professors.
- You’ve got access to capital. – Along with mentorship, schools also provide funding. It could be attached to certain classes–for example, the New Venture series came with funding for completing the class. It could be prize money from startup competitions. Or you may just need to ask for it, but it is there.
The two most common pitfalls that I’ve seen stop people from starting a business during their MBA are that they have “too much going on” or they “don’t have an idea.” To the former, you have to actively create a schedule that’s not overloaded. As noted above, you cannot and should not go to every information session and social event. You will burn out and not have time for other opportunities.
To the latter, you do not necessarily need an idea to start pursuing entrepreneurship. Your classmates will have ideas, and the curriculum of certain classes can guide you through the process of ideation. The best tool that I’ve found is thinking of innovation as moving a product or service from one context to another. This could be from one country to the US market, or from the women’s market to the men’s market. This is the approach we took for the male romper. Though the company didn’t last (as many do not), it sparked an entrepreneurial dream that lives with me today.
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