After the MBA: Alumni Careers in Entrepreneurship

Don't want to work for The Man after all? These alumni used their MBA to help launch their own successful ventures.

As the amount of freelancers and self-employed individuals continues to rise, so does the popularity of entrepreneurial MBA programs that attract leaders seeking alternatives to working for "The Man."

These programs can prepare students to start and manage their own businesses, or guide an existing venture with the intent to grow or innovate. Common courses include business development, leadership, law, marketing, business analysis, and financial accounting.

However, the degree can be applied to less-traditional and challenging start-ups, like quirky and original business proposals that find a particular consumer niche. Some programs are now even training students to tackle social problems by applying entrepreneurial principles to achieve change – a field called social entrepreneurship.

We talked to a couple MBA alumni about how an MBA helped further their careers as entrepreneurs.

Natasha Ashton (with partner Chris Ashton)
Co-founder & Chief Marketing Officer, Petplan Pet Insurance
Alumni, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

“Both of us received our Wharton MBAs in entrepreneurial management. We were enrolled in the two-year, full-time program. Chris was a captain in the British Royal Marine Commandos prior to attending Wharton, so he was relying on the MBA to allow him to transfer the skills that he had acquired during his ten years in the military to the business world. I had some previous entrepreneurial experience, as I had set up a small import company in the UK.

With little prior business experience, the MBA was a huge challenge with a truly steep learning curve. During the first year of the MBA we stumbled across the idea of pet health insurance following a $5,000 veterinary bill to treat our cat, and decided to develop a business plan for a new pet health insurance provider.

Our situation was unique in that we developed the business that ultimately employed us whilst we were on the MBA program. The MBA was particularly helpful in providing us with a network that has become increasingly instrumental in developing the business.

Our chairman is a case in point. Though we had managed to set the business up and develop it into a revenue-generating enterprise, it soon became apparent to us that if we wanted to make it a nationwide success, we would need to partner with someone with far greater know-how and experience. Vernon W Hill II is a fellow Wharton Alumni who revolutionized retail banking in the United States. Leveraging the Wharton network, we were able to reach out to him, and since then he has been instrumental to the success of the company.” 

Sunil Rajaraman
Co-Founder and CEO,
Alumni, UCLA Anderson School of Management

“I received an MBA with a focus on Entrepreneurship from UCLA Anderson's full-time program. Managing time is always difficult while you are in an MBA program. Even as a full-time student, you face dilemmas regarding how you should spend your time on a regular basis. I focused a lot of my time on Entrepreneurship-related events, and it ended up paying off. The course load at Anderson, especially the first quarter of the first year, is extremely heavy, but rewarding. I was well-advised by my second-year peers, and made sure, despite the course load, to make time to attend as many events and speaking engagements as possible.

I started while I was at Anderson. We raised funds for the company in March of 2010, and I have been full-time ever since. As the CEO, I am responsible for all of our outbound communication, such as business development and press, etc. With a small start-up, you have to be the best salesperson in the company. Anderson helped build my presentation skills to a point where I am now successful in this role.

For me, Anderson was all about the connections and the alumni network. The Anderson alumni network has helped me at every stage of the company. In addition, the Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurship has been an invaluable resource for me to this day. Anytime I need help with basically anything, from event planning to connections to alumni and other companies, the folks at the Price Center are there to help at a moment's notice. The coursework at Anderson was obviously very valuable, but the connections and the alumni network is where I derive the most value."

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