Times change and so does the economy. According to professional services firm YY, the UK’s exit from the EU has led to some 7,000 jobs in the UK’s financial services sector moving to Europe. This would have happened without Brexit.
Meanwhile, according to Dealroom.co, the UK startup ecosystem is now worth 1 trillion as investors pour in cash to support technology and the innovative economy.
So it is perhaps not surprising that MBA students – at least some of them – are shifting their career ambitions away from their traditional target jobs, focusing on the upper echelons of money and industry and instead on the startup economy.
This is a change that has been observed and acknowledged by both the London Business School. Recognizing the growing interest in entrepreneurship, LBS is actively promoting collaboration and business partnerships between researchers and founders on the one hand, and MBA students on the other.
LBS Associate Professor of Management Practice, Luisa Alemani, says the goal is to give MBA students the option not only to focus on careers in technology and innovation, but also to support the startup ecosystem. “The idea was that LBS would become a hub for entrepreneurs. Like Stanford, “he says.
As Alemani points out quickly, the allusion to Stanford is more about the desire to actively support the tech ecosystem rather than any kind of direct comparison. “We are a business school, not a university,” he said
In practice, this means that research that advances the technology ecosystem is being carried out elsewhere, usually in universities with strong research departments. “So one of the things I’m doing is building bridges with institutions like University College London, Imperial College, Oxford and Cambridge,” Alemani said. “We’re building relationships with those who have the technology.”
The argument is that researchers – no matter how groundbreaking their technology may be – cannot be blessed with a wealth of business skills or experience. To square off that circle, the London Business School is offering its students to work with researchers, helping them identify markets and sources of investment.
In parallel, the school has also reached out to the technological ecosystem to identify founders who do not have a particularly strong background in business. Again they are being offered the opportunity to work with MBA students through an initiative called Entrepreneur Lab. Scholars see this as a way to help technology ecosystems become more professional.
A route to becoming an entrepreneur
It also provides a way for MBA students to become entrepreneurs. The relationships that students build with founders and researchers can only be seen as part of their business education, but there are options for taking the next step and becoming entrepreneurs. “Students can be part of the founding team,” Alemani said.
To date, 14 companies have emerged from Entrepreneur Labs, including Umuga, a social network for entrepreneurs, service industry workers and those who hire them; Mental Wellness Program, Paradym; And WeWalk, a smart cane for the visually impaired.
It’s easy for MBA students to see the application of these programs – the opportunity to work on real-world projects and possibly be founders or core team members – but what about the other side of the equation? Founders and will-founders stand to gain?
Alemani acknowledges that many founders have a clear idea of how they want to run their business, but adds that there may be gaps in their knowledge.
“Some will think they know everything but they will face challenges in areas like entrepreneurs financing and forecasting costs and cash flow. There are a lot of issues around HR when scaling up,” he says. These are areas where the technical skills of MBA students can make a real difference.
Also, many of the startups participating in the program have the opportunity to pitch to investors. These include Seedcamp’s Seedcamp Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Notton’s Itoxasso del Palacio, LocalGlobe co-founder Saul Klein and Oxford Computer Science Professor Blanca Rodriguez.
Welcome to contact the founders who are interested in working with LBS students, but a lot of filtering goes on. In the preliminary team, students were invited to evaluate 70 applicants, and this was eventually reduced to 14.
For their part, many MBA students will gain experience but choose to go into counseling, corporate life or large financing after completing their course. But Alemani says experience is not wasted. Whether involved in “entrepreneurship”, innovation outreach programs or driving change within an organization, the demand for entrepreneurial mentality is much higher.