An MBA for Entrepreneurs

25 aspiring entrepreneurs being put to the test in Barcelona this summer

18/07/2016 Barcelona

Hakan Ener

Prof. Hakan Ener:“It’s about getting your hands dirty, talking to customers, partners, competitors” / Photo: Edu Ferrer

“It’s not about how to write a business plan. Nor is the end result a paper or a PowerPoint with financial projections. It’s about getting your hands dirty, talking to customers, partners, competitors and working through the chaos and uncertainty of how a start-up actually works.”

So says IESE Professor of Entrepreneurship, Hakan Ener, describing the IESE MBA Summer Entrepreneurship Experience (SEE).

This summer 25 MBA students will be taking Ener’s words very much to heart as they embark on three months of putting their own start-up ideas to the test.

An entrepreneurial summer elective, the SEE will see the 25 working in seven teams across a diverse range of projects.

And they have their work cut out for them as Ener, co-organizer of the SEE in collaboration with Prof. Luis Martín Cabiedes, is quick to explain.

“SEE is all about hard earned knowledge and learning to search for a business model that can make an idea successful. And how to work with a team to do so. Key to this is spending a significant amount of time between classroom sessions outside of IESE, talking to customers and testing hypotheses. Based on the customer and market feedback they gather, students determine whether anyone would actually want or use their product.”

Once a week, the seven teams come back to campus for a debrief and knowledge-sharing with faculty and their fellow MBA students. Anything less than 10 face-to-face interviews with real potential clients, suppliers or partners, says Ener, is considered to be insufficient.

“We discuss findings in an open dialogue that brings to bear the diverse experiences and insights of the whole group. It’s like a board meeting. Findings, ideas, and leads are collected together in-person and on an online platform so that the students can dip into shared resources.”

The 25 students, who hail from all over the globe, are working in groups of between two and five on projects that range from developing the business model to commercialize Sake drinks within Spain, to online platforms, marketplaces and aggregators.

The SEE projects and students were selected, says Ener, on the basis of the “fit” between the business idea and variables like experience, languages spoken and professional networks.

Seven Start-up Ideas

“In terms of the projects themselves, it’s surprising how different they are,” says Albert Gilfanov from Russia. Together with three other MBAs, Gilfanov is testing the viability of an online marketplace dubbed Transwiz for small and medium enterprises and transporters. The idea is to consume unutilized logistical bandwidth in the market.

“The debrief sessions are very useful as you get to know a lot about different industries. I was struck by how most of the projects share a common focus on solving problems through IT solutions,” says Gilfanov.

“Being from the IT sector myself, I really agree with the approach we’re following – actual production, face-to-face service and sales are still the pillars in starting a business.”

Karen Crisostomo, who comes from the Philippines, is one of a team of four who are exploring the viability of creating an aggregator platform focusing on sport and outdoor activities.

The approach is really hands on. We create real online marketing campaigns around our idea using real money to buy Google AdWords and Facebook Ads. Within our team we delegate certain responsibilities such as creating a WordPress website for the idea,” says Crisostomo.

“The field work we do takes us face to face with potential customers. An example of this for our project was offering Pilates classes on the beach at Barceloneta. We created the offer, web, flyers and took the campaign straight to customers, who were willing to pay for the service.”

Crisostomo and Gilfanov are very clear about the objectives of the SEE.

“SEE isn’t an incubator. It’s a lab, a learning experience within the constraints of an elective. So the goal isn’t to build the business yet. It’s about learning how to find a viable business worth building,” says Gilfanov.

Crisostomo agrees: “We’re exploring how to launch a business. What we learn through field work, customer interaction and how to manage teams and optimize skills and input – there are skills and tools that we will bring to our own entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial ventures throughout our careers.”

A Unique MBA for Entrepreneurs

SEE sits within a raft of electives and investment resources and opportunities that characterize the IESE MBA and make it “uniquely suited to aspiring entrepreneurs,” says Ener.

“There is no other MBA program offered by a top business school in the world that currently offers such depth of experience across the summer months, as well as the support and input from faculty and peers.”

In addition to the SEE, MBAs can choose second year electives in entrepreneurship: an entrepreneurship elective to turn ideas into a real company; and an elective in intrapreneurship – an area that Ener calls “a hot topic.”

“With geopolitical and economic uncertainty, as well as issues like the Brexit, companies are increasingly circumspect in hiring and in trying out new business models. What we offer in the intrapreneurial elective is a way of fast-tracking the skills, knowledge and mindsets that new executives going into corporations need to deploy to generate new business.”

In addition to the entrepreneurial electives, IESE also manages a business angels network and a venture capital fund, called FINAVES – a comprehensive and deep package, says Ener, to educate, stretch, challenge and support true entrepreneurs.

“IESE is unique in what we offer. The length and the depth of the experience is genuinely transformational. And we are now seeing traction in terms of success stories.”

One such story is that of Ofertia, the online shopping platform, launched by IESE MBA graduates with funding from the school’s business angels and FINAVES. In just four years, the company has managed to generate multimillion dollar revenues and reaches 48 million users around the world.

“We are seeing a boom in students interested in pursuing new business ideas, whether inside corporations, family businesses or on their own and the MBA is modulated to their needs and demands,” says Ener. “The Ofertia story is, I am sure, one of many more successes that we will see.”