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How an MBA Can Help Your Startup Succeed

From Harlan T. Beverly, PhD, Texas Evening MBA ’04

Every year, thousands of students flock to MBA programs nationwide to learn the craft of business. In recent years, many of those students  have come with a gleam in their eye, that of launching and succeeding with their own startup.  At The University of Texas at Austin, MBA applicants can earn a scholarship for their idea, assuming their idea is strong enough. One of the key questions about entrepreneurial education, though, is this: what does it take to succeed at a startup? And more to the point, is that something you can learn in an MBA program?

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2016 TVL Scholarship winners Josh Berrington (left) and William Wilder (right)

Researchers in entrepreneurship have typically focused on the attributes of the founding team as key predictors of success.  While it is obvious that certain characteristics like risk tolerance, persistence, and charisma could be helpful in getting an entrepreneur started, there is still much debate about what it really takes to have a successful startup.

In 2004, I was one of those MBA students with that startup fire in my eye.  Now, a dozen years later and with three successful startups under my belt, I believe that there are many critical things that a student can learn in an MBA program to help better their odds of success.  Here are three things I learned as part of my MBA that I have leaned on to beat the steep odds of startup success (less than 1 in 10).

First and foremost: Define success before you begin. 

Not every startup idea is destined for an IPO or billion-dollar exit.  An MBA helped me to learn how to assess the business potential of a startup idea and set realistic goals for what success looks like.  All too often, startups fizzle out because they reach too high or even achieve limited success…but fail to exit at the right time.

Second: Learn, learn, learn. 

No matter what it’s called – “market validation” or “lean startup” or listening to customers – learning, and adapting is essential to success.  My MBA helped me understand both what I needed to learn (pricing for example), and how I could learn what I needed from real customers quickly.

Finally: Success is never achieved in a vacuum.

My MBA helped me to understand the importance of networking. Hiring and firing are essential leadership skills as a company grows, and an MBA not only helps you understand the leadership principles, but also helps you develop team-based skills to work well with others. For me, it was at UT Austin that I met the co-founders of my first company, as well as many future business partners.

Clearly there are many things to learn and skills to develop as part of an MBA. Can they help an entrepreneur be successful?  Absolutely.  The University of Texas’ Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs has proven capable of developing MBA students into successful startup founders. The new Texas Venture Labs MBA Scholarship is now open and accepting qualified applicants with world-changing startup ideas. Learn more about the application requirements and submit your application today!

My Texas MBA Women’s Forum Experience

From Julia Brannan, Texas MBA Class of 2018, on her experience at the 2015 Women’s Forum.

julia-brannanWomen interested in  the Texas Full-Time MBA Program are encouraged to attend our annual Women’s Forum, taking place Nov 18th & 19th! There’s only a few spots left, so apply today!

During the forum you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the Texas Full-Time MBA Program, interact with current students and faculty, understand the value proposition of the Texas MBA, and experience what makes Austin so special!


Here’s a look into my Women’s Forum experience:

As I sat in the audience with 80 other prospective female MBAs interested in learning more about McCombs, I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much this event would impact my decision to join the McCombs community.

Day 1 – Thursday

I join the Texas MBA Women’s Forum GroupMe and current students are messaging us, “Who runs the world? Girls!” I’m feeling excited. Now I know I have an additional bond with some of these women beyond McCombs and a passion for women in business – a love for Beyoncé. I head to the Welcome Reception and meet amazing current students including Amira Fawcett, class of 2017. She came from a sales and trading background and had just been accepted for a product management internship at Amazon. Amira is a prime example of what a woman in business is like at McCombs. She’s down to earth, hilarious, driven as ever, and is passionate about helping her female peers reach their goals.

Day 2 – Friday

I applied during the first application round so I head to my scheduled interview in the morning. My interview is with Eric Franco, class of 2016, who’s heading to a job at an energy company post-graduation. Eric shared stories about taking classes in UT Austin’s other graduate schools, including top programs in law, public policy and engineering (the list goes on!). He loved that McCombs offers a tight-knit community along with access to endless resources throughout UT. Post-interview I grab lunch with girls attending the forum and later we head to happy hour with current students and explore Austin.

Day 3 – Saturday (main part of the Forum!)

We settle in and are greeted by Austin’s beloved breakfast tacos and the Assistant Dean of the Texas Full-Time MBA Program, Tina Mabley. Tina, a McCombs Alum, shares what makes her love this program – the people. She explains how every year the students, faculty, and administration continue to build the program for the better. For instance, Silva Gentchev, class of 2017, had just launched the Social Impact Internship Fund (SIIF). SIIF is a student-run initiative for first-year MBAs geared to help fund their classmates’ social impact internships with organizations that otherwise would not be able to afford MBA salaries (spanning non-profits to the public sector to social enterprises). The rest of the day moves at a quick pace and I’m viciously scribbling down things that inspire me left and right. To share a few:

  • During the Student Life Panel I meet Tenaj Ferguson, Class of 2017, who won the Texas Venture Labs Scholarship worth $10,000 and in-state tuition after pitching her own-startup in the competition. Tenaj is using an incubator in Austin to help grow her business, Lady Epicure Gourmet – a retail and food service natural food brand and manufacturer of commercial food tech equipment. Using McCombs’ strength in strategic marketing, she landed an internship at the Campbell Soup Company to build upon her brand management skills.
  • Ty Henderson, a favorite McCombs professor, leads us through the Classroom Experience, providing a taste of what his Analysis of Markets class would be like. It’s incredibly engaging, partially case-based, and rooted in data analytics.
  • I meet Nikki Bruce, Class of 2015, in the Beyond the MBA – Alumni Panel. Nikki used McCombs’ MBA+ Leadership Program to pursue a micro-consulting project with Boston Consulting Group. This experience validated her desire to pursue consulting and she now works full-time at Deloitte Consulting.
  • Associate Director of Career Management, Ramona Arora, shares during the Career Management discussion how students have access to career counselors and communication coaches who help to advise a student’s career search, assist with resumes, and provide feedback on interview behaviors. Additionally, I learn we’ll have access to the largest alumni network in the country – alums who are more than willing to take our calls (I’ve experienced it firsthand now, they really are)!

Attending the 2015 Women’s Forum was far and away the most rewarding experience I had throughout the MBA application process. Two main things really stand out to me looking back; first, the forum gave me that intangible validation that McCombs was the right fit for me. Austin, and to a larger extent, McCombs, were environments that I knew I wanted to call home. Second, it facilitated an-ongoing conversation that I personally feel strongly about – women’s experience in the workplace and in leadership in general.

Now, in my first semester at McCombs I truly feel that the answer to “Who runs the world?” is #McCombsWomen.

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Alumni Spotlight: Blanca Lesmes, Texas Executive MBA ’11

Everyone has something their passionate about, and for Blanca Lesmes its increasing the accessibility of healthcare to women. Blanca graduated from the Texas Executive MBA Program in 2011 and has used her degree to propel this passion and save the company she co-founded, BB Imaging & Healthcare Consulting, ensuring increased access to ultrasound services for women in the Austin area.

We recently caught up with Blanca to see what she’s up to and to learn about her reasons  #WhyMcCombs.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA and why did you choose McCombs?

In 2009, my organization was struggling to remain afloat during the recession. I knew that I needed to expand my toolkit to ensure the survival of the company. After visiting a class at McCombs, I knew I wanted to be in an environment that encouraged as much learning from professors as from the talented professionals in the class.

What was the most valuable lesson — inside or outside of the classroom — you learned while completing your MBA?

Oh wow, this is tough. I learned that success in business requires surrounding yourself with amazing people.

How has your McCombs MBA experience helped shape your success?

I have a better understanding of the business cycle. I am incredibly grateful for the network of people I now call my friends. They continue to challenge my assumptions and encourage my personal growth.

Tell us about BB Imaging & Healthcare Consulting. Why did you decide to start this company? What is your role?

BB Imaging & Healthcare Consulting provides ultrasound services and business solutions in healthcare. In 2004, there was a need in the obstetrical market for ultrasound solutions in communities surrounding Austin, this was the impetus for our inception. I am currently the President of the organization. I focus on business development In addition, our organization is a Federal Contractor and my role is to expand into providing consultancy services outside of Texas.

What do you love about your job?

MY TEAM!!! I am so lucky to be able to enjoy the folks I call my team. They are incredibly skilled and masterful at what they do. I couldn’t have imagined working with a kinder bunch.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I am passionate about working to increase accessibility of healthcare to women. Currently, I am on the board of an educational non-profit and a non-profit dedicated to providing women in Malawi (Africa) access to care. I love brainstorming new business ideas and problem solving. On a personal note, I have a tween and a teenager who keep me busy and fulfilled.

What advice do you have for future Texas MBAs?

Just jump! Do not overthink this decision. Many people do what I call “self de-select”. Meaning, applicants don’t even submit applications to the admissions committee because they determine themselves under-qualified. I challenge new candidates to present their best application and attempt this amazing journey. The worst that can happen is not enrolling in the fall which is the same outcome if one doesn’t apply. I say deal with “potential” disappointment and just jump.

Navigating Your MBA As A New Parent

From Dave Jackson, Senior MBA Admissions Officer

MBA programs for working professionals provide an inherent challenge – how to manage the competing priorities of work, school and a personal life. Many wouldn’t think of adding to that mix perhaps the ultimate challenge, caring for a new baby.

Nevertheless, working professional MBA students at McCombs have demonstrated that it can be done with the right planning, prioritizing and support network.

“There’s never a ‘right’ time to have a baby,” says Denise Xue (Texas Evening MBA Class of 2017), a financial analyst at Intel who gave birth to her son Daniel on April 9, 2016, during her fourth semester in the program. “Having a baby while getting an MBA is certainly not easy, but I never regret it one bit. You will be extremely busy, and feel challenged both physically and emotionally, but at the same time you will also feel proud of yourself for the things that you accomplished.”

Here is some advice from Denise and other recent parents for those contemplating parenthood in combination with their Texas MBA:

  • Plan Ahead – To say time management is imperative would be an understatement. Adding parental responsibilities means students have to plan even more proactively. “One of the most important things I do is to work ahead in school,” said Kirk Geohegan (Texas MBA at Houston Class of 2017), a server engineer at ExxonMobil whose son John was born on Feb. 4, 2016, the night before a class weekend during his second semester. “I do reading or part of an assignment every day so that I can spend time with my wife and son on the weekends. If an emergency comes up at a home or work I have plenty of time during one of the other days or my weekend to catch up.” Kirk also uses his lunch hour at work to study so he has more time for his family at night.
  • Be Honest About Priorities – When something as significant as a baby comes into your life, it’s certain that other things will need to go away, at least temporarily. Kristi Johnson (Texas MBA at Dallas/Fort Worth Class of 2016) delivered baby Alaina on July 6, 2014, exactly one month before her Austin Intensives in 2014. She was able to work with her boss at Corning, where she is a market development manager, to reduce her work travel to less than 25 percent while restructuring her work day to 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. Kristi also reduced her workout schedule to one day of soccer and the occasional run, but she says she felt more productive in both work and fitness even as she scaled back. Kirk and Denise agree that they’ve become much better at maximizing their productivity by taking on both parenting and an MBA at the same time.
  • Accept Help – A student’s spouse, parents, co-workers and extended family are among the many resources these new parents tap into to help them. All three parents agree that a supportive spouse is most important, not only for managing responsibilities, but for providing emotional support as well. In addition, parental support helps the spouse with responsibilities while the student is in class. Kirk said his parents and in-laws came to the hospital so he could get to classes the weekend after his son was born, while Denise’s parents helped to care for Daniel while she took her international trip to China.
  • Timing Is Everything – Kirk and Kristi both discussed with their spouses the advantages of having a very young child while they were in the program, and in the end both decided it was better to take time for an MBA now rather than when their child was older. “My wife and I knew we wanted to have a child,” Kirk says. “We figured that it would be easier to go through the program while she was pregnant and our son was a baby rather than when he was a toddler.” Kristi admits that while it was hard to miss the sight of her daughter rolling over for the first time, “getting to see her at almost 2 and singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen as she colors is far better than rolling over.” (Kristi’s second child, son Isaac, was born July 21, two months after her graduation)
  • Stay In The Moment – Work, school and parenting are all demanding activities, so Kristi advises, “When at work, be at work. When doing family time, do family time. When in school (or doing schoolwork), focus on school.” Nevertheless, some creative multitasking can work. Denise held her young baby in a carrier while he was falling asleep in order to free her hands to do homework. All of the parents advise clear communication with your study group and professors and have found them all to be supportive as they go through this major life event.

But even with the best preparation, all the responsibility can feel burdensome at times, and perhaps Denise sums it up with what could be the working professional MBA’s credo: “When you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself why you’re getting an MBA and power through it.”

The MBA Admissions Interview: How to Totally Crush It

From the Texas Full-Time MBA Admissions Committee

You submit your application. You wait and wait and then, TA DA! An interview invitation appears in your inbox.  Your immediate reaction is probably several mental exclamation points (!!!), but I think it’s fair to say that all MBA applicants feel pretty dichotomous when it comes to the interview experience. Something like:

Yay I got invited to interview! But oh my goodness, now I’m totally freaked out and have a million questions; What are they going to ask? Should I be myself or should I open with a joke I read online? Should I bring my resume in strawberry-scented triplicate? What do I wear? Should I interview on-campus, via Skype, or off-campus? Is it better to interview with a current student, admissions officer or alumni? Should I send a follow-up thank you via email, a hand-written card, or none at all?  How do I set up the interview in the first place?! Eeek!

Breathe. Like anything else, your MBA interview invitation is an opportunity. While some applicants may look forward to it, others may not exactly enjoy the anxiety. If you are a member of the latter group, look at it this way: this interview can be just the thing the Admissions Committee needs to stitch together the rest of your application elements with a genuine, prepared, and poised interview performance.

The interview affords one of the only formal opportunities for official face-to-face interaction during the application process. Seize it.

You are most likely applying and subsequently interviewing with multiple MBA programs. This means managing several different interview processes, a complicated project given the variability among schools. It’s important to be familiar with how the Texas MBA Program runs its interview operations.

Instructions are plastered all over the email invitation to interview and the online systems you use to book the interview, so be sure to read all instructions very carefully before scheduling anything. Generally speaking, our interview structure is this:

Interviews are by invitation only and can come at any time during the application round. There are four different interview types: on-campus with a student, via Skype with a student, off-campus in your local city with an alumni interviewer, or at a HUB city location with an admissions officer. For each type (excluding alumni interviews) there is an online calendar from which you can select an interview slot that works with your schedule. We will inform you of the last date your interview needs to be completed. The only exception to this is booking an interview in your local city with an alumni interviewer; that process is slightly different, but we provide the step-by-step instructions in our interview invitation communications if you decide to go that route.

Rest assured all of our current student interviewers, alumni volunteer interviewers and admissions officers are fully trained and capable of conducting an interview that is professional, fair, impartial and helpful. Interviews typically last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. All interviews are blind, which means the interviewer does not have access to anything about you or your application, except for your resume. Even so, it’s always a good idea to bring a copy for the interviewer to reference during the conversation (this is required if you are interviewing with an alumni interviewer).

Most interviews follow the general framework of introductions, questions from the interviewer for you to answer, then some time is left at the end for you to ask your questions about the program and/or application process. Once the interview is completed, you are finished! There is nothing further you need to do and your application is considered complete. All that’s left is to wait patiently for our final decision in the weeks that follow.

TIPS & PITFALLS TO AVOID:

Choose Wisely: Decisions, decisions. Interview type selection is like deciding on your coffee order at Starbucks – copious options, but there’s something for everyone. Each type of interview affords individual benefits. If you’re located proximate to Austin, try to come to campus for an interview. If you have never been to campus or met us in person before, we highly recommend interviewing on campus to get a feel for the facility and community culture. You might even be able to book a class visit, information session, or tour and interview all in the same weekend. A special “Lunch & Learn” session will be offered on select interview dates. If you can’t make the trip due to work conflicts or you are internationally-based, you might consider taking advantage of our alumni interviewers in a city near you. We also offer HUB interviews in markets around the world, such as Korea, China, India and Mexico. Or maybe none of that works for you and Skype is the only way to get it done. No problem, that option is always available. We see your interview type selection as entirely logistical and do not hold it against you if you don’t interview with us on campus.

Don’t Be On Time – Be Early: Arriving early is “Interviewing 101,” yet it still manages to falter even the most prepared of candidates.  Arriving early is even more critical if you’ve never been to campus or navigated UT Austin parking before. As for Skype, your instructions ask that you are prepared to begin the Skype video call at the allotted interview start time, but it’s always a good idea to arrive 5-10 minutes prior to work out any inevitable technological hiccups that crop up.

“And that’s why I’m scared of heights and allergic to strawberries…Wait, what was the question again?”:  You’d be surprised how many times at the end of an applicant’s long-winded tangential answer we are asked to repeat the original question. Most often this happens to people who try to cram too much into the first answer for fear of not being given an opportunity later on to address that well-rehearsed example. Don’t worry, we’ll get to it! Plus, sometimes there is an opportunity at the end of an interview to mention anything we didn’t address in the formal line of questioning.

Loosen Up: Given our program’s famously friendly culture, our interviews are relatively informal. If you still find yourself nervous, practice your answers in front of a mirror, a friend or a willing stranger and ask them how you did. Did you answer the question? Did you rush through it? Take a moment to outline your answer in your mind first, and then address it calmly and confidently. Don’t get too comfortable, though. While we’re an easy-going bunch, maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism is always a good idea. This includes professional language and attire as if you were interviewing for a job (that means you too, Skypers! I’m sure your pajamas are lovely, but we’d much rather see a blazer.).

Know What We’re Looking For: We listen for confidence, clear and concise communication of career goals, concrete examples of teamwork and leadership, in-depth knowledge of our MBA program, and overall genuine enthusiasm. Also, the interview can be a place to showcase secondary skills that are difficult for us to determine solely based on your application: interview skills, self-awareness, communication style, and “hire-ability.” Keep these in mind so we can get a feel for the application intangibles.

Know Your Audience: Remember, the Admissions Committee doesn’t have a preference for which interview type you elect or who you interview with, just as long as you prepare for your audience. Are you interviewing with an admissions officer?  Read about them on our Admissions Committee page. Our alumni interviewer profiles can be found on our website.  If you’re interviewing via Skype or on-campus, be cognizant that not every student has the same background as you!  Steer clear of industry jargon.

Come with questions: A good list of questions for your interviewer can illustrate a few key things about you as a candidate: you’ve done your research, you care about our program, you have envisioned yourself as an MBA, and you can formulate coherent thoughts under pressure. We usually leave anywhere from 10-15 minutes for questions, so limit your list to 2-3 good ones and have a few backups.

While our interviewing style is admittedly less intense than corporate recruiters, don’t let our laid-back Austin attitude fool you. The Admissions Committee uses the interview as a way to add character, depth and spirit to your written application, so keep these tips in mind to ensure a positive outcome.

Good luck and Hook’ Em!

 

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