Category Archives: MBAs Across America

MBAxAmerica Update: Week 6, New Orleans

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French Quarter at Night

When we arrived in New Orleans after a long drive from Albuquerque, we were immediately struck by two things: the music—it’s literally on every corner—and the humidity, which is even more prevalent. Of course, the city’s culture and vibe go much deeper, and, in our down time, we were lucky to have our hosts from Idea Village introduce us to the city’s history and charm.

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MBAxAmerica Team with Sara Thomas, Director of Product Management at Idea Village
MBAXAmerica IdeaVillage
Amaris presenting at one of Idea Village’s events for entrepreneurs

Idea Village is an organization dedicated to identifying, supporting, and retaining entrepreneurial talent in New Orleans and has played a major role in New Orleans’ start-up movement and post-Katrina revitalization. We worked with CEO, Tim Williamson, and Director of Product Management, Sara Thomas, (GSB ’09) to develop a strategy for supporting start-ups that have outgrown the early stages of their business and are dealing with challenges of scaling. We talked with various members of the Nola start-up ecosystem–Idea Village staff, program alumni, successful start-ups, early stage start-ups, impact investors, and the head of the Louisiana Buyout Fund. We also looked at recently released data from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center and stats from Idea Village’s own programs. Even though businesses over the $1million revenue mark are usually beyond the scope of Idea Village’s work, we determined that providing strategic help to some of these companies is crucial both to get these businesses to the next level and to provide powerful proof points to the ecosystem that this success is possible and sustainable in New Orleans. Moreover, this supplemental programming creates a potential revenue opportunity for Idea Village that can reinforce their core programming. The programs and events we developed will be piloted at this year’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and developed further throughout Idea Village’s entrepreneurial season.

While in Nola, we also met up with two of our HBS classmates, Eric Sonnier and Broderick McClinton, who were passing through Idea Village as they worked on their start-up, Equity Endeavor. We had an amazing time discussing our adventures and sharing the lessons we’re learning from our entrepreneurial summers. We also talked about the challenges and opportunities of building organizations with purpose—such  as explaining to investors why, if you’re building a crowdfunding platform for small, community-oriented businesses, it makes sense for you to be headquartered in somewhere like New Orleans instead of in San Francisco.

All in all it was an amazing week (and yes, we went to Café du Monde).

Cheers from the road,

Amaris + the MBAxAmerica Team, MBA 2014

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Four Weeks on the Road with MBAs Across America

It’s our fourth week of MBAs Across America. We spend our weekends driving between cities, but that’s where the routine ends. Every day is a remarkable, and remarkably different, adventure. Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to:

Week 1: Detroit, MI
Detroit_Community Workshop Sebastian Jackson’s multicultural salon, Social Club Grooming Company, not only brings people together across racial lines, but also brings people together to revitalize Detroit. Instead of throwing away hair trimmings, Sebastian works with Green Garage, the green business incubator, to compost hair (its nitrogen richness makes it an ideal compost accelerator), plant trees, and restore Detroit’s urban canopy. We worked with Sebastian on his community and environmental engagement strategy, compensation model, and team culture.

We also held a community workshop on inclusive revitalization with Impactor and the co-working space, Ponyride, and took an incredible tour of the Brightmoor neighborhood with Kirk Mayes, Executive Director of The Brightmoor Neighborhood Alliance.

Week 2: Boulder, CO
MBARoad1We worked with Made Movement, a creative agency dedicated to supporting the resurgence of American Manufacturing, and their e-commerce business, Made Collection.  We helped the Collection refine their target audience and customer acquisition strategy, and Mike and Hicham managed to fit in a jam session with some of their resident musicians, too!

We also explored Boulder’s dense entrepreneurial network by hosting a community workshop with Made, meeting with the Mayor and City Council, attending an event with Bill Aulet, MD of the Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and talking with local entrepreneurs and City Council Meeting_Boulderinvestors. We were also lucky to meet with VC investor Brad Feld. He talked about his Boulder Thesis, his recipe for creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and gave us advice on scaling MBAxAmerica into a movement with lasting impact. We were blown away by his openness, sense of humor, and willingness to “give before you get”.

Week 3: White Sulfur Springs, MT
We worked with, and were inspired by, Sarah Calhoun and her women’s workwear company, Red Ants Pants. Sarah, her team, and hundreds of volunteers were gearing up for the annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival. Proceeds go to the company’s non-profit foundation, supporting women’s leadership, family farms, and rural communities. In addition to volunteering, we interviewed festival goers and Red Ants Pants customers. This qualitative research, coupled with online analytics, guided our recommendations on Red Ants Pants’ brand, marketing allocation, and product expansion strategy.

Week 4: Las Vegas, NV
Our fourth stop is, unintentionally, about as different from rural Montana as you can get! We’re learning from the wonderful folks at The Downtown Project and had a fantastic meeting today with Laura Berk from The Vegas Tech Fund. Tony Hsieh is very generously putting us up in Zappos’ “crash pads” and we’ve enjoyed meeting some of the visiting entrepreneurs who are also crashing. It’s the Downtown Project’s vision of urban collisions at work!

Cheers from the road,

Amaris + the MBAxAmerica Team, MBA 2014

“What can we do to unleash the potential of every American entrepreneur?”

Back in November, three of my HBS classmates (Michael Baker, Hicham Alaoui and Casey Gerald) and I were talking about the disconnect that often exists between MBAs in the classroom and people building businesses on the ground–especially outside the usual hubs of San Francisco and New York.

We were also sick of headlines telling us that our business leaders care only about the bottom line, that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is irreparable, and that our generation will be the first to do worse than our parents.

We believe that Doers and Makers across the country are proving the headlines wrong by creating and innovating despite the odds. We launched MBAs Across America to tell their stories and to be a part of their journey. Our mission is to bring entrepreneurs and MBAs together to learn from each other, have fun, and build businesses that make America stronger.

MBAs Across America’s Amaris, Casey, Mike, and Hicham (from left to right)
MBAs Across America’s Amaris, Casey, Mike, and Hicham (from left to right)

This summer, we’re driving across the country, spending a week each with eight different entrepreneurs in eight different cities: Detroit, Boulder, White Sulphur Springs, MT, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Asheville, and Washington, DC. Our journey has three goals: tell powerful stories, team up with local entrepreneurs to tackle a challenge or opportunity they face, and build a network to support entrepreneurial ecosystems.

MBAxAmerica isn’t about having all the answers. It’s about working alongside entrepreneurs with humility and curiosity, and lending our skills, experience, and energy to the task of improving our communities and our economy.

We’re excited to see America in a new way. Our team will see new places, meet extraordinary people, and bring communities together to answer a critical question: what can we do to unleash the potential of every American entrepreneur?

The challenges we face as a country are too large for us to wait and too large for anyone to go at it alone. That’s why we’re working with amazing partners like Impactor, who is helping us, design, curate, and facilitate community workshops that create lasting value in our tour cities and beyond. We’ve also received support from organizations like The Downtown Project in Las Vegas, the Startup America partnership, and even the Mayor of San Diego. That’s also why a great company like Starwood is sponsoring our housing for the summer. We can’t thank them enough for taking the lead as a company that goes beyond the boardroom and into the communities it serves.

Coming into HBS, the four of us could never have imagined starting something like MBAxAmerica. We assumed, like most people, that we would find an internship related to a potential career path and hope that it led to a job offer. But HBS makes you think a lot about acting with purpose. Whether you’re going to private equity or a non-profit, there’s a sense that you should be making a decision that is truly yours and that you should be aware of the responsibility that decision entails.

So we are writing a different story about our future: one where dreamers, doers, and purpose-driven MBAs come together to make America stronger, one entrepreneurial ecosystem at a time.

-Amaris Singer, MBA 2014