Should I Start A Business While I’m In Business School?

This post is part of a series featuring some of the best virtual sessions from our annual RelishConnect Virtual Career Conference. Each post will summarize one of our presentations and panels from the event, and written summaries are accompanied by select, easy-to-watch clips from the recorded broadcast.

With limited time and a wealth of opportunities to consider, launching into the uncharted territory of starting a business while pursuing a graduate business degree can seem overwhelming. However, we’ve gathered together three top-tier MBA entrepreneurs to discuss their varied experiences and approaches and to help you decide if entrepreneurship is right for you. 

Sarah Rumbaugh (founder and CEO of Relish Inc.), Yannell Selman (Co-Founder and CEO of Cultiveit), and Breanna Atkinson (founder of Kokada the Original Coconut Spread) all successfully started their own businesses while simultaneously pursuing their MBA. They agree: there are pros and cons to starting a business as a student.

What are the pros and cons of starting a business as a current student?

Business school provides you with an amazing network of students, faculty, and alumni with a variety of skills and expertise. This network can help you get started and get connected to the right people to successfully launch your business. Another great reason to start a business while pursuing your MBA is the ability to apply what you learn in your courses to your business. This helps you to develop a deeper understanding of the content you’re learning and gives your business a boost as well.

There are also unavoidable negatives to being an entrepreneur and an MBA candidate at the same time. Some stakeholders may view you as a student founder and underestimate your dedication to your startup. It also can be difficult to balance your social life as an MBA with pursuing your business venture as you might have to say no to more social events in order to prioritize your business.

Listen to current start up founders discuss these pros and cons below:

How do you go about getting starting a business in business school?

First, you need an idea. When brainstorming business ideas, don’t ask “what would be a good idea?”, instead start with the problem instead of the solution by asking “what’s a problem I (and others) care about that I could turn into a profitable business?”. Once you decide on an idea, it’s best to take the leap and start selling if you have no barrier to entry. You can even start by selling to your classmates (or pay them to try your product and give their feedback). It’s ok to receive negative feedback and be a bit embarrassed with your first version of your product. Just make sure to learn from your mistakes and listen to the feedback you receive. 

How to approach start up fundraising as an entreprenuer in business school?

An important part of starting a company successfully is fundraising. Developing the skill of fundraising is important because the more successful you are at raising capital, the more money you’ll have to improve your business. When talking to investors, make sure to keep your emotions in check and focus on the financials. It’s important to be passionate about your business, but investors are more interested in your financial status and plan for the company. It’s helpful to find investors you can relate to, especially when first starting out. Investments often have more to do with the founder (you) than your company so it’s important to have some common ground with investors whether that’s sharing the same alma mater, having similar interests, etc. 

What Additional Tips Can You Share For Being a Successful Student Entrepreneur?

Our three top tier MBA entrepreneurs offered a few extra bits of advice for MBA students looking to start their own business.

Tip 1: Make sure to set time sensitive goals for your business. It can be helpful to line these deadlines up with MBA time markers such as semesters or school years in order to keep your business and classes on a similar schedule.

Tip 2:  Make sure you discipline what is in your control and then memorialize the wins. Breanna Atkinson (founder of Kokada the Original Coconut Spread) does this by journaling but you can also memorialize wins in other ways like taking photos or videos of influential positive moments in your entrepreneurial journey.

Tip 3: Remember to be a dreamer. Keep your overarching dream goal in the forefront of your mind through this process. Write down your dream goal for what you want to do after graduation and read it often to remind yourself of where you want to be. 

Starting a business while pursuing an MBA can be intimidating but having access to an amazing MBA network for mentorship, sourcing talent, financial support, and more is a huge advantage. Develop a strong idea, focus on your entrepreneurial dreams, apply what you’ve learned in your courses, network with investors, and set time sensitive goals to ensure that your business starts out on the right track.

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