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Schools of entrepreneurship: Why an MBA matters and how Oxford and MIT stack up


As the growth spurt of the startup scene shows no signs of slowing, more and more universities are exploring ways of catering to the demands of today's budding entrepreneur. We hear from two students – both American ex-navy members – on how the UK's Oxford and the US' MIT stack up and why getting an MBA matters...  


Oxford University's John Stringfellow "There are more opportunities than I can keep up with"

John Burk StringfellowHigh up in the student chain of Oxford University's business go-getters is John Stringfellow. From the US, Stringfellow is President of Oxford Entrepreneurs, founding member of the Saïd Business School Seed Fund, and is studying for his MBA while developing an app-based startup.

I was in the navy for six years beforehand. I'd always come up with a bunch of ideas on the ship, but out in the middle of nowhere there's not much you can do about it. So, I always wrote down those ideas and told myself that as soon as my commitment for the navy is up, I'd put some of them into practice.

From 2009 to now, membership at Oxford Entrepreneurs (or OE) has gone from 6000 to 9200. The society – a student-run organisation – is there to serve entrepreneurs, whether they be students or Alumni. We try to help them add value to their career by offering workshops, “learning to code” programmes, networking events, pitch competitions, hackathons, business plan competitions, and free work space. About 80 per cent of founders are from IT and technology based companies.

OE is affiliated with the university and we get a lot of support from OxCEI – The Oxford Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (which is part of the Said Business School) – but officially, we're not attached to the university.

My friends over in the US (and I'll purposely exclude Stanford) tell me they're not very happy with their institutions and feel like they could receive a lot more support from their universities, which are behind the curve and trying to catch up to this new evolving space.

For the most part, a lot of US universities are trying more to support entrepreneurs right now. It's still the case in the US that entrepreneurs are having to fend for their own, in a sense that they need to get their own work space and their own team mates... For entrepreneurs at Oxford, there are more opportunities than I can keep up with.


At a glance – What's on offer for Oxford entrepreneurs

  • Lean Launch Pad: A four-weekend course where up to 10 startups receive mentorship, develop hypotheses, accumulate customer data and research
  • SBS Seed Fund: A total pool of £100,000 in funding for up to six startups –  run by students who source the deals with an advisory board of veteran VCs
  • The Shed (Part of Oxford University's Career Services): The Shed supports people from across all disciplines and offers work space, weekly workshops and mentoring sessions
  • Said Business School Programmes: Short and ongoing competitions, events and projects
  • Silicon Valley Comes To Oxford: Run annually, a “think tank” from Silicon Valley travels to Oxford to share insights and experiences on starting, scaling and running a tech startup

MIT's Brian Jaffe "This idea of needing to be in Silicon Valley is ageing"

Also in the navy before being poached by MIT to study his MBA, Brian Jaffe is taking 12 months off from his two-year programme to focus on building his startup Mission St Manufacturing, which looks to make 3D printing platforms easy-to-use and available for all ages.

Brian JaffeI knew that I wanted to start a company when I got out of the navy, and I thought I wouldn't need to study for it. But when I got into MIT's MBA programme at the Sloan School – an extremely well-respected university – I decided to give it a go, and I have to say that it's one of the best decisions I've ever made.

On top of it, it gave me a chance to just get down to the business basics after coming out of the military. I was experienced in operational management, but things like budgets, accounting, and marketing strategies – I had no clue about.

From an academic perspective, the school gave me the ability to network, meet technologists and VCs, and for branding purposes – there's a lot of value in the name MIT... My company was nothing more than an idea before I accepted the position at the university, and now a year later I requested a leave of absence in order to pursue my startup full-time. That's another good thing about MIT – they let you take time off and hold your spot for you until you're ready to come back.

I'm now in California where my team of nine (mostly undergraduates and engineering interns), will be working here this summer to turn my idea into a functional prototype.

The thing that comes up a lot – because I've debated a lot about whether to put the company in Silicon Valley or within striking distance – is that there's a feeling within the Valley that recruiting and retaining talented engineers and employees is difficult because there are so many people looking for the same talent in the same geography. That's why I'm not in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm in Santa Barbara, which is a small city an hour and half away from Los Angeles.

Santa Barbara

The hillsides of Santa Barbara

When you can develop a team in some other location, it may be more difficult at the beginning, but your retention will be much higher because there aren't 500 other companies trying to steal your employees.

I really believe that this idea of needing to be in Silicon Valley to start a company is ageing. I think that matters less and less because ideas transfer, capital transfers, and when you have things like AngelList, Kickstarter, social media, and the ubiquity of the English language, the need to be in a specific region matters less and less. These other hubs – whether it be Germany or Africa – are going to get to play a bigger role in entrepreneurship than they did in the last generation.

At a glance – What's on offer for MIT entrepreneurs

  • Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) Network: Allows students to meet with experienced entrepreneurs for advice and mentorship
  • MIT Global Founders' Skills Accelerator: Startups can receive up to $20k for meeting company milestones over a summer programme
  • Beehive Cooperative: MIT's largest community workspace for budding startups
  • MIT Student Clubs: Over 20 student entrepreneur clubs and initiatives
  • Major competitions: Over $700,000 in prizes and grants to entrepreneurs – available each year

Image credits:
Oxford – flickr user Steve Evans
MIT – flickr user Darkensiva
Santa Barbara – flickr user huskyte77


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