Executive MBAs Catch The Startup Bug

The students have worked energetically on building the network of alumni who will form the bedrock of Kellogg Angels as investors and mentors, and have about 70 people lined up for initial involvement, Parmar says. They plan to launch Kellogg Angels by the end of June.


At Haas in Berkeley, engineer Joe Inkenbrandt entered the EMBA program thinking, “I don’t think I’m the kind of guy that could start a company.” Then he took part in the program’s Silicon Valley Immersion Week. “By the end of the week I said, ‘I’m going to start a company.’ It was that transformative for me.”

Haas EMBA entrepreneurship professor Toby Stuart

Haas EMBA entrepreneurship professor Toby Stuart

Led by professor Toby Stuart, that immersion week starts in Silicon Valley proper and moves northward to finish in San Francisco, now part of the expanding tech-tropolis. Students study cases on the campus of a giant tech firm; they break up into groups of four and visit five startups from a variety of industries, meeting with founders and CEOs. The working entrepreneurs “discuss anything from how they wrote their term sheets to what happened when they got kicked out of a startup,” says Jamie Breen, associate director of the Haas EMBA program and a retired Accenture partner. “They will really answer just about any question. They’ll talk about the dark side as well as the upside. It’s a pretty fascinating exposure.”

Inkenbrandt had arrived at Haas at age 39 intent on a “full right turn out of engineering into more executive-level thinking” and work in business development. Still, he was what is called in the EMBA world “an advancer” – planning on moving up in the same general field – rather than a “switcher” who uses the education to jump into another arena altogether. But once he made another turn and fell into the third EMBA category – entrepreneur – he found rich offerings at Haas. He received in-depth education from Toby Stuart via entrepreneurship and advanced entrepreneurship classes. Maura O’Neill’s New Venture Finance class provided valuable knowledge and skills he’s using putting to use, he says. “I feel so prepared when I go talk to VCs now.” A class on turnarounds with retired high-profile private equity partner Peter Goodson contained numerous impactful lessons. “You go through the numbers and you see where they missed with their money, or they had morale problems, yada yada yada. It kind of showed me what not to do,” says Inkenbrandt, now 41.


Fortuitously, Goodson brought in former Ernst & Young partner Stephan Thomas as a guest lecturer. Thomas had left the firm intending to start a 3D printing company. Inkenbrandt was developing a startup idea for a 3D printing-based company that disrupts the supply chain model of design-manufacture-distribute with a more streamlined and economical design-distribute-manufacture model. Inkenbrandt and Thomas exchanged cards.

In August, Thomas came on as a co-founder of Identify3D, which sells a secure system for manufacturers using digital designs to produce standardized 3D-printed goods, for example an auto parts company that would print parts to order in its shops across the country – design, distribute, manufacture.

The company has just closed a seed round, bringing in $400,000, on top of $100,000 from an institutional investor. “It looks like by summer we’ll have raised a bit over a million,” Inkenbrandt says. The institutional investment firm is run by a Haas connection. Their vice president of operations is the husband of a classmate. Another classmate, from Intel, passed on key advice about downsides of taking institutional funding. Haas faculty and alumni offered introductions to investors. “I just would not have been able to do it without Haas,” Inkenbrandt says.

Haas EMBA assistant dean Mike Rielly

Haas EMBA assistant dean Mike Rielly

Of 68 students in the Haas EMBA class of 2014, a dozen are launching or running startups, says EMBA assistant dean Mike Rielly.

“We’re about to see two of our EMBA ‘14s move into the high-end beverage space with a really interesting model,” Rielly says.


In an era where businesses must remain constantly agile to survive, the entrepreneurship and innovation-related programming at Haas is important for switchers, advancers, and entrepreneurs alike, Breen says. “Scratch any large company out there and they’re all going to say they want entrepreneurial skills in their managers,” Breen says. “They do mean it, because they’re at risk of being disrupted. If you aspire to an executive position and you aspire to be a leader you have to have  these kinds of skills and this way of thinking.”


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