Sitting in a lecture hall at Stanford University, Kaia Lubbers had approximately five seconds to answer the question posed by the lecturer: “Can you tell me the word for a failed entrepreneur?”
Talk about being put on the spot! Lubbers was among 57 fellow MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship students from ESADE Business School who’d come to Silicon Valley to visit the local startup-scene. And there she was, cold called by Steve Blank, the father of the Lean Startup movement in front of the entire group.
She took just a beat, then answered: “Experienced.”
‘WE DON’T PREDICT THE FUTURE. WE CREATE IT’
A credo of Esade’s entrepreneurship program is “We don’t predict the future, we create it,” says Lubbers, who earned her bachelor’s in International Business Management at TIO University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam. For her, Esade offered everything she was looking for in a business school.
“The entrepreneurial spirit at Esade is off the charts. It was the reason it stole my heart in the first place,” she tells P&Q.
Entrepreneurial thinking is baked into Esade’s history. The school was founded in Barcelona, Spain in 1958 by a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to create more relevant education offerings for business. This year, its Entrepreneurship Institute – the cornerstone of ESADE’s entrepreneurial community – celebrates its 30th anniversary. The school’s most popular student club for its core MBA students is its Entrepreneurship Club
“We frame entrepreneurship as more than just creating your own startup. What we want to offer is that entrepreneurship is empowering you in life. I define entrepreneurship as your personal declaration of independence,” says Jan Brinckmann, Esade professor of entrepreneurship who leads the school’s venture creation program eWorks and the Entrepreneurship Lab of the Esade MBA.
So even for, say, the roughly 80% of MBA or EMBA students who will build careers in established companies, entrepreneurial thinking can help foster innovation and new ways of thinking in those organizations. Or, they may start a side hustle, or a mission-driven social venture.
“To me this is super exciting because it fulfills the human mission of being independent thinkers. We as humans are interested in so many things, not necessarily tied to just one job. Entrepreneurship is an enriching and freeing experience,” Brinckmann says.
With this mindset, Esade has built a reputation as an entrepreneurial powerhouse. It has consistently climbed up P&Q’s ranking on the best entrepreneurship MBA programs, landing at No. 3 in the world in 2023. That’s the highest of any European school and up from its No. 4 spot in 2022 and No. 7 spot in 2021. The school reported that nearly 22% of its MBAs between 2017 and 2021 joined startups as their first jobs after graduation.
The school has also made concerted efforts to internationalize, and many of its programs are now up to 95% international, Brinckmann says. For example, in a cohort of 60 MBAs, just three or four of them will come from Spain.
ESADE’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM
The Esade Entrepreneurship Institute creates a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem through research, “learning to learn,” new venture ideation and creation, and outreach beyond the classroom.
Under its umbrella are programs like eWorks, which runs several accelerators such as eWorks, EdTech, Owaste for sustainable business, and corporate accelerators for companies. It also hosts Founder Meetups every couple of weeks to share ideas and connect with Esade’s network of alumni and startups, a VC Series to link startups with funding opportunities, and more than 100 entrepreneurial tutors that can help students throughout the process.
The institute also runs the Global Business Family Initiative to research and share knowledge for family businesses as well as the ScaleUp & Growth Strategy Center.
Since 2015, Esade has more than 190 supported startups under its belt. These include startups like Colvin which raised $15 million in Series B funding in its mission to redesign the flower supply chain. There’s also Kantox, a currency trading platform for B2B. And the founder of Rappi – a behemoth food delivery, grocery, and pharmacy app in Latin America – is an Esade graduate.
A TRIP TO SILICON VALLEY
To Brinckmann, a unique aspect of Esade’s entrepreneurship program is how it actively works to connect students with people that are close to the pulse of what’s happening in the real world. He looks to create learning experiences that go beyond the sort of classical slide deck presentation of the classroom.
Part of the “get out and do” ethos is trekking to entrepreneurial hubs around the world. For its Master Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship program, for example, Esade organizes eight world tours in parallel, with students spreading across the globe to the hub that is most relevant or interesting to them. These include trips to up-and-coming hubs such as Libson, Portugal, and established hubs such as Madrid, London, Berlin, and of course Silicon Valley.
“I was actively looking for Entrepreneurship programs as I knew I wanted to start my own company at some point and love to work in an entrepreneurial environment,” says Julius Pahmeier, a ’23 graduate of Esade’s MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship who traveled to Silicon Valley in April with his classmates. “For this kind of program, Esade is one of the best addresses in Europe.”
“This trip was an incredible opportunity to immerse myself in a world-class entrepreneurial environment and to learn from some of the best in the business. It has been a truly transformative experience, and the lessons learned will undoubtedly shape my future entrepreneurial endeavors,” Pahmeier tells P&Q.
“My biggest takeaway was the realization of how critical the culture is in a company. The recurring theme we heard from our conversations was that culture can make or break a company. ‘A players’ hire ‘A players,’ and a strong culture attracts talent magnets.”
During the trip, students toured storied entrepreneurial schools such as Stanford Graduate School of Business and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and visited local startups. They also invited founders and investors to their San Francisco hotel for informal chats and conversations. They heard from the likes of Sean Foote – a practicing faculty member at Berkeley Haas and CEO of Fifty Five Financial focused on transformational capital – about balancing risk and return in startups. Ariel Poler, founder of Reveri Health and a human augmentation entrepreneur and investor, talked about the potential of AI integration. And Steve Blank reminded the budding entrepreneurs that failure, and the experience it derives, is a required but often forgotten ingredient to success.
Pahmeier graduated this summer and is now enrolled at CEMS’ Master In Management and will continue his studies at Esade and Cornell University. On the side, he’s working on a software venture to streamline sales, planning, and after-sales processes associated with solar panel installation for multi-family homes in Germany.
For Lubbers, the most impactful part of the Silicon Valley trip was San Francisco itself:
“The self-driving cars, the large and wide streets with buildings showing hints of start-ups all around, but also the poverty, and the huge gap between the poor and the rich,” says Lubbers, a board member of the Momentum Consulting Association, which has been recently set up by former Esade students.
Upon graduation, Lubbers will work for a consultancy firm as she explores which industry she wants to dive into, either joining a promising startup or founding one herself. She’s now in the early states of exploring an opportunity in the CBD health sector and is excited to see where it goes.
“I have to say that my need to be an entrepreneur and innovate is not solely to become ‘the new best thing,’ but also to make the world a better place. We have the tools; now we need to use them for good.”
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