This is his guest entry by Ben Buie, a Leeds School of Business MBA candidate who’s completed his first year in the full time program.
If you are an entrepreneur trying to decide where to get an MBA, this article is for you. I hope my experience and insight can help you, especially if you’re a tech entrepreneur who doesn’t want to live in Silicon Valley or Boston.
Who Am I?
I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve studied entrepreneurship, lived it, failed at it, and had one small success: MyNiceTie.com (an online necktie retailer), which I launched my freshman year at Brigham Young University (BYU). After graduating with a degree in entrepreneurship, I launched Buink.biz, a web design and development company. Unfortunately, it failed 6 months later. Needing to support my wife and first son, I packed my bags and took an underwhelming job as an analyst at Payless Shoe Store. The experience gave me insight into the operations of a big corporation, valuable information that I hope will improve my leadership skills. After two years, I decided to attend business school to expedite my transition back to entrepreneurship, with the intent to use the classes, faculty, and resources to form a team, make connections, perform feasibility analysis, raise capital, and launch.
I wanted an MBA program that is as passionate about entrepreneurship as I am. Even though many business schools rank highly for entrepreneurship, I was unimpressed by their entrepreneurial culture or by their curriculum, which didn’t appear to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit.
Still, I found several schools that met my criteria and narrowed my list to Babson, BYU, Rice, Syracuse, and Boulder. These programs have the curriculum, clubs, competitions, and resources to support their entrepreneurship program. (Stanford and MIT were eliminated because I didn’t want to live in the Bay Area, and I missed the application deadline, respectively.) I was accepted to all five of the schools I applied to, and I chose Leeds because of two distinguishing factors: the school’s curriculum structure, and the Boulder community.
More than 50% of Leeds’ classes are electives: two the first year, and every single class the second year. By giving students the freedom to build their own education, the program encourages entrepreneurial thinking. Leeds also helps students launch companies. Evidence of that is the New Venture Creation Track, which I anticipate will help me plan and launch another startup company.
The Boulder community is renowned as a center for innovation. Articles in Entrepreneur on cities that energize businesses feature Boulder; the New York Times often runs stories with a Boulder backdrop. The consistent theme is if you love the outdoors and entrepreneurship, then Boulder is for you.
When I interviewed at Leeds, each person I spoke with had personal experience with Boulder’s special community. I left with the impression that Boulder and Leeds share the same goal: to make Boulder one of the best places in America for startups.
Boulder Entrepreneurial History
Within the first couple days in Boulder, I came across a great article in The America, a journal of the American Enterprise Institute. The premise of the article, “Start-Up Town,” is that if you want your city to be entrepreneurial, don’t ask how to become like Silicon Valley, ask how to become like Boulder, Colorado.
Start-Up Town explains how small groups of entrepreneurs, led by Brad Feld, began building a startup community in the mid 90’s. Later, thanks to some successful startups, Boulder had more professional opportunities to offer. Through time, some of the local bloggers and podcasters gained national recognition and the word spread that Boulder is for startups.
Building on this national recognition, David Cohen, a serial entrepreneur with a recent successful exit, approached Feld about launching a new kind of investment fund similar to Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley based incubator. The new incubator, called TechStars would focus more on community and mentoring. Brad liked the idea and today, teams from all over the US compete for one of approximately 10 Boulder openings a year. Each team accepted receives office space, access to an impressive network of mentors and advisers and a decent amount of seed capital in exchange for a 5% equity stake in the company. TechStars is harder to get into than Harvard, and offers 2-3 internship positions to Leeds students each year.
The Deming Center for Entrepreneurship
The first thing you’ll do when you come to Leeds is orientation: two weeks of free food, team building, networking, and information overload. Glad I did it, glad it’s done, and also glad I got to see that entrepreneurship is engrained in every aspect of this school.
Within the first couple days of orientation, Paul Jerde, a successful entrepreneur, introduced the Robert H. and Beverly A. Deming Center for Entrepreneurship. Jerde, now the Executive Director of the center, shared an impressive list of startups that have been launched by Leeds grads and informed us of the Deming Network. This network consists of 70+ board members from the community, representing almost every industry, who find engaging with MBA students the highlight of their board duties.
The Deming Center also provides students with scholarships, tickets to local entrepreneurial events, and support for ideas that promote entrepreneurship at CU. Earlier this year, I launched a monthly cross-campus pitch club to connect entrepreneurs from all departments, and the Deming Center has provided feedback, refreshments for meetings, and logistical and communication support.
When I came to Leeds I knew of two entrepreneurial clubs: the Graduate Entrepreneurs Association (GEA) and the Collegiate Entrepreneur’s Organization (CEO), both run in the business school. I was surprised, however, to learn that there are numerous cross-campus and industry specific clubs, along with clubs associated with the law school, the engineering school, the music school, ATLAS, and others–all of which are focused on entrepreneurship and hold networking events and other opportunities to connect.
During a networking reception I met Brad Feld, and asked him if he would be open to giving me feedback on a company I’m planning to launch. He gave me his personal email and said he would be happy to help. I also met Brad Bernthal, Associate Clinical Professor at CU Law, who told me about the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, which offers free legal help to entrepreneurs who are moving forward with business ideas.
Is this place too good to be true?
If I hadn’t been here for a year now, I might answer “yes.” Having been here a while, I can confidently say that CU-Boulder should be ranked the #1 public university for entrepreneurship in the country, especially for tech entrepreneurship. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the conversation.
If you want to read more about Boulder, Brad Feld did an interview with Fast Company in 2010 entitled “Why you should start a company in…Boulder” . Bloomberg published “Why Boulder Is America’s Best Town for Startups.” You’ll find other such articles at the GEA website.
Here are some helpful websites and links to help you plug into the entrepreneurial community at CU and Boulder: