How my master program doubled as a startup accelerator
A lot of people think that the ultimate beginning for the bound-to-be-successful entrepreneur is dropping out of university. Similarly, they believe an MBA or related master program is a tell-tale sign of corporate-slavery-until-the-day-you-die. For all of you worshippers of Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Gates, sorry, but I’ve got a different scenario for you: the story of how two entrepreneurs and a startup were born and raised (in part) in a masters program.
I was an enterprising sort of kid from the very beginning. It wasn’t necessarily that I was searching for ways to make a buck, but I was always creating unique solutions for problems. I loved applying what I learned in one context to a completely different context. School was a natural part of my creative ecosystem. And I loved it. As my university peers counted the days until papers were burned and hats would fly, I was secretly devising where I’d get my next ‘knowledge fix’. I was just as eager as the next guy to finally apply what I had learned, I just didn’t want to stop learning – it gave me a high.
After graduation and a stint working in Milan, Italy, love and adventure brought me to the Netherlands. It was here that I discovered something amazing: higher education was available for mere pocket-change. I was like a kid in the candy shop. Which master program to pursue? Strategic Management? Management of Innovation? Did I have to pick just one? Eventually I settled on Entrepreneurship and New Business Venturing – which seemed logical given that I knew eventually all roads led to running my own business. Some would argue that you can’t ‘learn’ entrepreneurship. I’ve heard every argument on the topic and my opinion is that there are more important things to debate. The question of whether I indeed ‘learned’ how to be an entrepreneur is still open. But to the question of whether a master program can contribute to the success of budding entrepreneurs – I have no doubt of it’s value. In fact, I’ve identified 5 important ways my master program served as a catalyst for my becoming the co-founder of a company (Linguistadores, which you should check out).
1. Hotbed for ideas
When you put diverse people in one place, it becomes an absolute hotbed for ideas. Any topic of conversation is a catalyst for discovery and breakthroughs. Quite often the tinkering or musings of a fellow student would lead to “ah-ha” moments on a completely unrelated project. More than anything, being surrounded by creative people developing and redeveloping ideas into business models created an environment of possibilities. This is how the idea for Linguistadores came up.
2. Collision of perspectives
The people in my program came from all different backgrounds – in terms of both nationality and disciplines. There were people with technical certificates, business degrees, and finance experience. Each approached and framed problems in a different way, which was always a learning experience. It was through this collision of perspectives that the idea for Linguistadores was refined.
3. Find a co-founder (and a network)
Meeting people in a master program takes out a bunch of the guesswork. You already know they’ve made peace with being poor for the first few years of their working life. The next step is just a matter of getting excited about the same idea – which we did.
4. Built-in laboratory
Well-envisioned programs create an environment for assumption testing and pivoting. We were able to work on our ideas with built-in test markets and feedback loops in the form of our peers and instructors. It was a safe place where we could accelerate the discovery of weaknesses in our plan and develop more rapidly. In addition, being part of a university ecosystem can provide an advantage when trying to convince a department to participate in the pilot program. Having one name already on the list makes it easier to approach others.
5. Learning from others: presentations, case studies, and theory
Yes, I said it – theory. Don’t think of the high-level, impractical theory which has little application outside the classroom doors. I’m talking about the opportunity to get a boiled-down, condensed version of the lessons entrepreneurs have learned in the past and present. Starting a business is like anything else – you can teach yourself, but an expert can teach you quicker. And while exposure to theories behind entrepreneurial startup and growth didn’t make me an entrepreneurial wonderkid, it did give me the vocabulary and concepts to communicate better with others in the startup world. Being able to draw on the experiences of others when looking for a solution has been invaluable throughout the ‘life’ of Linguistadores.
I’m pretty sure those 5 examples of how a master program can act as an accelerator didn’t turn your world upside down, but perhaps it will encourage some of you gap-year folks to consider a master degree as a potential segue into startupdom.
Brittany is one of the founders of Linguistadores - a language learning platform, which teaches you languages through genuine news, music, and videos that you chose based on your level and interests. Besides that Brittany loves to learn new things and is always up for a challenge.