Stanford On Thames? London Business School Makes Its Pitch To Founders And Researchers

Times change and so do economies. According to professional services firm EY, around 7,000 jobs in the U.K. financial services sector have moved to Europe as a result of Britain leaving the EU. Meanwhile, in the “real economy,” Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility says trade volumes are about 15% lower than would have been the case, had Brexit never happened.

Meanwhile, according to data from Dealroom.co, Britain’s startup ecosystem is now valued at $1 trillion as investor cash pours in to support the tech and innovation economy.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that MBA students—some of them at least—are shifting their career ambitions away from their traditional target jobs in the higher reaches of finance and industry and looking instead to the startup economy.

It’s a change that has been both observed and acknowledged by London Business School. Detecting rising interest in entrepreneurship, LBS has been actively encouraging collaborations and business partnerships between researchers and founders on the one hand, and MBA students on the other.

The aim, says LBS Associate Professor of Management Practice, Luisa Alemany, is not only to provide MBA students with the option to focus on careers in tech and innovation but also to support the startup ecosystem. “The idea was that LBS would become a hub supporting entrepreneurship. Like Stanford,” she says.

As Alemany is quick to point out, the allusion to Stanford is more about an aspiration to actively support the tech ecosystem rather than any kind of direct comparison. “We are a business school, not a university,” she says.

Building Bridges

In practice, that means the research that drives the tech ecosystem forward is being done elsewhere, typically in universities with strong research departments. “So one of the things I have been doing has been building bridges with institutions such as University College London, Imperial College, Oxford and Cambridge,” says Alemany. “We’ve been building relationships with people who have the tech.”

The logic is that researchers – regardless of how groundbreaking their technology happens to be – may not be blessed with a huge amount of business acumen or experience. To square that circle, London Business School is offering to assign its students to work with researchers, helping them to identify markets and sources of investment.

In parallel, the school has also been reaching into the tech ecosystem to identify founders who don’t have a particularly strong background in business. Again they are being offered an opportunity to work with people MBA students through an initiative dubbed the Entrepreneurship Lab. Alemany sees this as a way to help the tech ecosystem become more professional.

A Route To Entrepreneurship

It also provides a route into entrepreneurship for MBA students. The relationship students build with founders and researchers can be seen simply as one part of their business education but the option is there to take the next step and become entrepreneurs. “Students can become part of the founding teams,” says Alemany.

To date, 14 companies have emerged from the Entrepreneurship Lab, including Umwuga, a social network for tradespeople, service industry workers, and the people who hire them; emotional wellbeing program, Paradym; and WeWalk, a smart cane for visually impaired people.

It’s easy to see the appeal of these programs to MBA students—a chance to work on real-world projects and perhaps also become founders or key team members – but what about the other side of the equation. What do founders and would-be founders stand to gain?

Alemany acknowledges that many founders have clear ideas about how they want to run their businesses, but, she adds they can also have gaps in their knowledge.

“Some will think they know everything but they will encounter challenges in areas such as raising entrepreneur finance and forecasting spending and cashflow. There are also a lot of issues around HR when scaling up,” she says. These are areas where MBA students’ technical skills can make a real difference.

In addition, the startups taking part in the program have an opportunity to pitch to a number of investors. These include Seedcamp Carlos Eduardo Espinal of Seedcamp, Notion’s Itxaso Del Palacio, LocalGlobe co-founder Saul Klein and Oxford Computer Science professor Blanca Rodriguez.

Founders who are interested in working with LBS students are welcome to get in touch, but quite a lot of filtering goes on. In the initial cohort, students were invited to assess 70 applicants, and this was eventually whittled down to 14.

For their part, many MBA students will take the experience but opt to go into consultancy, corporate life or big finance after completing their courses. But Alemany says the experience isn’t wasted. Whether getting involved with “intrapreneurship,” innovation outreach programs or simply driving change within an organization, the entrepreneurial mindset is much in demand.

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