Startups

Top Megastops on the SXSW Startup Crawl: Insights from 4 MBA-Founded Companies on Entrepreneurship, Strategy, Leadership and the Top Benefits of SXSW!

"Grab a group of friends and take the shuttle from startup to startup for a free beverage, to drop off a resume, see office space or just kick back before SXSW starts."

"Grab a group of friends and take the shuttle from startup to startup for a free beverage, to drop off a resume, see office space or just kick back before SXSW starts."

The annual SXSW Startup Crawl, hosted by Austin's premiere startup incubator Capital Factory, kicked off SXSW's Interactive festival on the Tuesday before it began. The Startup Crawl offered select Austin-based companies a unique opportunity to reach a worldwide audience consisting of venture capitalists, startup employees and intrigued Austinites.

The stops consisted of startup offices or shared workspaces. At each stop, crawlers could exchange ideas and learn of new companies over snacks and drinks. Over 24,000 techies & crawlers attended last year's crawl, making this event a fantastic way to gain buzz without breaking the bank. Of the approximately 50 companies that participated in this two mile wide crawl, about one-fifth were headed by MBAs.

Check out 4 of the top megastops on the crawl, each founded by MBAs.

 

Kim Gorsuch,   Weeva, Inc.   

Kim Gorsuch, Weeva, Inc. 

1.  Kim Gorsuch, Weeva, Inc.

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Q.  Welcome Kim! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I'm a Wharton MBA and an experienced executive with gigs at IBM, LendingTree and IACI. Throughout my career, I've done lots of new and "first time" things - e.g. I was one of IBM's first consultants;  I ran strategy and M&A for LendingTree, contributing to their rapid growth;  I led the launch of the very innovative AirNewZealand Travel Card for Rev Worldwide.  And then I started Weeva.   I'm also an avid Ballroom Dancer (hence the dance you can see in some of our videos - you can see them on our YouTube channel).

Q.  Tell us about Weeva.  When did you come up with and develop the idea?  What was the source of inspiration for you to start Weeva?

My father became seriously ill, and in a matter of days all of his organs failed.  I knew in a flash that there were so many things left unsaid... and at that moment in time unsayable.   Also that we could lose his stories completely.    I didn't want either thing to happen and the idea for Weeva was born.   Weeva is all about collecting and preserving a person's life experience, but from the point of view of the people who know and love them best.    Once stories are collected, we (the Weeva team) turn them into amazing art-quality books. 

Q.  How have you applied your business education?

Best part of SX is the opportunity to tell our story through a loud speaker, and also the serendipitous meetings that just happen.
— Kim Gorsuch

At Wharton, I got a well-rounded business background.   I learned about all facets of business, and gained the skills to be comfortable managing all of them.   My favorite classes were in strategy and leadership, and I continue to hone these skills today.   In my view, these are "practices,"  more like yoga and mindfulness;  you excel over a lifetime.

Q.  What are the main benefits of SXSW?

Best part of SX is the opportunity to tell our story through a loud speaker, and also the serendipitous meetings that just happen.   It's such an Austin event - chaotic, energetic, creative.

Learn more about Weeva, Inc. at http://weeva.co/.


2.  Shion Deysarker, Datafiniti

Jones School at Rice University

Shion Deysarker, Datafiniti

Shion Deysarker, Datafiniti

Q.  Welcome Shion! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I've always been fascinated by data and how it can transform understanding.  I did an undergrad in CS from CMU and went on to build predictive software for oil companies in Houston.  After getting an MBA at Rice, I joined a group doing web crawling services, and eventually took over the business to found Datafiniti.

Q.  Tell us about Datafiniti. When did you come up with and develop the idea? What was the soure of inspiration for you to start Datafiniti?

Access to useful data is always a huge challenge, and the web is largest source of potential data.  Unfortunately that potential has largely been left untapped.  The previous group I was with tried to tackle this through a services model - every client is a separate project and engagement.  Our competitors do it the same way.  This approach never gets anywhere, and it's why the web is still seen as black box by companies.  Datafiniti was formed out of the realization that in order to open that box, you'd have to take on the monumental task of bringing the entire web into a single database.  Google has done this for consumer, but we're trying to do it for businesses and enterprise clients.

As we've grown Datafiniti, we've worked with several fascinating companies that recognize the value of web data.  Web data is fueling their operations and their growth, and it's exciting to see our vision coming to fruition.

Q. How have you applied your business education?

SXSW is the play-doh of events and conferences. It’s what you make of it. It can be absolutely nothing if you don’t have the right mindset, but it can be a huge boost for you and your company if you work it properly.
— Shion Deysarker

An MBA gives you a starter's toolbelt for running a business.  As a CEO of a startup, I have to know the basics of everything from product management to accounting.  As the company has grown, I've focused more on my leadership skills - recognizing when it's time to bring in someone with a toolbelt that's more specialized in one area, and giving that person the right set of goals and work environment to succeed.

Q.  What are the main benefits of SXSW?

SXSW is the play-doh of events and conferences.  It's what you make of it.  It can be absolutely nothing if you don't have the right mindset, but it can be a huge boost for you and your company if you work it properly.  One piece of advice I'd give anyone is that you need to have an established network in place before you do SXSW.  It's very easy to meet a lot of interesting people if you already have your own personal network introducing you.  Otherwise, you're largely leaving it to chance.

We had a great time at the Entrepreneur Lounge, which we co-sponsored on Monday night.  600+ top technologists, executives, and investors in a rooftop cocktail party for 4 hours, what more could you want.

Check out Datafiniti at https://datafiniti.co/.


Cam Houser,   3 Day Startup

Cam Houser, 3 Day Startup

3.  Cam Houser and Bart Bohn, 3 Day Startup

McCombs School at University of Texas

Q.  Welcome Cam! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I was an MBA student here in Austin at the University of Texas. I was taking entrepreneurship classes. They were really great in theory but my co-founders and I had worked in early-stage companies ourselves before, and we had some pretty aggressive ideas about the best way to start a company. What we wanted to do was to create something to complement the theory, so as an MBA student, we started something called 3 Day Startup which is an entrepreneurship education program for university students. It existed as a student org for 2 years, and when it came time to graduate, I didn’t want to get a real job so just went nuts on it and we’ve existed as a corporation for the last 5 years, taking it all over the world.  So, we started it at UT Austin, we did a couple of experiments in a few other university ecosystems, and it worked out pretty well. At this point, we’ve run 150 programs at about 80 different schools in 20 countries, so it’s been really exciting.  Just really high-energy, short format, experience education programs for entrepreneurship.

Q.  Tell us a bit more about 3 Day Startup.  When did you come up with and develop the idea?  What was the source of inspiration for you to start 3 Day Startup?

We looked around and saw all this potential in schools, and there’s a track record of great companies being born in dorms. Facebook started at Harvard, Dell started at UT Austin, Larry and Sergey were Stanford students when they started Google. We want to explore why there are companies just not spilling out of schools. Schools are full of smart people, they’re physically close together, they’ve got a high-risk tolerance. A lot of students, most of them don’t have tons of mortgages and tons of mouths to feed. They’ve got the risk profile for being an entrepreneur, and your time in college is just a really creative time. We didn’t understand why people weren’t starting companies, and that was the question we wanted to answer.

Q.  How have you applied your business education?

At SXSW, the most interesting learning experience or the best relationship you’ll make will be when you strike up a conversation next to someone in line.
— Cam Houser

I’ve used a ton of it, teamwork in particular, group projects. One thing that business education teaches understandably better, (no one else teaches it), is sales. As skills to have, at an early stage company, the 2 things that matter are: can you build stuff, or can you sell stuff? That’s what was great about being in an MBA program. There were some good opportunities to learn how to sell. I took a negotiations class which was really helpful for selling, and the feeling I got in that class was “God, I wish I learned this stuff when I was 18.” I learned it as a grad student, and it’s just really good stuff to learn. Marketing was good. Management in particular, I’m not a big believer in reading books on management; I think you need to do it to learn how to do it, and you need to manage people poorly to learn how to do it better.

Q.  What are the main benefits of SXSW?

I think what’s really problematic about SXSW is that if you make a very specific plan with very specific outcomes, (Mike Tyson said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”), and SXSW is basically getting punched in the mouth. Having a really good opportunity mindset and being really open to meeting whoever you can, it was a really exciting time for us of course, it always is. We’ve done panels before, had some great conversations with professors coming from as far away as Australia and Japan, got to meet with them and talk about doing 3 Day Startup programs with them. But, a lot of times at SXSW, the best, the most interesting, or biggest learning experience or the best relationship you’ll make will be when you strike up a conversation next to someone in line to get a beer. It’s just having a really open mindset to meeting new people and getting lots of learning.

Learn more about 3 Day Startup at http://3daystartup.org/.

4.  Hayden Cardiff, Nebulus

Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University

Q.  Welcome Hayden! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

    Hayden Cardiff,   Nebulus

    Hayden Cardiff, Nebulus

I am an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business studying entrepreneurship. I have a fairly diverse background, from serving as a missionary in Italy for two years, working for the Boy Scouts of America, all the way to working in personal asset management. I am a college athlete, playing football at Nicholls State University and during my first year at Carnegie Mellon. I love outdoor activities and spending time with my wife.

Q.  Tell us a bit about Neublus Audio.  When did you come up with and develop the idea?  What was the source of inspiration for you to start Nebulus?

Nebulus is the only real-time project management and arranging tool for making music. We are trying to make the collaboration process as frictionless as possible and create a community around music production. Everyone on the team is a musician, so we have all felt the pain that comes with trying to collaborate with others. The idea for Nebulus formed from three separate ideas that all came together to make the holistic site and tool that we have today. There are six members of the team at Nebulus, and we all met at Carnegie Mellon, with each of us being current or past students.

SXSW is great for us because it is both a music and a tech conference, and Nebulus is squarely set in the middle of both.
— Hayden Cardiff

Q.  How have you applied your business education?

My experience as an MBA student has definitely helped me in starting a company and contributing to the team. Understanding financials and implementing marketing strategies with little to no budget have been key to pushing us along. But more importantly, it has been the leadership skills and ability to communicate with others that have helped me the most.

Q.  What are the main benefits of SXSW?

SXSW is great for us because it is both a music and a tech conference, and Nebulus is squarely set in the  middle of both. The exposure to industry leaders, potential  partners, and media outlets will be huge for us. We are very excited about what SXSW will bring for Nebulus.

Check out Nebulus Audio at http://nebulus.io/.



Other companies founded by MBAs & participating at the 2015 SXSW Startup Crawl included:

Doug Britton, Kaprica Security (University of Maryland)

Enterprise software and services in cyber security and mobility.

 

 

Matthew Chasen, UShip (McCombs School at University of Texas)

The online marketplace for shipping, primarily serving the freight, household goods and vehicle shipping markets.

 

 

Travis McCollum and Ed Hemphill, WigWag(McCombs School at University of Texas)

Unite your collection of smart devices for one smooth experience.

 

Craig Malloy, Lifesize(UCLA Anderson)

Video conferencing technologies that enable human interaction over any distance.

 

Joshua McClure, RealMassive, (University of Massachusetts at Lowell)

Commercial real estate in real-time.

 

 

 

 

 

Startup Scene: Q&A with NYU Stern Alumna & Solution Lab CEO/Co-Founder, Stefanie Mazlish!

Welcome, Stefanie!

Q:  Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you go to business school, and when did you receive your MBA?

NYU Stern MBA, 2012. Prior to business school, I worked in healthcare insurance. Currently, I’m Co-founder and CEO of The Solution Lab.

Q:  When you started NYU Stern, did you know that you wanted to start your own business? Were there particular classes, clubs, MBA peers or other resources that directly helped you launch your company? How did an MBA help you as an entrepreneur?

While I thought that I’d learn how to start a business by the time I completed my MBA, it wasn’t the plan to actually open my own business when I first started at NYU Stern. I’ve since learned that I don’t always need to be the one with “the big idea” to be an entrepreneur. 

Before starting Stern, I did know that I wanted my work to bring together best practices in business with socially impactful missions. Exploring opportunities in social impact meant a likely potential downside in terms of salary, and I made it a priority to graduate from Stern with little or no debt. This has been helpful in adapting to the cash flow environments typically facing start-ups.

Stefanie Mazlish, CEO & Co-Founder of The Solution Lab. She holds an MBA in Strategy and Finance from NYU Stern.

Stefanie Mazlish, CEO & Co-Founder of The Solution Lab. She holds an MBA in Strategy and Finance from NYU Stern.

My MBA experience provided me a wealth of resources including know-how, an extensive network, and the right credentials. I continue to utilize what I’ve learned from my extracurricular work at Stern, especially from the NYU Stern Business Plan Competition, Stern Consulting Corps (SCC), and Luxury Retail Consulting Corp (LRCC).  Of course Stern’s rigorous curriculum, with classes ranging from Marketing to Valuation, was also invaluable. I regularly recruit volunteer consultants from Stern, and my affiliations to several clubs, including the Stern Healthcare Association (SHA) have been extremely supportive networks that have helped me launch my current venture. Furthermore, my experience at Stern positioned me as an attractive and accessible collaborator, allowing my co-founders to seek me out in the first place.

Q:  What was your favorite thing about NYU Stern?

Two favorites: 

  1. My exposure to Stern finance classes unexpectedly changed my understanding of the world about as much as my study and work abroad experiences did previously.  
  2. The MBA toolbox has allowed me to positively impact the world in ways that are important, lasting, and rewarding.
My MBA experience provided me a wealth of resources including know-how, an extensive network, and the right credentials.

Q:  Tell us a bit about what The Solution Lab is. When did you come up with and develop the idea? What was the source of inspiration for you to start The Solution Lab?

The Solution Lab is a social enterprise that specializes in management consulting/strategy services in healthcare and life sciences.  Most importantly, it is a means to help students and recent graduates gain professional development opportunities that are otherwise unavailable to non-MBA students. The Solution Lab is the culmination and combination of three passions I developed during business school: strategy, entrepreneurship, and social impact. 

The idea for a business generally starts with identifying a problem. That’s true in the case of The Solution Lab, but at the same time, it’s also a story about a few new friends who just thought it would be fun to try something new professionally—just for the learning experience itself. 

The typical career path for PhDs in the biomedical sciences used to focus exclusively on gaining tenure or other choice positions at a university. However, under 15% of biomedical PhD students are currently able to follow this path. My co-founders come from this background and saw the need for their peers to gain real-world experience outside of lab science. 

Together, we fused their industry experience with my MBA experience to pilot operations.  When we finished the first round of projects, it was our clients who pushed us to structure into a full-fledged organization, and market research just doesn’t get more convincing than that!

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Q:  Can you tell us about your hiring processes and about the benefits of recruiting MBA volunteers?

We hire 50-70 volunteer consultants per year from STEM, healthcare/clinical, and business backgrounds.

Interdisciplinarity is at our core, from our founding team to every team we’ve staffed since. Our MBA volunteers are crucial to providing our teams with balanced perspectives and skill sets.  They often help our PhD volunteers see how the science affects a company’s bottom line.

Many of our MBA volunteers have an interest in healthcare or gaining management consulting experience in an industry that’s new to them. Some are eager to apply their finance skills to new industries. Others want to apply their social impact backgrounds to an industry focused on helping people be healthy.  We also provide the opportunity to check out the start-up scene here in NYC and to impact our own organization.

Q:  How do you manage the duality between driving new business and overseeing daily operations?

My board and I define our own metrics for success—and the end game is not necessary to scale quickly. 

We make carefully considered strategic choices surrounding how much and how quickly we want to grow.  We want to ensure that growth does not dilute the quality of the projects we customize for our clients.  It takes time to identify and develop people capable of leading multiple projects. 

This innovative mindset and redefining of success means that daily operations often take precedence over driving new business, and as a consequence, we grow in deliberate ways.

I wanted my work to bring together best practices in business with socially impactful missions.

Q:  How has the company evolved since it began? What have been the main factors that have led to your successes?

We started with management consulting. We’ve built out that program to include more internal support and knowledge-sharing. As that program matures, we are able to focus on other initiatives such as our Creative Thinking Workshop for scientists and engineers and networking events in collaboration with other organizations such as D.O.C. in the NYC entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The main factors that have led to our successes include:

  1. excellent project work, which is accounted for by our talented, enthusiastic, and well-guided volunteers;
  2. referrals and networks. All of our business comes from word of mouth;
  3. our commitment to evidence-based decisions, creativity, and multiple perspectives offered by different degree paths;
  4. committed leaders who understand how to strike a balance between social impact and financial reward.

Q:  What was technically the most challenging part of developing The Solution Lab?

Legal and accounting structures are very difficult to navigate as a social enterprise with our hybrid model.

Q:  How do you reach your target audience?

We define what we do and execute well; others take notice. Our volunteers proudly build our brand for us as they pursue their own individual successes. We’ve been tapped by well-established organizations such as investment banks and large pharmaceutical companies for our innovation, and we’ve started seeing potential clients approach us based on the fact that so many of their best candidates for full-time positions have experience from The Solution Lab. 

We also reach out through university clubs and administrations—career fairs, recruiting talks, panel discussions, email announcements, etc.

The Solution Lab is the culmination and combination of three passions I developed during business school: strategy, entrepreneurship, and social impact.

Q:  What are you most excited about at the moment?  Any new projects or partnerships in the pipeline, etc., that you'd like to mention?

Alumni from our program are eager for additional programming, and we’re working on several ways to address those needs including more targeted networking opportunities and peer-mentoring programs. 

We are also providing our alumni with a chance to give back by participating in our new alumni-driven career services bootcamp events, aimed at helping our extended volunteer community.

Q:  What do you find most interesting and rewarding about running your own business?

There are so many rewarding aspects of running The Solution Lab: taking on risks and providing opportunity for our volunteers, the mentorship impact we have on those volunteers, playing a part in our clients’ successes, the dynamic nature of a start-up environment, and the variety of people and organizations involved. 

Taking it to a more personal level of running my own business, the most rewarding aspect has been the evolution of my own role in the company. I started out structuring operations, and moved onto recruiting, envisioning and implementing new programs, and finally business development and overall leadership of the organization.  Having the support of my co-founders during this process has helped me build and maintain a culture of excellence including critical thinking, creativity, and supportive feedback for growth.

Q:  Anything you wish you'd known about when starting out?

Not really…learning as you go is part of the fun!

Q:  What advice would you offer to any aspiring startup founders?

It’s about the team. Make sure to have complementary resources/skill sets and that the core team is on the same page in terms of vision, drive, and personal goals.

 

A big thanks to Stefanie Mazlish and The Solution Lab for sharing the wonderful insight and experience!  For more information about The Solution Lab, please visit http://www.thesolutionlab.org.