MBA Connect is an initiative launched by one of our Full-Time MBA students in 2016 as a way to connect MBA students at the Business School to mentor student startups across Imperial College’s world-leading STEM disciplines.
Three years later, the MBA Connect programme has continued to flourish, with the baton handed to this year to new President Michael Morthorst, Full-Time MBA 2018-19. Before joining the MBA, Michael worked in banking in Germany in Mergers & Acquisitions. His main goal for the MBA is to tap into the entrepreneurial world, which aligns perfectly with his involvement in MBA Connect.
When MBA Connect was originally set-up, it aimed to link Full-Time MBA students to mentor student startups born out of Imperial College London. Essentially, it created a bridge from science, technology, engineering and medical students to gain business help from our students.
As President, Michael is building on the great work of the previous two cohorts’ work on MBA Connect and continuing to develop the fantastic programme. Find out about some of these developments and hear about one of this year’s MBA Connect projects.
More MBA students and therefore sector coaches on MBA Connect
This year, MBA Connect have worked to get more students across all of our MBA programmes onto the initiative so they have a larger footprint. This has been essential to propelling the programme forward. With more MBA students on board as coaches, the Imperial students have an even wider pool of industry knowledge and experience that they can tap into for their startup.
This is what sets MBA Connect apart from other initiatives. Students may be able to gain business mentoring through other initiatives at the College, but sector coaching is unique to MBA Connect. Michael gives his experience as an example, having worked in the banking industry for five years, he can give insight and real experience to students who want this kind of knowledge for their startup.
Michael says, “We have huge number of MBA students signed up for MBA Connect, so there are not only one or two coaches that you can choose from. If you meet for the first time and notice that it doesn’t really fit, there are more than 80 others you can choose from to get the right industry knowledge you are after.”
Changing from ‘mentors’ to ‘coaches’
This year, MBA Connect has moved from referring to MBA students as ‘mentors’ to ‘coaches’. This difference is important for the goal of the programme which is to provide more case-based, short-term coaching. Michael said:
We changed the terminology a little bit, we’ve made it clear that MBA Connect is less about mentoring and more about coaching, people working together short-term towards specific goals. There are other mentoring opportunities at Imperial where they bring on people as mentors who have 15-20 years of business experience; and who will then spend the next five plus years working together. We’ve established that MBA Connect is a student-led coaching programme.
While it is a subtle change, this makes a difference that helps define the aim of the programme for both our MBA students and those they are connecting with. To help our MBA coaches, MBA Connect are running sessions with the students to develop their coaching skills.
They brought in lead coach, Lisa Makarova, a PhD student at Imperial College Business School, to host a workshop in conjunction with the Careers team. This presentation and executive workshop was very helpful in training the MBA coaches.
Michael said, “The MBA students all have sector knowledge and great experience in their respective fields, but only a few of them have coaching experience. In the workshop we really teach them how to coach and set the overall environment for MBA Connect.” The students took a lot out of the coaching session and relished the opportunity to come together and meet students from other MBA programmes.
In the coming months they also plan to run a two-hour coding session for MBA Connect coaches jointly with the Entrepreneurship Club. Coding is an important skill that all the students we work with need in order to complete their projects, whether it’s for a website or software. MBA Connect collaborates with the Makers Academy for this coaching session, who are one of the largest training providers in London when it comes to coding.
MBA Connect case study: XtraSpace
The MBA Connect coaches are working on some incredible projects across Imperial College with students from a variety of disciplines. One of these projects is with Tej Sanghavi, a MEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the College. He is being coached by Victoria Ferguson (pictured), Full-Time MBA and Tristan McKenna, Weekend MBA.
Tej came up with his idea XtraSpace after moving out of the dorms. He realised that all of his friends, in particular his international friends, didn’t have anywhere to store their belongings over the summer break. When they looked at storage spaces they were all super expensive because firstly they were looking to store their possessions for a short amount of time and second, most of these storage places are located far outside of London, incurring an expensive taxi ride to transport their belongings.
He came up with the idea to build a company that will seek out people who have spare space like shop owners or anyone who has extra room in their house. They would also be much closer to central London so students can easily drop off a box or two of their things and pay a much lower rate, while still knowing that their belongings are super safe.
Speaking on their coaching with Tej, Victoria said, “Things are coming together really well. Coming from digital marketing backgrounds, Tristan and I have helped him put together a website and we’ve been helping him form an idea of the best way to move forward, i.e. what data he needs to include, what is the demand and what is the price sensitivity for both sides of the supply chain.”
Victoria said that she has been able to apply learnings from her MBA to her coaching, including things she learned from her Design Thinking and Marketing projects, and Accounting, including knowing exactly what a company needs to function and where to budget for things.
In terms of how she has benefited from MBA Connect, Victoria said:
“It’s a really wonderful programme. The Imperial students get the benefit of people with more work experience who can help structure and outline the process of starting a company. From the MBA point of view, it really helps us develop managerial skills. I don’t think you do an MBA without wanting to go into a leadership role. Part of doing leadership is that you want to help grow the people around you. First, MBA Connect is an experience to do that and second, it’s a really good, hands-on way to figure out how to tackle really complicated problems that come with launching a startup.”
Entrepreneurship on the Imperial MBA
MBA Connect is just one way we foster entrepreneurship on our MBA programmes. Another key element to develop entrepreneurial skills is the Entrepreneurial Journey elective which is where students develop a startup and pitch to investors at the culmination of the project.
Michael said, “I’m doing the Entrepreneurial Journey right now on the Full-Time MBA. I’m very much looking forward to that. This experience and MBA Connect has really motivated me also to do entrepreneurial projects in the future.
“I think Imperial provides a lot of support for entrepreneurship. It’s not just the Enterprise Lab and Hackspace, but also the Innovation Centre at White City. There’s a lot of support at the university and they also teach practically how to implement the lean startup approach. For me, my experience so far has been really rewarding.”