Vibrant, diverse and well-connected, studying an MBA in London means studying in one of the world’s greatest cities. Leading firms from every major sector are based in the UK’s capital, alongside Europe’s largest community of start-ups and entrepreneurs. We caught up with Michael Rogerson, a Full-Time MBA student at Imperial College Business School, to find out about he has used these opportunities.
Making the most of opportunities in London is a great way to maximise your MBA experience.
I decided to return to the UK to do my MBA for family reasons. I had an offer with a scholarship from a school outside of London and the offer from Imperial and I had to choose. My wife said to me, “If you’re trying to decide between London and Manchester, which one are you going to regret not having lived in in 30 years’ time?”, which helped me decide. I realised I wasn’t going to have regrets not having lived in Manchester, but you could live in Manchester and wonder what London would have been like as a student.
Neither the city where I grew up nor the seven or eight different countries that I’ve lived in since have had a start-up culture. Some have been very entrepreneurial, especially in Africa, but there’s no culture of start-ups, no infrastructure to help them, and so being in London feels like just about the best place in the world to be.
In the US, you might have the culture scene in New York and the start-up culture in San Francisco, but London combines them both in a very small geography – there’s no place quite like it!
Embracing tech start-up culture
When I arrived in London, I joined some Facebook groups and ended up attending several events related to start-ups. I stumbled across an event held by MassChallenge, a global accelerator, based in an old tobacco dock in central London by the river. Their huge space is filled with 90 start-ups each year, from 1000 applications, and this is the sexier end of start-up stuff, companies that could well become enormous. I went to a public event which was showcasing all the businesses, and I chatted with lots of people, and I got involved with two of the businesses just by meeting people at the public event.
One of the companies I helped with market sizing recently raised about £2m through Crowd Cube, the crowd funding platform. They have invented a solar panel you can roll up, so it fits into a shipping container, and then you can helicopter it into a disaster relief zone, push a button to unroll it and then it can power all of your office stuff from it.
Then I found out there’s actually a formal way you can mentor companies through MassChallenge, so I got involved directly. I’ve been on the judging panel which decides who gets the money at the end of it – there’s prizes of up to £50,000, which to a company that doesn’t have any money is a decent start, especially when they’ve had office space for six months.
From there, I’ve got involved with the global MassChallenge organisation. I’ve just finished judging who should join the Boston MassChallenge programme, evaluating the business pitches. MassChallenge has now expanded to Mexico City, Geneva and Tel Aviv and it’s growing really quickly.
It has shown me what’s going on in London and what cutting-edge tech looks like from an inventor’s level. It’s just opened my eyes to how big the start-up thing is
Even as a non-entrepreneur, it’s great to be involved in the judging as you can see the kind of questions that new companies are asked. The questions MassChallenge asks are pretty similar to the questions lenders will ask, such as what kind of traction do you have, how big your market is and so on. For me, it’s involved me in this whole global community, where because I mentor in one place I can judge in five different countries.
I’ve been to lots of their events, like “minute to pitch it”, where all 90 companies get 60 seconds to pitch their business idea in front of pretty big audiences – there were 1000 people there last time. Half our class went, and you just get to see what a good presentation looks like in 60 seconds – some of them were fantastic, and some of them less so, and some of them didn’t need it to be good because their ideas were just so good. For example, there is a guy who has invented an inflatable incubator, which you can probably fit five of them in my rucksack, and they cost about a tenth of what a normal incubator would cost, so his presentation was very informal and direct but he won the whole thing anyway because the idea was so amazing.
MassChallenge focuses on the tech side of things, which has shown me what’s going on in London and what cutting-edge tech looks like from an inventor’s level. It’s just opened my eyes to how big the start-up thing is.
London’s got an enormous amount of really passionate inventive people who are creating businesses that one day may be really big; and I’ve got to see the process of how businesses get started through Imperial, which is a really innovative, priceless environment.
One of the things I have done this year is to be a mentor in a social enterprise incubator in Brixton called Hatch. While it’s not a tech start-up thing, it’s all things that will help the local economy. This year, some of the projects I’ve advised have included a cleaning company and a nail bar. I’m now helping someone who is setting up a business that will employ only socially disadvantaged people.
In London, you could go to 10 events a night and still miss 90
A hotbed of events
During my year so far, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible people.
I’ve chatted with a Nobel prize-winning economist, through an event next to the campus. At the School, I got to hear from the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, and former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke. London’s great for just how many well-known leaders come to the city. London’s got so many world renowned universities, which really helps, they all have influential and interesting alumni and they can all bring these people in – creating so many events to attend.
I went to a circular economy talk at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) and they’d done a project on a complete supply chain of a sofa, and how it could be more sustainable and reusable, and how the materials could be reused if the sofa wasn’t in a condition to continue in its current form, which added to my knowledge gained during my operations module – so you get to learn on top of what you learn here, but you get to speak to more people and grow your network.
In London, you could go to 10 events a night and still miss 90. Just look up what’s happening in London on Eventbrite tonight and most difficult is choosing what to go to, which I don’t think you find in many places!
London creates networks
This is a great place to build a network, especially because the alumni network is fantastic. I must have spoken to 50 Imperial alumni that I found on LinkedIn before I even started here, just to find out what Imperial was like, what jobs they got afterwards and how best for me to get the job I wanted.
As part of the Personal Leadership Journey, we did a project called “Interview a Leader”. I’m still continuing with it, and I’m now up to about 50 interviews. Over the last few months, I’ve spoken to, a Senior Partner at Bain & Co, the Managing Director for Energy Generation at Centrica, heads of sustainability at some huge companies, and I’ve met them all in person, all in their offices or in cafes in London. I’ve met over 100 people in the last year, and I’ve not had to leave London to do that. I’ve learnt so much from all the people I’ve spoken to.
My interviews started off about leadership but it’s moved on to interviewing people who are interesting to me in terms of my future career. I’m learning a lot from them but it’s a great network as I’m going into consulting and I will be able to sell to them in the future or ask for their advice – or both!
It’s hard to regret choosing London. It’s been a great place to be – there’s just so much going on. When I chose to come here I had a feeling I would find that, but to see it in reality, how much stuff there is, it’s pretty unbelievable. In terms of a learning environment, if you make yourself do it, and go and learn what London’s got to offer, I can’t think of anywhere in the world that’s better to do an MBA than this.