Your experience in a startup -even a failed one -could be just the ticket for entry into some of the top business schools in the world.Leading global institutes including Harvard, Wharton, Stanford and Duke Fuqua that are pushing for more diversity are increasingly putting a premium on startup experience, finding qualities such as leadership, creativity, risk-taking ability and innovation in abundance in such candidates. Leading ad mission consultancies including PythaGurus, Admissions Gateway , WhiteGlow Consulting and ReachIvy say the number of such candidates has doubled and even trebled in past few years.There are several reasons driving this trend, experts said. The boom and bust of many `high-potential’ startups has led to a dramatic rise in applicants who had previously envisioned handsome equity payouts and now find themselves at a loose end. Such people, who have seen the rise and fall of their companies, make for great candidates since they have interesting perspectives to share. Then there are candidates from startups that have survived and thrived and managed to secure funding. These applicants are eager to leverage their experiences and use Bschool as a pivot to start their own ventures or work at startups abroad.
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, graduate Indradeep Banerjee, who got into four top B-schools (Wharton, Kellogg, UCLA Anderson and UVA Darden) this year, said his startup experiences -first at the product team at Flipkart and subsequently as cofounder of food tech startup Hungerbox -helped him gain admission.
At Kellogg, the interviewer asked Banerjee about his business fundamentals and how his personal startup experience compared with working at Flipkart. At Darden, where he got a full scholarship, he was asked about his startup experience from the operations side of things. Wharton, which Banerjee finally chose, had a 30-minute group discussion where his startup experience helped tremendously since he had donned many hats as an entrepreneur.He starts class this fall.
“B-schools absolutely love candidates who have worked at startups, regardless of success or failure,“ said Vibha Kagzi, chief executive officer at Mumbai-based consultancy ReachIvy.com. It gives candidates broad skillsets arising from exposure across businesses, direct learning from CEOs and founders and leadership experience at an early stage.
“With these elements in mind, B-schools realise that regardless of whether the startups failed or survived, the candidates are rich in experience, knowledge and bring tremendous learnings to their classroom,“ said the Harvard Business School graduate.
Not surprisingly, ReachIvy has seen the number of such students more than double since last year. All of Kagzi’s startup applicants have been admitted to top-tier schools including Stanford, Cornell and Kellogg.
At WhiteGlow Consulting, which specialises in top MBA programmes globally , CEO Rajiv Ganjoo said around six of the 20 clients he is working with this year come from startups across areas as diverse as hospitality and the social sector. “Including startup experience has now become a strategy for bolstering one’s profile, especially if the current profile is not that impressive. Ivy League schools are looking at this in a big way as well,“ he said. Last year, 10 such candidates got into top schools.
“Today’s crowd is much more ambitious and aware,“ said Ganjoo. “They know that top B-schools are nurturing entrepreneurs.“
RISING STARTUP EXPERIENCE
Kellogg alumnus Rajdeep Chimni, CEO of consultancy Admissions Gateway, said 10% of its candidates in 2015 had startup experience compared with 2-3% in 2013. Candidates gained admission to Kellogg, Tuck, Wharton and Yale with scholarships ranging from $40,000-130,000. The candidates were involved with startups in three ways: entrepreneur founder; employees in product-related or operational roles in startups; and employees in corporates who launch, work at or advise startups part-time.
Dan McCleary, director of recruitment, executive and working professional MBA programmes at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business said it has seen an increase in the number of Indian applicants with startup and entrepreneurship backgrounds in the past two or three years.