From the category archives:

Entrepreneurship

This post is written by Jason Barrett, a 25 years old GW part-time MBA dropout turned a professional whiskey drinker – Jason is the youngest master distiller in the USA. He makes whiskey for a living (BlackButtonDistilling.com) and probably wouldn’t have this opportunity without the time he spent at GWSB. I am glad that I had a chance to meet Jason at one of the GW PMBA happy hours and have a chance now to follow him in his entrepreneurial pursuits.

I have always been stubborn, at first I tried my hand in politics because I loved debate, then I moved on to sales where I could get paid to talk to folks and get them to see my point of view.

I got involved in craft beer and was an avid home brewer for many years. Then I almost bought a craft brewery that was going out of business. During that transaction I decided I wanted to work for myself, but that I didn’t have the skills to really be a well rounded business owner. So I applied to GW School of Business and started classes just 6 months later.

During my time at GW I took accounting and marketing classes as well as attended a ton of seminars and talks on campus. All of this was on top of 60 hour work weeks and an active social life. In accounting I learned the language of numbers as well as how to put together a balance sheet, cash flow statement and profit and loss statement. In marketing I learned how to write a strategic marketing plan, and in the cases we reviewed I learned how a small business like mine would gain attention.

During this time I started my formal business plan for my own startup. I quickly realized that the ideal business for me was not making craft beer but making craft whiskey. I attended 5 distilling schools the following year each with a week long workshop focusing on different parts of the business. Yeast management, marketing, barrel aging and production planning. All of these were helpful in the specifics of my business but the core of my business plan was built on knowledge from my GWSB MBA classes. I also was able to review my business plan with the entrepreneurship office on campus before pitching my banks for funding. I pitched seven banks in three days and two of them extended offers of credit. All seven banks told me after the fact that it was the most thought out and complete business plan that the banker had seen in their careers.

I have since learned that banks as a rule do not lend to startups with under three years of financials, much less to 25 year olds who want to go make whiskey. But the depth of knowledge laid out in those 60 pages showed that I had done the homework and was ready to run this company. As I said earlier I learned how to speak the language of numbers and how to write strategic marketing plans through my classes at GWSB. Without them there would have been no loan and no company.

Black Button Distilling

Now sadly I will never finish my MBA at George Washington University School of Business. I moved to NY a few weeks ago to run Black Button Distilling. The laws up here are much friendlier towards grain to glass farm distillers. But I will always look at my time at GW with a certain amount of reverence. Because without GW MBA there would be no Black Button Distilling.

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Written by Kristin Schulz, class 2014 part-time MBA student at GWSB; Residential Programs Manager at Clean Currents. Passionate advocate and evangelist for renewable energy and business sustainability.

One of the great things about the part-time MBA program at GW is the flexible course offerings that make it possible to sit classes into an already packed full-time work schedule. Luckily, study abroad courses were not left out of the equation either.

GWSB offers 10-day programs that allow professionals to get the hands-on experience and international exposure of studying abroad. I have just completed my last assignment for the program I participated in this January – International Entrepreneurship and Business Growth Strategies in Developing Countries. I spent a grand total of 14 days in Ghana, West Africa combining some travel of my own with the structured course in Accra, the country’s capital city.

The program helped me gain incredible insight into what it takes to establish and run a business in an emerging market. I am especially glad that I chose to participate earlier on in my MBA schedule. This experience has inspired and motivated me to work hard to gain all the valuable business skills I will need in order to pursue a future career in emerging markets. My area of interest is the private renewable energy sector so I know that nothing would have replaced the learning opportunity of seeing Ghana’s energy infrastructure first hand.

Ghana is one of the most developed and stable countries in Africa where the majority of the population enjoys access to all the modern conveniences one would expect, including electricity. Although Ghana has abundant power sources (their hydroelectric facility generates the majority of the electricity supplied not only in Ghana, but throughout West Africa) the national electricity grid continues to experience inefficiencies. I learned that this has both positive and negative implications for their residential solar industry.

  1. On the down side: There is no motivation to be energy efficient due to the lack of any meter-reading system. A flat monthly energy charge is determined for each building when it’s first inspected. This amount will not change from month to month despite acquisition of new appliances over time unless the utility is notified. Since there is no enforcement of penalties for not advising the utility, it’s no surprise that no one reports installing more lights, charging new cell phones, purchasing a refrigerator etc. The power outages make sense since the country is demanding more power than the utility even realizes!
  2. On the up side: Frequent outages have motivated residents to explore off-grid solar options for their homes. Currently there are over a dozen successful Ghanaian solar companies dedicated to residential solar installation. The initial upfront cost, while reasonable by US standards, is still a major barrier because the average rate for a one-year loan in Ghana comes with 48% interest! But that’s a whole other story…
Solar Energy in Ghana

Given the country’s annual sun exposure, large-scale solar was a logical consideration in the initial plans to expand the country’s energy generation. But when oil was discovered off the coast in 2007 a national solar project took the back-seat in lieu of establishing off-shore oil refineries. Solar is still in Ghana’s future and it looks like that may be sooner than later due to a partnership with Blue Energy of the UK to build The Nzema Project (http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/solar-farm-ghana-be-africas-biggest.html) which could generate enough power for 100,000 homes annually!

Ghana is not only ideally situated for solar, but also for offshore wind. It is exciting to see a developing country like Ghana willing to explore their diverse energy resources and open to embracing new clean energy technology. It will be interesting to see what resources are prioritized in the expansion of their energy portfolio.

Aside from the knowledge I gained during this short program, I was also able to take some time to experience the friendly people, vibrant culture, spicy food, and gorgeous geography of the country. Some of my unique adventures included learning the bobobo dance, trying fufu and goat stew, getting around via tro-tro, attempting to balance a water bowl on my head and mastering the handshake snap.

I simply can’t say enough about how much this experience meant to me both professionally and personally. I strongly encourage everyone to participate in a short-term study abroad experience while pursuing a MBA!

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About a month ago I received an email from a friend I met at Audencia School of Management on my study abroad trip to France. She asked me if I had any contacts of venture capitalists who she could approach for funding the business she was helping her friends to start in Algeria. I had to admit that I had neither contacts nor much knowledge about venture capital. Even though there was some sort of an elective offered at GWSB that tackled on the new ventures and their funding, I did not take that course. One thing I picked up from talking to some students and reading business publications was that generally venture capital is extremely difficult to secure and you should have a really brilliant idea to sell in order to get a shot at venture capitalists.

So I promised her to contact some of my classmates from MBA programs at GWSB who I thought could have at least some exposure to or experience with the venture capital due to their jobs or because I knew they were trying to start their own businesses. I received back three responses from about ten emails I sent out. It was interesting to read those emails.

One was very short: “I’m afraid I’m not the right person to ask. I can’t even get VC funding in DC”. Another guy said that he was actually working at VC firm and they were raising capital for several projects in the Middle East. He requested additional information and gave links to his company’s website.

And one of the classmates, Ben Lee, a principal at BRL Consulting Group and a blogger at Sustainable Employees, gave a bit more extended general advice which I am going to include here with his permission. I actually featured a post from Ben recently in my blog too. Even though his suggestions are somewhat general, I found them quite interesting and helpful as the very first introduction to venture capital. So here is Ben’s advice:

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Regarding VC contact info, that is a great question.  Here would be my plan of action.

 1.  Write a fantastic feasibility/business plan.  Play extra close attention to the section on who is managing the business and their credentials.
2.  I would try to make your project/business work without needing a VC.  VCs fund an incredibly small number of projects that are presented to them and fund less then 1% of new businesses started each year.  If they have already exhausted the three Fs (family, friends, and fools), they might have better luck talking with a bank if they are from the US or live here now.  Banks in Europe sometimes can be a little tight with their money regarding entrepreneurs.  If they haven’t already, they should start building a strong relationship with their banker.
 3.  Check out www.kickstarter.com.  Pretty cool place to get funding for certain types of projects.
4.  Enter business case competitions and volunteer at business case competitions,  for two reasons.  Number one, if you enter the competition, you could win some money and/or resources for the business.  The second reason is to network with some VCs.
5.  Its all about networking.  Which it seems they are doing a good job with.  But they need to not just let people know about the project they need to let people know that they need funding, why someone should fund this project, and the viability of the project (30-45 second sales pitch).
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So I forwarded all these responses to my friend in Nantes and hopefully the readers of this blog find them useful as well.

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Two dice

Tuesday class in Entrepreneurship was a blast. Professor has been teaching it since mid-seventies, so he can afford to be unorthodox. There were quite a few ideas he introduced in the class that would probably not fly if he was a younger member of the faculty. But this is a charm of having a seasoned educator, as long as he keeps his interest in teaching students, even if in his own non-conformist way.

Since professor’s undergraduate and masters degrees were in psychology, significant part of his lecture was around that subject. He introduced three major drivers of business people (humans in general?):

  • Need for achievement
  • Need for power (to influence other people)
  • Need for affiliation (to be around people)

On these three basic needs he made distinctions between the executives and entrepreneurs. Obviously the entrepreneurs are big on the need for achievement, whereas executives are more interested in the remaining two. He also made a remark that university faculty are big on need for power, according to some research :)

Another topic he was talking about was the traits of the entrepreneurs.You can self-evaluate how you stack up on these, if you are interested in entrepreneurship.  Here they are from my class notes:

  • Commitment, determination, perseverance
  • Persistent problem solving
  • Seeking feedback
  • Risk-taking (moderate risk in their own eyes, but sometimes exorbitant in the eyes of the people around)
  • Tolerance for failure
  • High energy level
  • Autonomy (being their own boss)
  • Optimism

He also talked about the Locus of Control, i.e. what a person believes  is the cause of outcomes in his life, and therefore whether s/he is driven by external or internal motivation. Apparently this is also an important distinction of entrepreneurs, who are internally driven and believe that everything depends on them and they can influence the world around them. He gave us test on Locus of Control based on the original Rotter’s Scale. I ended up just on the border of the internal and external locuses. So it probably means I still have a chance to become my own boss after the MBA :)

I was not able to find exact same questionnaire on the internet, but there are quite a few of other derivatives available. If interested, just google Locus of Control test and you will find a bunch.

Speaking of the word google used as a verb. Professor told us that he is probably the only one in academia who uses the word entrepreneur as a verb. For which he is being frowned upon by some of his colleagues :) He demonstrated usage of the word by  “You can entrepreneur everything” example.

That’s it for the first class in Entrepreneurship. If I say another  word from the lecture, GWSB will ask me for their cut of tuition fee which I would have to collect from you :)

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