Starting a business is an exciting journey and many INSEAD alumni have found the support, resources and network at INSEAD that gave their entrepreneurship start a boost. We spoke to three INSEAD alumnae - who are successful business owners in their respective fields - on why they decided to do an MBA at INSEAD, how the INSEAD MBA prepared them for a life and career in entrepreneurship, and what advice they have for aspiring women entrepreneurs.
Why an MBA at INSEAD?
Diverse professionals from all over the world join the INSEAD MBA - from career switchers to established entrepreneurs to corporate leaders. For Virginia Brumby Ferreira, now Founder & Director of Survival Chic in Singapore, INSEAD represented a journey of discovery.
"I came into the MBA with the idea of potentially setting up my own business or going into entrepreneurship, but I wasn't exactly sure what form that would take," she tells us.
For Tokini Peterside, Founder & CEO of ART X Collective in Lagos, Nigeria, the INSEAD MBA represented an opportunity to level up her management skills to further her career. "I decided to get an MBA even though I had been running my consultancy for a number of years because I wanted to learn more about finance and accounting, organisational development, strategy and operations - just wanting to have a holistic view of what it takes to do business."
"But more importantly," Tokini continues, "Why I chose INSEAD was that I just absolutely loved every member of the alumni community that I ever met."
I realised that this was a school that paid a lot of attention to the types of individuals and the diversity of perspectives that they bring into the classroom. And I wanted to be part of that.
How the INSEAD MBA prepares you for life as an entrepreneur
"My time at INSEAD was such a whirlwind," Tokini describes. From negotiation to communication to organisational development, the variety of courses at INSEAD offered all-rounded knowledge for any leader or any entrepreneur. These are important know-hows that affect your business and staying on top of all of these different priorities, was definitely a big takeaway."
Virginia feels that the INSEAD MBA mirrors life as an entrepreneur both in its intensity as well as in its curriculum: "I found that the entrepreneurship courses were quite practical," she says. "Of course, you have theory, but there are also a lot of case studies and practice cases. You have the First 100 Days when you actually simulate what it would be like to buy a company and run it - including midnight phone calls and irate employees - and so it's a very hands-on experience. I think it's meant to give you not only a taste of how to run your finances, but also psychologically, what it's like to suddenly be in charge of a company."
Besides its effective curriculum, INSEAD also serves as an invaluable network, which can come in handy for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business.
“There is a huge family of INSEAD alumni and it helps a lot because people are really willing to provide feedback and connect you with other people who might help,” says Victoria Petrova, Co-Founder of Corpedios and Head of Product at trember based in Berlin.
“It’s not only about education and information, but it’s also about people who support you."
"I actually met my co-founder at INSEAD," Victoria recalls. "It's a good place to find like-minded people."
The challenges you'll face as an entrepreneur
Any entrepreneur will face a number of challenges - from the stress of building a business from scratch to managing daily finances to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
The most successful entrepreneurs persevere with a consistent belief in themselves and their vision. "Definitely as an entrepreneur, you need more confidence in what you're doing even if sometimes you're making mistakes," Victoria says. "But you need to believe in what you're doing in the long-term strategically. And sometimes it's really hard because you're getting pushback from your clients, from your partners ... And you just need to believe in what you're doing, in yourself, and in your team."
Advice for aspiring (women) entrepreneurs: Just do it!
If you are an aspiring entrepreneur considering an MBA, Victoria would recommend the MBA route:
“You can just start your business and you can waste money on your first business then on the second one … but there is another path that you can take, which is to do an MBA where you can meet people who can be your support network.”
“My first piece of advice to women entrepreneurs looking to do an MBA is, for starters, do a lot of research not just into the core courses or the elective courses, but to think very much about whether that school offers additional resources that are supportive to the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Tokini advises. “As an entrepreneur, you need to think not just in terms of the programme’s curriculum but to look at other resources that the school offers.
These resources can help you develop holistically as an entrepreneur and show you what life outside the INSEAD environment could look like.
One good example is the INSEAD has the Entrepreneur-in-Residence programme.
As an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) herself, Virginia says, “I was in these men’s and women’s shoes 10 years ago and I needed a lot of advice, mentoring and guidance, and I was always given it with no strings attached. Basically, current students can sign up for time with me or any of the other entrepreneurs in residence. We give advice, mentorship, contacts, encouragement. It’s very fulfilling for us, and hopefully helpful for the participants too.”
“It’s always scary to launch your own business, but you know, nothing in life is easy,” Virginia concludes. “
You will be surprised at the amount of support you will receive from the INSEAD community and beyond; they were my first clients, my first advisors, my first partners. So, call on the resources. People are extremely willing to help. I think it’s a great time to set up a business."