The residual impact of the pandemic on entrepreneurial choices

The American business owner has a rich history immersed in the dream of financial and professional independence. The act of hanging shingles symbolized a critical decision for first-time entrepreneurs.

The road to entrepreneurship continues to be paved with the advanced achievements of those early-career professionals who can adorn their LinkedIn profiles with three important letters — MBA.

Illuminate Ventures examined the direction MBA students took in finding a professional and magnetic attraction to design a career around a unique idea. Over 80% of 500 business school students from more than 20 major institutions see entrepreneurship as a likely next step after graduation. Managing partner Cindy Padnos of Illuminate Ventures was struck as a professional who integrates MBA students as interns. “I was delighted that so many people were interested [in entrepreneurship].”

The Graduate Management Admission Council’s assessments prior to the Covid-19 pandemic were far less optimistic about the potential correlation between MBA graduates and entrepreneurial endeavors. Just five short years ago, roughly 25% of MBAs expected to take the road less traveled.

Between these discoveries was a pandemic that may have supported independent career approaches.

Policy informs practice

Until the global shutdown began, University of Michigan (U of M) student Jeremy Leung was a student at the Ross School of Business. He had just accepted an internship with American Airlines, and then the bottom fell out. With no internship to go to, Leung returned to his home in Australia.

Like many students pursuing advanced degrees, Leung’s resume was substantial. His work as political assistant to Australia’s foreign minister gave Leung a broadened worldview of possibilities. “Even before I got my MBA, I benefited from incredible travel and learning experiences working with world leaders.” Later lessons at M University provided me with a deeper context of incredible opportunities to participate in and witness politics and diplomacy in action. I began to see the world from a different and acceptable perspective,” says Leung.

Leung represents the growing number of international students who have become entrepreneurs who have a sense for connecting the strategic dots between business and international relations.

After the government’s ministerial efforts, Leung came to New York as director of business, innovation and policy at the American-Australian Association. The largest privately funded not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting the US and Australia. Through economic and educational networking efforts, the 70-year-old organization has awarded more than $14 million to more than 900 scholars since 2002.

A brief stint in Mexico as an MBA business consultant for Uber added to Leung’s growing list of experiences that ultimately influenced his future decisions to enter the startup space.

International startup players

Leung’s approach to business startups and ownership was diverted or born from the remnants of the global pandemic. Recent data suggests the U.S. economy continues to be buoyed by entrepreneurs with origins outside the contiguous 48. “Immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to start a business than native-born Americans, according to a study that takes an in-depth look at registered businesses across the country,” reports Peter Dizikes of the Office of the MIT newspaper. 80% more, as reported in Yasmin Amer’s article on the findings for WBUR.

Co-authored by Pierre Azoulay, an economist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the study suggests that immigrants have a strong impact on job creation through their efforts.

“Immigrants found more companies in each bin,” says Azoulay. “They’re creating more small businesses and they’re creating more medium-sized businesses; they create more large companies. It’s not like that [immigrants] create only growth-oriented startups. It is not the case that they are just creating jobs to survive. They create all kinds of jobs, and they create a lot of them.”

According to the American Immigration Council’s special report, The New American Fortune 500 for 2022, “immigrant entrepreneurs have long been an important part of America’s economic success story. Some of the largest and most recognizable American companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. These include household names like Apple and Costco, as well as Fortune 500 newcomers like Jackson Financial and Caesar’s Entertainment.”

Leung hopes to add his name to the list of success stories dotting the entrepreneurial landscape. “As I took more and more lessons, I began to see the possibilities that would allow for my own innovation,” says Leung. Global opportunities quickly turned into a new way of thinking for Leung. His work with an Australian shipping company changed his view of the global market. Leung’s time at Australian dropshipping company Cettire, combined with his acquired international knowledge, fueled his entrepreneurial spirit. “I found that the combination of my experiences gave me the inner confidence to start my own company using a global mindset.”

The current COO and co-founder of California-based growing e-commerce and logistics company Ascend Ecom reflects on his diverse past. “I realized that my interest was not really in finding a classic or expected business job after I got my MBA. Honestly, I saw an opportunity to make the most of a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The pandemic forced the need for logistics to support global economies and I was ready to embrace the startup, e-commerce culture,” shares Leung.

According to Inc. magazine, 85% of MBA students consider entrepreneurship after graduation. “In fact, nearly 1 in 5 Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA 2020 graduates have started their own ventures. More than 1 in 10 Harvard Business School MBAs did the same,” adds

The sheer number of early-career professionals tailoring an MBA to the world of entrepreneurship continues to reveal the international impact on the global economy. The MBAs Association’s annual award for MBA Entrepreneur of the Year went to Ximena Aleman, an entrepreneur from Uruguay, continuing the trend of international winners.

In the CEOWorld magazine’s ranking of the most entrepreneurial countries, the USA is in the top position of independent economic development. Leung and others from the bottom led Australia to eleventh position. “I learned so much in Michigan and, most importantly, the incredible opportunity to integrate my international experiences in the US that I had to start my company here,” exclaims Leung.

The unplanned acceleration of the global pandemic seems to have sharpened the professional focus of Leung and countless MBA graduates who are applying life experiences to professional success stories.

The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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