My Unexpected Journey into the LBLE Course as a Startup Entrepreneur and MBA
I am living the dream: My dream as an MBA student entrepreneur in a living business.
It’s a dream that began in 2019 when I first heard about the Living Business Leadership Experience course at the Ross School of Business from Full-Time MBA Admissions Director Diana Economy in an admissions webinar. The LBLE course offers students the opportunity to work in an operational team supporting early-stage organizations while receiving mentorship from faculty members.
From serving in Afghanistan to Michigan Ross MBA
Hearing about the LBLE course, I thought and said in my head, “Wow! This is an awesome class, now If I could only get into the prestigious business school where it’s located.” I chuckled to myself in major disbelief that someone like me — a first-generation college student from the Caribbean Islands — could ever get this opportunity to attend Michigan Ross and learn under the instruction of Professor Mike Barger, the co-founder of JetBlue. At that time, I was listening to the webinar while enduring the sweltering heat of Afghanistan during my final overseas tour with the U.S. Army. I began to wrestle with the deep inward fire in my heart for adventure and a rebirth of my career. I decided then to apply to the dual-degree program with the University of Michigan’s School of Information and the Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA Program, and moved one step closer to taking the LBLE course when I received my acceptance offer.
My unexpected path to LBLE
How I happened to participate in LBLE was a path I did not expect. It came at the cost of me challenging myself to participate in a competition organized by the Business + Tech initiative at Michigan Ross in the Fall 2021 term. The +Tech Innovation Jam was five weeks of intense brain power to create an innovative digital product that would help revive connection in the post-pandemic world. For the competition, I had the pleasure of working with a very diverse student team — a mix of Ross MBAs and graduate students from the School of Information — who represent some of the most talented minds on campus. Our team’s foundation was built on empathy and mutual respect, which led us to earning second place in the competition out of over 40 teams. We ended up developing a prototype of an AI-driven application made to ease the process of purchasing gifts, which we called Cele. The business concept we created for Cele was very robust and led to many accolades, including recognition as a top finalist in the Michigan Business Challenge, and we were awarded the Tech Innovation Grant from the School of Information. Most importantly, the stars aligned with all this success, and within a matter of months, we were accepted into the LBLE course as one of the early-stage businesses students in the course would work on during the winter term. It was not only a distinct honor, but for my humble soul, it was a dream come true.
Growing our early-stage business in the LBLE course
Action-based learning fits my style best, and its focus at Michigan Ross is another main reason I chose Ross for my MBA. The LBLE course is an unparalleled action-based learning experience. The LBLE student team assigned to Cele was split into business (marketing and customer discovery) and technical (user experience design and front-end development) workstreams. I served as the product manager at the intersection of both workstreams. I managed usability tests, recruited additional technical staff, and served as a team lead in the first half of the course. I learned a great number of skills and lessons along the way, which helped me to be a more efficient team player with intentional empathy and the ability to take initiative where gaps existed. The mentorship I received from Professor Mike Barger and Phillip Brabbs, managing director of Business+Tech, provided timely feedback that shaped the project direction to exponential heights. There were also bi-weekly reflective practice sessions that sparked team dialogue to celebrate successes and evaluate challenges. As a result of LBLE, Cele has progressed to building a minimum viable product, developing the go-to market strategy, and will be a sponsoring company in the 2022-23 school year as a project option for students in the LBLE course.
Through my experience in LBLE, the +Tech Innovation Jam, and Michigan Business Challenge, I have really found that Michigan Ross is equipped with immense opportunities fitting the mold for aspiring entrepreneurs to gain the resources to launch any business.