Meet The Founders Of The MBA Fund Investing In Companies From Harvard, Stanford And Wharton

While the question of the value of earning an MBA degree has been a hot topic for years, recently there has been a new wave of skepticism regarding the skills of the MBA grads: their ability to successfully start and run a company. 

The loudest (and arguably most salient) critic is Elon Musk, the second richest person in the world at the moment, who in a recent WSJ interview denounced the MBA-ization of America and blamed MBAs for spending too much time on board meetings and not enough on innovation.

Four recent MBAs however, bet on the opposite. 

Two years ago Hiro Tien and Hansae Catlett (both from Stanford), Josh Hoffman-Senn (Harvard), and Sieva Kozinsky (Wharton) launched The MBA Fund, which invests in companies coming out of the three business schools where the Fund’s partners got their business degrees from. 

“The thesis from day one is that the top MBA founders are providing outsized returns but are overlooked by a lot of top names,” Tien, one of the partners, states.  “Elon Musk has publicly shamed MBAs for not being good, but we found that year over year the numbers are telling a different story.”

Backers of the MBA Fund include Evan Moore, a Co-founder of DoorDash and partner at Khosla Ventures and Pete Flint, cofounder of Trulia and Managing Partner at NFX.

The MBA Fund has invested $2.2 million in over 60 companies so far.

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Once a year, the fund organizes a pitch competition at Stanford, Harvard and Wharton, where the judges pick winners that get awarded a certain amount of money to pursue their companies. The pitching competition money is separate from the fund, and comes from the judges at the competition (some companies win checks from both judges and The MBA Fund).

Winners of the competition from last year include Vise.ai, which earlier this month announced a $45 million Series B round led by Sequoia. 

Tien says that this year they received over 300 applications for the pitching contest, but they narrowed all the applications down to the finalists or about 12 from each school. Ultimately, about 15 split the $1.3 million among them this year. 

Tien says that they dug up past 10 years of data for business school founders at Stanford, Wharton and HBS and every single year they saw at least one major success story coming out of each of these schools. “If you think of companies like SoFi, DoorDash, Skybox,they all come from Stanford’s GSB in consecutive years,” Tien says. “At Wharton you think about Warby Parker, General Assembly, Harry’s, Het.com all started by business school grads, and at HBS you have Grab and Farmers Business Network, for example.”

According to Tien, with the seed bar raising and the Series A raising and the amounts getting bigger and bigger, there is a vacuum in that space where people are filling in the pre-seed void.

“When we came to business school we left our companies to search for new adventures, and we realized that a lot of our classmates look like the future DoorDash and future SoFi, but right now they had no idea how to go about fundraising or first go to market,” Tien says. “They are smart people, they will figure it out in six months or less, but they need the support, they need the mentorship and that’s the main problem we are solving for founders coming from these schools.”