Student: Kory Vargas Caro, MBA 15
Interning with: MBAs Across America, a startup organization that's sending teams of business students on six-week summer road trips to both help and learn from small entrepreneurs.
This is the inaugural year of the program, which was started by four Harvard MBAs who gave the idea a test drive last summer.
Before the trip, Vargas Caro and his teammates identified, screened, and selected six entrepreneurs with specific business challenges. They're now traversing the country, from Montana to Colorado to Detroit to North Carolina, spending one week on each project before hitting the road to their next gig.
Their projects have included a comprehensive cost and break-even analysis for a winery, and a go-to-market plan for a line of custom guide-dog harnesses, and a shipping and distribution strategy for a subscription box service—focusing on hand-crafted products from Nashville—that is expanding to five new states.
MBAxA because: "People forget that small businesses are the largest engine of growth in America, and the largest providers of jobs. These are people who are having a positive impact in their communities, yet they are often overlooked."
"Our team particularly wanted to focus on women and minorities. I was a small business owner (political fundraising and organizing), so this is an opportunity to combine the tools that Haas has given me with real-life experiences to help people who are just like me."
Excited about: "Getting the chance to meet impressive small business owners in areas I've never visited. The people we've worked with are leading the way on how entrepreneurship should be done. In Bozeman, Montana, we worked with the owner of a café and pizzeria who was pushing the envelope on farm-to-table dining in her community. We worked with a winery owner in rural Oregon who was building a $1.2 million tasting room that would transform the Valley into a destination for wine tasting, helping out local wineries in the area."
Highlight so far: "The strength of the team. We'd never met or worked together before. Now we're spending 24-7 together on the road. We've gotten closer. The work has gotten stronger. We understand each other's strengths. In Detroit we met the other teams on the road. It was a great learning moment for me, when we got to share our experiences with one another. I'm very thankful for being exposed to this movement and making these friends and building this amazing network."
Haas skills applied: "Team Haas/Ross is the only mixed-school team, and that has turned out to be a big advantage. It's also helped me see what we do well at Haas. We put a lot of emphasis on teams, and we really do lead the way in design thinking.
I've put this into practice every day. The first day, we just ask questions and we take notes. Questions like: can you help me understand why this is important to you? We keep asking questions, and we look at the assumptions underneath. Is it true that you have a bottleneck here? Is it true that the technology you have isn't working for you? Instead of people telling us what they want us to fix, we start by making sure it's the right problem."
Big takeaway: "I came into this knowing nothing about wine, nothing about restaurants, nothing about dog collars. I still know just a bit about them—but now I know the questions you need to ask. Once you get to the problems and get through to the answers, the rest is mechanical. With a few more experiences in other industries, I could do absolutely anything."
Advancing career goals by: "I came into Haas wanting to explore the world of entrepreneurship. Having been a small business owner, I knew I would eventually start another business. This trip has helped solidify my belief that I'll end up in the start-up world. This is where I'm most happy. I'm recommitted to the path I started on."
Read about the team's week at Brooks Winery in Oregon's Statesman Journal, and in the Denver Business Journal.