Because you’re worth it….

Today’s Irish Times features an article about MBAs in Ireland.  The article quotes Smurfit MBA Director Orla Nugent on the increasing number of Smurfit executive MBAs who receive some form of sponsorship from their employer.

In the article, Smurfit FT MBA 2012 alumni Dave Byrne talks about how the year on the MBA offered him the ideal opportunity to get a business plan together and take the first tentative steps towards being an entrepreneur. “One of the key things about it is that it’s a risk-free environment. You’re very free to just take risks during the year, and if it doesn’t work out then it’s not the end of the world.”

Read more here..

– Rikke Budolfsen, MBA Programme Manager

Interview with Emmet O’Neill

What is the most important thing you have learnt in business?

The importance of surrounding yourself with good people.  At Smiles, we have built up a fantastic team who are qualified experts in their field, who work hard but who also are ambitious and enthusiastic about opportunities for the future. We have also built up a very experienced Board of Directors with a broad range of expertise from banking to software who bring a high level of strategic experience to the company.

What advice would you give to young students/graduates who want to start-up their own businesses?

I think one of the real benefits of setting up a business at a young age is that you have nothing to lose and can afford to take risks. I remember when I was in college, I was setting up a few businesses including a recycling company and coffee shops. Some things worked out and others didn’t but it was a great age to learn and start something up because you have the time to learn from your mistakes.

Do you think now is a good time to set up a business?

The good thing about the current environment is that the market reacts faster than before. You will probably find out very quickly if your business is a good idea and whether you can develop a customer base and a sustainable business. And that’s a good thing because you don’t waste time on businesses that don’t have a chance of succeeding.

In your opinion, what are the key skills that budding Entrepreneurs need?

I think someone starting up their own business needs to feel comfortable wearing a number of hats. You need to be a good sales person and be able to deal with the day to day pressures that come with running a business and employing others. You also need to be able to rally the troops from the outset. Have a strong drive and work ethic is crucial.

You are a UCD graduate – what role did college have on your career path to becoming an entrepreneur?

I enjoyed college and it gave me a good grounding in the different areas of business – from finance to HR to marketing. I also met new people from a range of different backgrounds and schools who became good friends. In fact, one of my best friends from college works with me at Smiles.

How can the Irish Government support more entrepreneurship in Ireland?

I think that the Government agencies are doing a good job on the big projects – the large multinationals – in terms of bringing them to Ireland. And that makes sense as larger companies will potentially create more jobs. However, I think Government also has to keep its focus on facilitating and supporting indigenous entrepreneurs and SME’s who also employ a lot of people.

What’s next for you?

The plan is to continue to develop the business in Ireland and to expand overseas. We are currently opening new Smiles Dental clinics in Scotland at present. I am also involved in a couple of other interesting projects so we’ll see where they take me.

– Conor O’Donovan, EMBA 2011/13

Diary of an MBA – March 2012

I am writing this blog during our mid-term break and can hardly believe that there are only 5 weeks of term to go and I will have finished the 1st year of the Executive MBA (fingers crossed for the exams of course!). It only seems like yesterday when I was applying for the Irish Times/ Smurfit Business School Scholarship and dreaming of having the opportunity to do the MBA at Smurfit Business School.

The past term and a half have flown by, although they seem to have gone faster for my family and friends than me for some reason. I am amazed at when they all say “sure that flew by….. where did the time go?’ 24 weeks of lectures, eight hours a week, countless team meetings, presentations, assignments and so on….but you know what? I have absolutely loved it all. It has been tough and in some ways, inspiring too.  Balancing work, study and your personal life is not an easy juggling act but you do find you get into a bit of a rhythm.

One of the reasons I decided to the MBA was to broaden my thinking and to build a skill set that would enable me to progress to the next level. And I am finding that the academic course work really does broaden your thinking and give you more confidence in dealing with people in functional areas that you may not deal with on a day to day basis. However, I have also found that I have learnt the most from the group dynamics. Another reason that I did the MBA was to learn from others and I had heard that the MBA Alumni of UCD Smurfit Business School is second to none. I have always had an interest in reading about entrepreneurs and business people to see what makes them tick and to pick up some wisdom along the way.

I recently met up with Emmet O’Neill, who is a UCD graduate and co-founded Smiles Dental in 2005 after spotting a gap for tooth whitening in the Irish market. Since then, the company has expanded into offering full dental services and has 16 Smiles dental clinics nationwide. I asked him a few questions about his journey to business success, any advice he could share with aspiring entrepreneurs and his outlook for the future. (TBC)

– Conor O’Donovan,  EMBA 2011/13

The last stretch

After been released to the wild for 8 weeks it was back to the comfort zone of C301. Getting back into case studies, assignments and group meetings initially seemed daunting but the quality of the courses on offer made it enjoyable. A highlight was the opportunity in the Entrepreneurship in Practice course to visit companies, incubation centres and support networks.

The course allowed for an opportunity to speak to start up businesses and get a practical opportunity to understand whether are learnings are truly applicable; outside of understanding how to read a case study.  It was inspirational to see so many budding entrepreneurs starting up their own enterprises even when all the news around us talks of Ireland as an economic basket case. In many respects this is the kind of course you want when starting the MBA to offer inspiration of what Ireland has to offer in terms of support from Nova UCD to the Guinness Enterprise Centre and what the latest research is been made available. As already noted this sort of opportunity offers a positive outlook amidst all the doom and gloom.

And there it ends, at this stage I am writing this blog from the couch while watching the tennis, there lies the bonus of been finished. It truly was a great year with a great class.

– Colm O’Reilly

In pursuit of the ‘Big Idea’!

What is the best process to produce the Big Idea? Is it more art than science?  Can the application of tools and models bring forth from the chaos, the simple compelling idea? And is this process best enabled by the lone wolf or pack of wolves?

In architecture it’s said that great buildings which capture the zeitgeist of the times come from 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. This  same  principle could also be applied to creating  sustainable business platforms.

In the realisation of architecture, 99% of the time spent on the blood, sweat and tears is involved in influencing others. From convincing a client to be brave, the authorities to be visionary, inspiring collaboration between the right expertises, to develop a solution that is within budget and then be the guardian of its integrity, as it’s executed on site by builders. The real test for architecture is how it’s occupied, used and perceived and it’s legacy for society, if any.  Yet, it’s a slow and ultimately noble process that can create vestibules of permanence that celebrate the passing of time.

So why  would I venture outside my profession as an architect to pursue an MBA? Several reasons, but the main one is, although it is a beautiful profession, staying in business and been able to practice architecture is a huge challenge, especially when the opportunities for architects are diminishing in this ‘new world ‘we find ourselves.

Twelve years ago when I began my journey into architecture, I would never have conceived a need to do an MBA. I probably had no idea what it was or its relevance to my end goal. Architecture was going to provide me with every opportunity that I desired. But in 2007, following two years working in an award winning practice, the reality of the business environment in which architecture was conceived made me re-evaluate my strategy of my goals. I made the decision at that point to take a position with a commercially orientated office , as it had the ability to make money as opposed to the majority of vocational practices. As the alarm bells of the recession began to toll, I realised then that I would need to expose myself to as many experiences as possible, as specialisation in boutique extensions and family houses was not sustainable. Three years later in 2010 the company eventually went into liquidation following a very painful process of redundancies and cost cutting measures.

While experiencing this implosion, I began to realise the relevance of an MBA and the attractiveness of learning the skills to create a business model around a profession which has  a creative output at its core. Continue reading In pursuit of the ‘Big Idea’!

The Company Project

We full-timers now find ourselves mostly finished with classes, but still very busy. The company project is what we do in lieu of a thesis and is a lot more practical. Instead of simply researching a theory we get to go out into the real world (scary after six months of school!) and solve a real company problem. We are, essentially, cheap consultants.

The company project is a great opportunity to push ones boundaries and try something new. Coming from an electronic engineering background, I wanted to challenge myself in an area with which I was unfamiliar, and signed up for a project involving strategy for Ogilvy Ireland. My partner on this project, Gemma Ginty, found it through the CEO of the Ogilvy Group, JP Donnelly. JP is also a Smurfit MBA alumnus and a board member of the Smurfit School.

The first and most important thing that needs to be done when helping a customer to solve a problem is understanding that problem. In order to really understand a business problem, one first has to understand the business itself. To that end, we spent the first week of this project reading a lot of background material on the advertising business and the challenges it now faces due to social and technological changes. This immersion in the business not only gave us a deeper understanding of the industry, but also added to our credibility when speaking to people involved with that industry. Continue reading The Company Project

A Small Win

From time to time we ask ourselves whether this MBA program was of any use for us. Do we understand different aspects of business better? Did we gain any knowledge that would be practically applicable? And of course if our investments of money, time and efforts were worth it…

Those are not easy questions. Probably we’ll be able to answer them only after couple of years.

However last week an interesting happened to me. My brother told me that he was planning to write a business plan. He had an idea and there were potential investors for realizing it. So he asked if I have any tips for writing a business plan. First of all, I should say that I was proud that my extremely intelligent ‘Big Brother’ was asking my advice. That is the influence of an MBA status I suppose )))

And I surprised myself how eager and excited I was about that topic. First of all I told him everything I knew about business plan writing from our Strategy class (see related links below) . Those were quite practical tips on structure and style of a business plan, do’s and don’ts, etc. Besides, I recalled that one of guest speakers of MBA Entrepreneurship Club gave a good advice that “presenting to investors you are selling the idea, not numbers or anything else”. So the key is to really believe in your idea, be confident and inspired – and inspire others.  I also suggested different options on promotion and distribution channels referring to the discussions we had in Sales Relations class.

So we talked for an hour and developed a draft plan of what to do. During next two days we were exchanging ideas. And after that my brother sent me the draft of his presentation to investors. It was really catchy and interesting, plus creative and original. I cannot imagine what would happen if my brother took a full MBA course, if he got the point so easily just after listening to my summarized tips!

Leaders should celebrate small wins in order to motivate their team (this is again from one of our courses, Leadership).  I am celebrating my own small win these days. I had a chance to see that my learning from MBA can work in practice.

– Nargiza Kalmamatova

Useful links:

How to write a great business plan, W. Sahlman (article ; full paper)

Are you sure you have a strategy?, Hambrick and Fredrickson

How to present to investors

The art of telling your story

Honing your investor presentation

The need for ideas

Inspiration is just what you need in February, a month that I equate with Tuesday.

To try to kick us into gear, the MBA Entrepreneurship Club brought two top class speakers to the college to discuss ‘How To Bring Your Business On-line’. The first speaker was Raomal Perera: Founder of two successful Irish-based tech firms that were acquired over the past eight years, he is about to embark on his third technology venture. The second speaker was Ciaran Crean: Managing Director and co-founder of micksgarage – an eTailer with 1 million car parts & accessories for sale.

Raomal enlightened us on how he had become a serial entrepreneur and how starting on the path to entrepreneurship can lead to all sorts of unplanned adventures. Ciaran spoke on how micksgarage was founded and how they had successfully brought it to where it is. The interesting part was how they had done it with little or no financial support demonstrating how the idea is critical. There was a keen debate afterwards as we questioned them on there key to successes. Its through these sort of engagements that we can see how the real world operates outside of the cosy walls of Smurfit and the Avoca Bar, home to many an idea.

– Colm O’Reilly

MBA Entrepreneurship Club

The Entrepreneur’s Club finally got the opportunity to hold the ‘How To Finance Your Business’ session at the end of January. Free from the travails of the snow and fresh after a well deserved month off everybody was keen for new events. 4 great speakers convened to give their views on raising finance from different perspectives. Ned Gladney, Managing Director, GSW Tax and Business Advisors (a specialist firm for small & medium sized enterprises), Michael Hayden (Business Advisor Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Enterprise Board), Giuseppe Insalaco – An Entrepreneur (Smurfit School MBA Graduate) & founder of Squargo Ltd, and Dermot Berkery, Partner-Delta Partners Ltd -one of Irelands leading Venture Capital Firms (VC).

Discussion ranged from enterprise structure, to grant and seed money from local authorities to the holy grail of venture capital funding. Dermot explained how VC’s source and invest their funds and the expected win & loss rates for their investments. Giuseppe brought the entrepreneurial flavour in explaining the Do’s and Don’ts from his own journey in trying to source financing for start-ups.

The good news is all the participants reiterated that although times are tough, there is money available for start-ups. However, the cautionary warning was it largely depends on the industry. Let’s see who next from the class will be on the stage in years to come explaining their successes and woes in starting up a business.

– Colm O’Reilly

The Smurfit MBA Entrepreneurship Club – From Conception to Fruition

“It’s all about the knowledge economy, the tech industry, -no the food industry, – sorry I disagree, it will be the pharma industry”.  These are the statements we hear as we look for a glimmer of hope in the current economic climate. Who are the Entrepreneurs who will offer the spark for the future? This is the $64 million question (or should that be €85 billion). At the Smurfit School the MBA Class has started the Entrepreneurship Club to allow students both to bring ideas to the table or just for the interested spectator to hear where their future might lie.

At the inaugural meeting of the 2010/2011 Entrepreneurship Club, a number of enthusiastic students from both the Full-time and Executive MBA classes came together to design an outline for the year. There was common consensus to try and move it away from a lecture style modus operandi to more practical implementation (the mere mention of lecture had some quaking as they feared the 75 books they would need to prepare in a week for the next lecture).

A common theme was developed for the year based on the process of bringing a company to success or as the brand has become known ‘ Conception To Fruition’. Nights of trading ideas and more recently lunch time (hunger seems to bring a keenness to people’s mind), visits to UCD Nova to see the latest offerings for the future, and exchanges with recent Entrepreneurs has shown the potential that exists. Unfortunately the weather got the better of us (what a surprise in Ireland) so the Entrepreneurship  Club has had to postpone its recent big event ‘How To Finance Your Business’ (and no, this was not because we needed clearance by the IMF).   We will be following up this blog with regular slots keeping everyone posted on the progress of the Club.

Colm O’Reilly