For years, business schools have been working as a silent partner in hundreds, if not thousands, of new business ventures dreamt up by students. Without the assistance of professors, administrators, alumni, and fellow students, most of the concepts would never have made it past the idea phase. What follows are profiles of some of those businesses, the individuals behind them, and what the schools did to help.

Photographer: Adam Friedberg/Getty Images

For years, business schools have been working as a silent partner in hundreds, if not thousands, of new business ventures dreamt up by students. Without the assistance of professors, administrators, alumni, and fellow students, most of the concepts would never have made it past the idea phase. What follows are profiles of some of those businesses, the individuals behind them, and what the schools did to help.

Photographer: Adam Friedberg/Getty Images

Business School Entrepreneurs

B-Schools Give Startups a Start
B-Schools Give Startups a Start

For years, business schools have been working as a silent partner in hundreds, if not thousands, of new business ventures dreamt up by students. Without the assistance of professors, administrators, alumni, and fellow students, most of the concepts would never have made it past the idea phase. What follows are profiles of some of those businesses, the individuals behind them, and what the schools did to help.

Photographer: Adam Friedberg/Getty Images

Athletic Propulsion Labs
Athletic Propulsion Labs
Ryan Goldston
University of Southern California Marshall School of Business

Ryan Goldston, a USC Marshall grad, and his twin brother Adam grew up around sneakers. In the early ’90s, their father, an executive at the L.A. Gear shoe company, brought home a test pair of the L.A. Lights for the boys to try out. Originally, the sneakers lit up from the back with every step, but after the twins complained they couldn’t see the lights on their own shoes, the design was changed and the lights were moved to inside the side of the shoes’ soles. Although Goldston and his brother may not have been the chief designers of the ubiquitous light-ups, the experience triggered an interest in the development of athletic apparel.

The brothers were strong athletes, both playing varsity basketball in high school. Their one flaw was lack of height. Using their family history with sneakers as a starting point, they began to sketch out a plan for a basketball shoe that would increase their vertical leap.

At USC, Ryan’s first business course was an introduction to entrepreneurship. He entered the classroom with his idea and the desire to start a company while earning school credit and receiving guidance from a staff of successful entrepreneurs. One of those entrepreneurs was James Ellis, Marshall’s dean. “Ryan understood they needed something that differentiated their product from anybody else,” Ellis says. “More importantly, he focused on that something even through false starts with suppliers and designs. He was always willing to learn from his mistakes.”

The Goldston brothers knew they needed to focus on the front of the shoe—an area untouched by big brand sneakers already on the market. They worked with a product development engineer and created a shoe that, when tested on normal college students, gave an average of more than 3 inches of increased height instantly over competing brands. The technology was called the “Load N’ Launch” propulsion device, and it fit in the front of the sole.

Their company, Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL), was formed in March 2009, a few months before graduation. APL took a grassroots approach to marketing, working with sneaker-focused magazines and niche blogs that resonated with basketball enthusiasts. To maintain exclusivity, they kept the price point at $300 and sold the shoes only through the APL website.

At the one-year anniversary, APL lowered the price of the Concept 1 shoes to $195, and sales increased substantially. The shoes are now available in about 55 select Foot Locker, Modell’s, and Hibbett Sporting Goods stores. APL is currently working on creating a running shoe set to be released early next year that will help runners move faster. —Sommer Saadi, posted Dec. 14, 2011
Rebirth Financial
Rebirth Financial
Chonchol Gupta, Xavier Cabo
Tulane University Freeman School of Business

When Chonchol Gupta entered Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business in the fall of 2008, New Orleans was still struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Business leaders touted small businesses as an essential part of the recovery, but many were having trouble getting bank loans. “I realized one of the things holding New Orleans back and holding small businesses in the city back was not just a lack of international banks,” he says. “There was a lack of small business banking, period.”

Gupta discussed the problem one summer evening with his friend and fellow MBA Xavier Cabo, and by the end of the night they’d devised an idea for a peer-to-peer lending system focused on giving loans to small businesses rather than individuals. “That was our ‘aha’ moment,” Gupta says.

In late 2009, Gupta and Cabo began developing a business plan for the company, which they dubbed Rebirth Financial. They planned to set up an online platform where borrowers—small business owners—could put up a listing that described their business and ask for a loan they’d use to help their business grow. Individuals or institutional investors could then log onto the website, review the loan requests, and decide if they wanted to fund the small business.

Gupta and Cabo talked with professors at Freeman who helped them iron out the details of their business plan and gave them advice on how to launch the company. The professors also encouraged the budding entrepreneurs to enter business competitions. So that winter Gupta and Cabo entered the Federal Reserve’s Investor Idol competition. They came out as finalists, named one of the top four companies in the competition with the potential to change the U.S. financial system.

After graduation, while their classmates went on to work at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, Gupta and Cabo decided to make a go of their business. During the day, they worked in Gupta’s living room developing the platform for the website and networking with the small business community in New Orleans.

This past February, the website went live, and Gupta and Cabo started accepting applications from borrowers. The company makes money by charging a 3 percent servicing fee on every loan, which is deducted from the borrower’s interest rate. Borrowers also pay a $150 application fee and a 1.25 percent closing fee, and they must repay their loan on a monthly basis.

Now that the business is up and running, Gupta and Cabo have decided to expand their business beyond New Orleans and recently found partners who will be helping them run branches of their business in Tennessee and Ohio. —Alison Damast, posted Dec. 14, 2011
Jinanne Tabra
Carnegie Mellon University, Qatar

While growing up in Scotland, Jinanne Tabra struggled to learn Arabic. The textbooks used in her weekly lessons couldn’t keep her attention. So years later, when Tabra’s mother, a librarian at an elementary school in Qatar, complained over dinner one night about her students’ lack of interest in Arabic books, Tabra wasn’t surprised. She was inspired. “I realized if it was hard to get kids to read Arabic in an Arab country, kids overseas didn’t stand a chance,” Tabra says. “There needed to be a go-to website where people around the world could find out about and order all the best materials for learning Arabic.”

That night, Tabra bought the domain name “I chose the name Araboh because the ‘oh’ is a form of endearment in the Arab world,” Tabra says. “As a child, my friends often called me Jinannoh, a child named Ahmed might be nicknamed Ahmedoh. I wanted the name to reflect that family-like closeness and that sense of community.”

The entrepreneurship bug bit Tabra while she was a business administration student at Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus in Doha. She chose CMU because she wanted to stay close to her family. The university, which provides the same curriculum and many of the same professors as the main campus in Pittsburgh, offered full-time, English-language undergraduate degree programs in business and computer science. She used lessons from business classes and guidance from her professors to prepare for the live launch of the site in July 2008, a few months after she graduated.

In its current state, lists thousands of books, ranging from translations of popular American titles to original Arab stories, to textbooks and worksheets. Every book has been vetted and ranked by a member of the Araboh team on how entertaining, engaging, and practical it is in teaching Arabic. Visitors can also find step-by-step learning guides, advice on what materials to start with, and interactive activities to complement text lessons. is a distribution site not unlike Amazon, except the team is a lot more involved with the inventory. “We’re not just a middleman,” Tabra says. She and her team work with publishers to ensure the quality of the product. Inventory is kept in a warehouse in Qatar, but the headquarters is now in Boston. Deliveries have been made to more than 50 countries around the world. Although they sell to a lot of individuals interested in the language, more than three-quarters of revenue comes from institutions around the world looking to augment their libraries and classrooms with Arabic educational materials. —Sommer Saadi, posted Dec. 14, 2011

Tea and Honey Blends
Tea and Honey Blends
Tashni-Ann Dubroy
Rutgers Business School

Earning a doctorate in chemistry is not the typical first step to becoming an entrepreneur, but it worked well for Tashni-Ann Dubroy.

While studying organic chemistry at North Carolina State in the early 2000s, she met future business partner Tiffani Bailey Lash. The two chemists bonded over their frustration at the lack of natural, good-quality hair-care products tailored to women of color. Together they came up with the idea to develop their own line. Nearly a decade later, in December 2009, while Dubroy was still enrolled at Rutgers Business School, their idea became a reality with the launch of Tea and Honey Blends.

“This was the first time either one of us would go down this path of starting a business,” Dubroy says. “The mentors we had at Rutgers were instrumental, and everything I learned was something I could implement.”

The company is in Raleigh, N.C., and currently has 10 employees. —Sommer Saadi, posted Dec. 14, 2011
Stephane Doutriaux

When Stephane Doutriaux began the MBA program at IMD in 2007, he was looking forward to meeting his classmates, but dreaded keeping track of all their business cards. Just after starting school, he came up with the idea for Poken, a tool that makes exchanging contact information much easier and a lot more fun. "The Poken is like a fashion accessory," Doutriaux says. "It makes networking entertaining and that's a really big part of being successful at it."

The small device comes in two styles: the pokenSpark and the pokenPulse. When the four-fingered hand logos of two Pokens are held together momentarily, they exchange an encrypted code that contains a person's digital information. Doutriaux calls the action a "High Four." Then, when the Poken is plugged into the USB port of a computer, it connects to the profiles of all the people the device came in contact with. Poken owners sign up for the pokenHub, which is a website that organizes contacts in a time line. Profiles on the time line include links to social networks that users opt to incorporate.

The system allows people to apply names to faces easily and then keep up with the social happenings of new contacts without having to hunt for their individual profiles. Poken profiles can be linked to accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, among other sites. The device has been popular at corporate conferences and trade shows, where large numbers of Pokens are distributed. People at the events can bump the devices and instantly exchange information.

Doutriaux started working on his company in the middle of his MBA program, first applying for patents, then hiring contractors. In most classes he was able to work on the Poken business model as part of his assignments. The first round of capital that was raised for Poken—$600,000, Doutriaux estimates—included investments from IMD faculty members, as well as classmates.

The company was incorporated in December 2007. Doutriaux hired the first full-time employee in February 2008, just after graduation. Poken now has 29 employees, including those at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, some at an engineering office in Romania, and a small team in the U.S.--Sommer Saadi, posted May 13, 2011
Block Six
Block Six
Adam Grossman
New York University Stern School of Business

Since graduating with an MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business last May, Adam Grossman has been working to score interest in his new company, Block Six Analytics.

The idea for Block Six, a consulting firm focused on revenue growth in sports organizations, came while Grossman was a marketing intern with the Washington Capitals hockey franchise. As part of the internship, Grossman worked with the Caps's corporate sales group to identify how the team could generate revenue in new business areas, specifically through new sponsorship opportunities. He developed a plan that highlights the demographics and channels a corporate partner could reach with a sponsorship, as well as the potential return on investment.

Grossman left Washington with a list of 80 ideas the team could use. Impressed by his work, the chief marketing officer of the Capitals sent Grossman back to NYU with a challenge: Develop the framework for a website that would highlight the sponsorship opportunities. Grossman then began laying the foundation for Block Six Analytics.

The model shows how a piece of company inventory (a building, say) can make impressions on a targeted audience to produce revenue for a partner. For instance, a piece of inventory such as Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, has many opportunities to make money because the millions of eyeballs that watch games played there are valuable. The trick is to make "impressions" on those eyeballs. Opportunities include the naming rights to the whole venue or the rights to put a corporate logo on the JumboTron. Grossman's model breaks down the inventory's value for clients.

His big challenge now is to score the system's first official adopter. He has the support of the Capitals, but as a new company with a Web-based technology, Grossman has found it difficult to get Block Six's first official client. "Many sports organizations want to be the second or third user," he says. "Being the first mover in a technology space is always difficult for clients—but once a team sees the results, they'll know it's worth it."--Sommer Saadi, posted May 13, 2011
Block Six
Ben Saur
Babson College Olin Graduate School of Business

One of Ben Saur's best ideas came to him on an empty stomach in front of his near-empty refrigerator. Saur was hungry and clueless about what meals he could make, using the few odd ingredients at hand.

Saur began experimenting with a prototype for the website that would become He combined his ideas with inspiration from the '90s Food Network TV show Door Knock Dinners to hone the core concept behind the site. On the TV show, host Gordon Elliot, and sometimes a guest chef, would surprise families at their homes and cook up gourmet meals with the groceries they could find in the pantry. Saur took a variation of that idea online by making the guest chef a digital tool.

The first step on involves filling a digital pantry with whatever the user's actual pantry contains. Users customize their profiles by noting food allergies and dietary restrictions and then selecting settings for a preferred level of recipe difficulty, type of cuisine, and most-favored ingredient. The website then generates a list of potential meals, noting what percentage of ingredients users have to make the dish.

In the fall of 2009, Saur enrolled at Babson College's Olin Graduate School of Business. He had mentioned the RecipeKey project when he interviewed, recognizing that Babson's reputation as a top school for entrepreneurial studies could be helpful in case he wanted to continue working on the website. But Saur mainly wanted to bolster his business skills with an MBA.

By his second year at Babson, Saur had committed to making RecipeKey a success. He enrolled in a business-opportunity exploration class and followed that up with a business-plan implementation class.

Currently, Saur is working to improve by integrating the issuance of coupons to local grocers, as well as selling advertising on the site to highlight specials in geographic regions.--Sommer Saadi, posted May 13, 2011
Recipe Key
Forgetful Gentlemen
Forgetful Gentlemen
Brett Nicol and Nathan Tan
Darden School of Business, University of Virginia

At the beginning of each semester at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, professor Saras Sarasvathy tells her Starting New Ventures class the same thing: "The next seven weeks will be the first seven weeks of your life as an entrepreneur. It doesn't matter if that is the only seven weeks, but get started on something doable and worth doing." When Sarasvathy gave the familiar lecture in the spring of 2009, Brett Nicol and Nathan Tan were listening.

At the time, the two were in the midst of on-campus job interviews. After each interview it was common courtesy to send the interviewer a note thanking him or her for the interview opportunity. As they met with more and more potential employers, the list of required thank-you notes grew. "My first thought was, 'Mom would be so disappointed in me,'" Nicol says of having a stack of half-written notes on his desk at home. "My second thought was, 'There must be a better way.'"

Using Sarasvathy's lecture as a pep talk, Nicol and Tan started developing an idea for a high-end line of stationery tailor-made for men. They designed a set of cards, found a local printer, and ordered the first round of 50 sets. To ensure the stationery would be masculine enough, they drove to every cigar store in the area and bought the stores' leftover wooden cigar boxes to use as holders. They called their venture Forgetful Gentleman.

In spring 2009, the two applied to the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership/Batten Institute at Darden, and by that summer they were part of the 10-week incubator program. The incubator provided office space and equipment, and that summer Forgetful Gentleman officially formed as an LLC.

Today, a Forgetful Gentleman stationery set—ranging in price from $35 to $75—includes 12 letterpress-printed cards made of 100 percent cotton paper, 12 envelopes, and four prestamped envelopes, all encased in a hardwood box. Neiman Marcus began carrying the line last May, and the set was selected as a "Top Gift for Him" for the 2010 holiday season. Nicol and Tan are planning to expand the brand to include men's clothing, accessories, video tutorials, a gift-giving service, and an e-magazine. --Sommer Saadi, posted Jan. 31, 2011
Pablo Fuentes
Stanford Graduate School of Business

Pablo Fuentes' job is finding other people jobs.

After graduating from Stanford's Graduate School of Business in June, Fuentes and Joe Mellin—a Stanford design school alum—launched, a website that provides vetted and insured workers to employers looking for temporary hires.

Here's how it works: Interested workers fill out an application and get it verified using regional notary offices. After being approved, applicants then build a profile on the site that includes experience, references, tools they own, and, if the workers choose, pictures of themselves and of work they have completed. Once the profile is submitted, a WorkerExpress rep verifies the information, and the profile is then added to a database that prospective employers can access to find help.

When a contractor requests workers with certain skills for a specific date, duration, and location, WorkerExpress finds the most qualified by using a matching algorithm. The WorkerExpress member is then sent a text message with the job information asking if he is interested and available, and the contractor gets a list of options for the job, including access to those members' full profiles.

Once employers choose potential workers, WorkerExpress takes care of scheduling, and the workers keep 100 percent of what they earn. The employers are responsible for paying workers' comp and employment tax expenses, along with a fee. According to Fuentes, WorkerExpress has been doubling its revenue every few months since the launch.

Fuentes began thinking about the idea for such a company during a summer internship in the summer of 2009. As an intern, Fuentes was in charge of creating a system that uses text messaging as a way to communicate with customers. "Seeing so many cell phones used for so many reasons made me realize there could be a market for connecting people and jobs through cell phone technology," Fuentes says.

Currently WorkerExpress has three employees, plus the two founders, and more than 1,000 profiles in the system. The team is placing workers in jobs in California but has plans to expand into other states next year. "I'm a first-generation immigrant, and I love the idea of coming to work every day and getting people jobs," Fuentes says. "Especially now, as we're only starting to emerge out of a recession, this work is important." --Sommer Saadi, posted Jan. 31, 2011
Kate Reiling
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

Kate Ryan Reiling’s big idea came on a freezing Minnesota night in 2002. It was too cold to go out, so Reiling and her friends decided to play board games. They didn’t like the options at hand, though, so they invented their own game.

What they came up with was something similar to a 3D version of Pictionary. A member of a team picks a word and using an assortment of objects, such as string, glass beads, colored cubes, and wooden sticks, she builds the word for her teammates to guess before time runs out.

The next day Reiling raided her local craft supply store, buying objects she could use for the game. She brainstormed words that could be "built" and wrote them on the back of old business cards. After numerous trial runs, the game became Morphology.

Then she hit a wall. "I had the product, but I didn’t have the skill set yet to turn it into a company," she says. So in the fall of 2007, Reiling enrolled at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

In one course, called First-Year Project, Reiling learned about scheduling and organization and how to work with investors, suppliers, and distributors. She took full advantage of those lessons and by the end of the course had refined her game prototype and put together a convincing business proposal.

While at Tuck, Reiling was also able to consult with the founder of the popular game Cranium, who happens to be an alumnus. "Business school is less about sitting in class and the assignments, and more about being able to pick up a phone, call someone, and know they'll return your call in 24 hours because you're in the same community," she says.

Reiling earned her MBA in the spring of 2009 and officially launched her company shortly after. Since then, Morphology has been named one of the top picks of the New York Toy Fair and voted No. 2 in Time Magazine's "Top 10 Toys of 2010."

Currently, Reiling is working on extending the game to wider audiences: Morphology for kids, a travel version, as well as Morphology for the iPhone and iPad. --Sommer Saadi, posted Jan. 31, 2011

Sunil Rajaraman
UCLA Anderson School of Management

On the drive to visit his parents just before beginning at UCLA Anderson in 2006, Sunil Rajaraman was thinking about his friend Zak Freer. An aspiring screenwriter, Freer couldn't figure out how to get his work in front of Hollywood execs. The two of them thought about putting it online. Soon after, Ryan Buckley, an MIT MBA, joined the team, and the idea for was born.

The site is a marketplace for developing, buying, and selling screenplays. The software -- called Scripped Writer -- functions like a word processor that formats and catalogs each screenplay element according to industry standards. Once a script is uploaded, the online community can add suggestions and edits, and producers can purchase the content.

Coming up with the idea as Rajaraman entered UCLA was perfect timing. "Anderson literally provided me with everything I needed to start the business," he says. "From connections to investors, to making introductions, to the class lessons -- never once during my time at Anderson did I hear 'No, I can't help you.'" Two classes in particular were instrumental to Scripped's development: Venture Initiation and Rajaraman's core marketing class. In Venture Initiation, a case-based course, students examine companies and analyze why they failed or succeeded. In that class, Rajaraman began to understand how to raise funds and avoid failure. The marketing class taught him how to target potential customers. was launched in January 2008. Each founder contributed $10,000, and they raised another $50,000 from family and friends. In March, Scripped raised $250,000 from two private angel investors and merged with competing site Zhura. Currently, Scripped has five employees and nearly 100,000 users, according to Rajaraman. They make recurring revenue off the software businesses, where users can pay $9.95 for a premium version, and they expect to be profitable on that recurring revenue in six months.

The content is also starting to get some buzz: Spike TV recently announced it would source its next pilot script from the user base. -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010 

Overshores Brewing Co.
Overshores Brewing Co.

Christian Amport
Boston College Carroll School of Management

Christian Amport just wanted to buy an authentic, Belgian-style craft beer.

After three years at the University of Vermont in Burlington, he grew fond of the well-developed craft-beer culture the town offered. But when he moved to New York City in the summer of 2003, he was surprised he couldn't find the type of beer he liked. "I told myself, 'If this is what you really want -- great tasting craft beer anywhere -- you have to create it,'" he says. "And that's when I thought to start a business making the beer I wanted to drink."


When Amport enrolled in the MBA program at Boston College in 2008, he began working on a business plan for a brewery as part of the Boston College Venture Capital club competition. In the fall semester of his second year, Amport and a team of fellow students expanded on the plan as part of a required second-year course, Business Planning and Entrepreneurship, taught by Gregory Stoller. The business plans are judged in a series of competitions. Amport was one of five finalists and almost won the entire contest, according to Stoller.

 Amport continued to work on his business plan as graduation day approached, and he launched the brewery soon after he earned his degree. Overshores Brewing Co. incorporated this past February, and Amport just finished paperwork for a limited private offering to collect funds for the brewery and startup costs. So far he has raised more than $25,000 in committed funds.

 He says his biggest challenge now is finding the right kind of private investors, ones who understand the product and are interested in getting "on the ground floor in the industry."

He's not too worried. He's got an experienced brewmaster already lined up. -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010

(Corrects spelling of Amport's name)


Daniel Gulati and Vivian Weng
Harvard Business School

Daniel Gulati and Vivian Weng committed to the idea of, a "crowdfunded" fashion website, on their third day at Harvard Business School last September. Shortly after they met, they realized that Gulati's experience in launching companies and Weng's history in public relations and production for fashion labels made a good match. So they created a business plan. "It wasn't easy to go to school full-time and start a business," Gulati says. "But it accelerated the process. We could test the idea with our professors and classmates."

From the start, Gulati and Weng met regularly with Tom Eisenmann, an entrepreneurship professor at HBS. He offered feedback on their idea for a website that invites budding designers to share their clothing lines and invite potential customers to invest.

Anyone can pledge $50 in a brand they like, and they're charged only if that brand raises $50,000 in pledges. If the target is hit, the line goes into production, and six to eight weeks later the products are sold on the site. Investors make a return on their investment through clothing credit and exclusive buying opportunities. FashionStake earns revenue by taking a small percentage of the sales. "We're a partner [with] these designers," Gulati says. "If the collection doesn't sell well, we don't earn much either."

The two invested $5,000, which helped sign designers, develop the website, and gain initial customer feedback. A few months later they decided to raise outside capital and signed with Silicon Valley-based Battery Ventures. They also have angel investors from the fashion industry.

The site was launched on Sept. 1 with 20,000 members, eight employees, and four designers, with plans to add one designer every week. Gulati and Weng are in the process of rolling out a more interactive version of FashionStake, and they'll be able to take advantage of HBS's resources, since they don't graduate until May. -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010

Cool Palms
Cool Palms

Brett Warner
George Washington University School of Business

A few years after Brett Warner graduated from George Washington University in 2004, he and Anna Ercius Warner, now his wife, came up with the idea for an invention that would help athletes keep their bodies cool while running.

Called the BEX (Better Exercise Experience) Runner, the device is a padded bracelet that athletes place in the freezer before use. It slides onto the palm of the hand to help maintain the body's core temperature and extend peak performance during exercise. But in order to take the BEX Runner from the idea stage to a viable business, the Warners turned to Lisa Delpy, Brett's mentor and Sport and Event Marketing professor at GW, for advice.

Delpy invited Brett to speak to her MBA class about his idea and starting a business. Her students have since taken on the challenge of creating a comprehensive marketing plan, including social media and online advertising strategies, for his Austin (Tex.) company, Cool Palms. "Some students have already gone above and beyond the marketing plan and are actually calling meetings with major industry players," Brett says.

Reaching out to Delpy's class is helping the Warners tackle one of their biggest challenges: finding the right market entry point. The company has decided to focus on marketing to runners rather than just athletes. This summer, Cool Palms, which incorporated in August 2009, became a national sponsor for USA Fit marathon training programs.

Cool Palms started with about $90,000 of capital raised from the founders' family and friends, and in the spring of 2010, Denis Calabrese, president and founder of USA Fit, joined as an investor and strategic partner. They're not yet able to predict revenue and have yet to hire employees, but when that time comes, Brett says he'll look to hire from Delpy's class. -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010

Jed Carlson
Duke University Fuqua School of Business isn't a completely new idea. It's an online music-marketing platform that allows artists, managers, record labels, and venues to build profiles and connect with one another, much like MySpace. But according to founder Jed Carlson, ReverbNation is more intuitive, interactive, and a lot more helpful for independent artists than other sites that offer a similar product.

The site, which was launched on Halloween 2006, covers new territory for musicians, Carlson says, such as social media marketing, fan behavior measurement, and sentiment tracking. "We focus on the independent music industry and provide one central site for the community to collaborate and communicate," he says. Currently that community includes more than 950,000 bands, venues, record labels, and managers as members and is expected to exceed 1 million by December.

Carlson developed ReverbNation while earning his MBA at Duke. His Business Plan Writing class was especially helpful. The professor was a local venture capitalist and passed along Carlson's business plan to contacts in the music industry for comments. "More than anything, business school gave me the confidence to pitch [my idea] to potential partners and investors," Carlson says. "I knew the key questions that had to be answered and had the time and knowledge to prepare for them."

The site operates on a "freemium" model, where most services are free for members to use. Once a band has developed a core fan base using the free services, it has the opportunity to pay a fee for more tools that can engage those fans.

The initial funding -- $2 million in July 2006 -- was raised through venture capitalists, and the company now has 20 employees. Last month ReverbNation partnered with production music library APM Music to launch ReverbNation Music, an exclusive platform offering independent music for license to producers of television, film, and video games. -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010 

Watermelon Express
Watermelon Express

Ashish Rangnekar
University of Chicago Booth School of Business

For Ashish Rangnekar, the process of trying to get into the Booth School shaped his entire business school experience.

When he took the GMAT in July 2007, he was working full-time and was frustrated by the lack of resources for studying while on the go. In October 2008, he and Ujjwal Gupta, a friend from college, decided to create a smartphone application that would make studying for standardized exams easier. Nine months before classes began, Rangnekar and Gupta started working on the first program for their company Watermelon Express. They wrote 250 sets of GMAT problems and solutions and released the application in December 2008. It soon became the best-selling test-prep app for the iPhone.

When classes started in the fall of 2009, Rangnekar knew he wanted to continue working on Watermelon Express. So he took classes, joined clubs, met professors and alumni, and attended conferences sponsored by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital with one goal in mind: entrepreneurship. "Professors have been great mentors," he says. "And fellow students have provided invaluable critique and perspective."

In May, Watermelon Express won the New Venture Challenge competition at Booth, and over the past 18 months, more than 75,000 students from 20 countries have used at least one of the 66 educational apps the company now offers, including test-prep for the GRE, LSAT, SAT, and MCAT. The company, which currently employees 20 people (most on a freelance basis), charges for all of its applications. In its first month, Watermelon Express grossed $4,000 in revenue, according to Rangnekar.

While working toward graduation in the spring, Rangnekar continues to work on Watermelon Express. Over the next six months, the founders are looking to strike content partnerships with educational publishers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010

(Corrects spelling of Rangnekar's name.)

Invite Media
Invite Media

Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg
University of Pennsylvania Wharton School

As a freshman at Wharton, Nat Turner signed up for a meeting with Josh Kopelman, founder of the retailing site and managing director of venture fund First Round Capital, as part of Wharton's Entrepreneur in Residence program. Turner came out 30 minutes later with an internship at First Round.

The internship was the first step to co-founding an online advertising company, Invite Media, which Google recently bought for a reported $81 million. "Starting a company is extremely hard," Turner says. "But Wharton does the best job possible to make it easier."

How exactly did Wharton help? For starters, the school provided key funding for Turner and co-founder Zach Weinberg to launch Invite Media, a company that created a technology that enables advertisers and agencies to use real-time bidding to buy display ad space. During the summers after both his sophomore and junior years, Turner was given a $10,000 Wharton Venture Award to work on the company. He and Weinberg used the money to acquire office space, hire help, and lay the foundation for a January 2009 launch.

In addition, four Wharton statistics professors acted as advisers and helped build the necessary algorithms for the ad-buying platform. Their classmates became employees, and one of the angel investors was a Penn grad.

By their senior year, Turner and Weinberg were driving from Philadelphia to New York nightly for meetings with clients. They would leave around midnight, spend the morning in Manhattan, then drive home for classes. Turner put 75,000 miles on his car in that final year and a half of school.

With the company's acquisition by Google in June, the two have hunkered down in Manhattan, working out of Google's New York office. "Zach and I are entrepreneurs at heart," Turner says. "But we're excited about settling here for a bit." -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010

CityCraft Modern Fabric Boutique and Sewing Lounge
CityCraft Modern Fabric Boutique and Sewing Lounge

Callie Works-Leary
Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business

Callie Works-Leary specialized in entrepreneurship at SMU Cox because she knew she wanted to start her own business. But the right idea didn't hit her until nine months after graduating in 2008, when she took up a new, "chic" pastime: sewing. "I discovered not a single store in Dallas was carrying designer fabrics or presenting sewing as a stylish hobby," she says.

After months researching market potential, Works-Leary used the lessons she learned in her two-semester Starting A Business course at Cox to develop a business plan for CityCraft Modern Fabric Boutique, a designer fabric store that also hosts sewing classes and sewing-circle parties. "It's the only fabric store you actually want to hang out in," she says.

The B-school course required students to write a complete business plan in various stages. Each stage was reviewed and graded by the professor and peers, and an outside management professional evaluated the final stage. Works-Leary says writing a mock business plan in school forced her to "ask the hard questions and do an insane amount of research."

Instead of seeking investors, she secured a line of credit that helped her open her first store in October 2009 and pay salaries for five employees. Works-Leary projects a profit of $45,000 this year.

Now, barely a year into her business, Works-Leary is ready to expand. CityCraft launched an e-commerce division last month and is planning to expand to another city with similar demographics to Dallas. -- Sommer Saadi, posted Oct. 18, 2010