BY MICHAEL HIRSHMAN - EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Chris Varin (MBA ’14) came to UCLA Anderson with a single-minded focus: He wanted to start a business.
A year and a half later, Varin is now co-founder of Sportifik, an online platform to facilitate the organization of amateur sports. He’s one of a small but important group of Anderson M.B.A. students – comprising just 4 percent of the student body – who start their own businesses while attending school.
Varin’s story underscores the resources available to entrepreneurs here. “Anderson is one of the best places and the best MBA from which you can launch a startup,” says Varin, who is currently President of the Entrepreneur Association (EA), a student club.
His early career was hardly that of a tech entrepreneur or sports enthusiast. Varin, an investment banker, applied to business school after realizing he wanted to change direction. It was at Anderson that he met his current business partner, Marco Franzoni (MBA ‘13), who had already begun working on an early version of Sportifik.
In order to launch a venture while at Anderson, notes former EA President Peter Friis (MBA ‘13), a student usually needs to start the M.B.A. program with a business idea in mind, or else quickly join forces with someone who already does.
Varin followed the latter strategy, but he singles out two Anderson classes for giving him the extra tools he needed: Jeff Scheinrock’s Entrepreneurship and Venture Initiation and Anand Bodapati’s One-to-One Marketing. Moreover, the networking opportunities he had as an Anderson student gave him access to people and resources that were previously out of reach, he says.
Varin also found support at the UCLA Anderson’s Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. The center works closely with the EA and its 617 members including MBAs, FEMBAs, and EMBAs. The EA is Anderson’s largest professional student association.
Despite the high club participation rate, Varin’s story remains an anomaly. While EA and the Price Center are popular among students, few end up making the leap. In recent years, roughly 15 students from each graduating class (about 4 percent of the class) have started a business; a statistic that is in line with other top M.B.A. programs. One reason, Friis speculates, is that the high cost of tuition discourages would-be entrepreneurs from forgoing future income.
Emily Taylor (MBA ‘08) of the Parker Career Management Center notes that there are also strategic reasons for not starting a business right out of Anderson. Entrepreneurial-inclined students who work for a company will gain skills that will “help them grow big, successful businesses later at the next stage in their career,” she says.
Assistant Dean Regina Regazzi (MBA ’97) of the Parker Center has advised students on whether the time is right to pursue a business. She says her concern is often the feasibility of the venture: “Do they have an idea? Is it a viable idea? Have they done some feasibility studies to see if they can take it very far? And, most importantly, [do] they have a back-up plan in case it doesn’t work?”
Varin says he is acutely aware of the odds for the survival of any startup, much less one in the highly competitive sports-technology space. The statistics are grim: Half of all startups stay standing three years after founding. After 10 years, that number drops to 29%.
Nevertheless, he remains bullish about Sportifik’s future. His only qualm? “Friday nights I’m usually here [at Anderson] rather than going out,” he says, “and that’s not a regret because I am doing what I love to do.”
Special thanks to Elaine Hagan (MBA ’91), the Price Center’s Executive Director, for background information for this article.