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Your Start-Up: How Business School Could Help You

Trevor Hayward and Luke Bowen became friends while pursuing an MBA at Pennsylvania's Villanova School of Business. They shared a passion for two things: start-ups and home-made beer. So it was only natural that when the time came for deciding what to do after business school, they made the steps toward launching their own brewery -- the Evil Genius Beer Company.

"Once we made the decision to start the company, we then needed to figure out what our business model would look like," said Hayward, originally from Ireland. "The MBA helped us greatly."

In the fall of 2011, Hayward and Bowen launched their flagship product 'Good 'n 'Evil' -- a German-style ale that balances a sweet malt aroma with a light hop finish -- in Pennsylvania and the Midwestern region of the U.S. They have since offered a variety of flavors and continue to build their plans. Hayward and Bowen, both 2010 Villanova MBA graduates, are among a growing number of up-and-coming entrepreneurs using their MBA education as a launching pad for a new business. These MBA programs are providing the tools that graduates need to know how to mitigate risk and increase the probabilities of success, according to entrepreneur and author Stephen Greer in the Harvard Business Review article, "Does an Entrepreneur Need an MBA?"

Decisions, decisions, decisions: making the plans

To increase their chances for success, the first decision Hayward and Bowen faced was where to produce their beer. Finding a brewery that would hand craft their products helped to limit their risk and the need to come up with required capital while allowing them to quickly enter the market.

"We considered raising the capital to build a large manufacturing plant, but lack of available funding at the time -- [this was back in] 2009 -- meant this really wasn't realistic," he said. "So we made the decision to contract brew our products."

After determining where to produce the beer, Hayward and Bowen came up with their list of specific products. They took care of that by joining forces with a business partner who had a decade-long history as a professional brewer. The team of three collaborated on their brewmania, now offering beers such as 'Good 'n Evil,' 'Evil Eye PA,' and 'Pure Evil.' Their plan has led thus far to success.

"We sell roughly 90 barrels of beer per month at this point," Hayward said. "We expect to produce close to 1,500 this year. That's roughly 3,000 kegs."

5 ways business school can help

What exactly did Hayward and Bowen learn in their MBA program that allowed them to start a business and follow their craft into a start-up plan? The following tips give more information about the assets they gained from their MBA education:

1. Enables graduates to build a support network

Although networking isn't part of the business school curriculum, Hayward said, its power was emphasized throughout the MBA program. Connecting with peers interested in their venture was "instrumental" for them.

2. Provides graduates with the platforms to shape their business ideas

Hayward and Bowen were both taking classes while creating their business. Hayward said they used each class to gain specific skills they would need to help them develop a successful company.

3. Encourages graduates to analyze data to make sound business decisions

The MBA taught them to be "data-driven," according to Hayward. Now, he said, they always look for ways to collect data on their business activities so they can analyze their success.

4. Gives access to experts who can provide a variety of business advice

In their MBA program, Hayward and Bowen had access to some of the top professors in the field of marketing, finance and management, among other business disciplines. This advice and expertise had a significant impact on their success, he said.

5. Enhances personal and professional skills fundamental to running companies

Hayward said business school provided them the skills to run their business by filling in knowledge gaps and sharpening skills they already had. Negotiation skills helped them to work with the brewing facility to reach a deal to make their products, while marketing abilities helped them with increasing sales.

Cheers for success

Although they invested their own funds in the launching of these products, Hayward and Bowen are now raising money to eventually build their own brewery. The biggest challenge they have faced thus far has been to gain the needed information about cost of brewery equipment, bottles, labeling, and boxes; this is because most companies in their segment of the beer market are private and information is not readily available. However, the most rewarding moment has been participating in a Philadelphia beer fair where people lined up to taste their beer and finished off samples in just over an hour.