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Blog post

MBAs consult Start-ups at District 3

Graduate Perspectives series
January 22, 2020
By Chris Wise

Graduate Perspectives is a series of blogposts about the John Molson School of Business graduate programs experience from the perspective of current students and alumni.

This week features Aws Al Hasani, MBA candidate and VP Marketing for the John Molson MBA Entrepreneurship Club, which has linked up with Concordia University’s District 3 Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (District 3) to better connect business students with start up companies.

Aws Al-Hasani headshot

Education comprises two essential aspects, the theory and the hands-on approach. For one MBA student, the hands-on, experiential learning was where he wanted to put his focus. Aws Al-Hasani, a financial planner who joined the John Molson MBA program in Winter 2019, has over a decade of experience in banking, primarily trading stocks and options within that time.

Soon after starting his MBA, Aws decided to join the Entrepreneurship Club inspired by a conversation with Ravi Sapra, the current club president, about the direction the club wanted to take.

John Molson recognizes the importance of building bridges between MBA graduates and entrepreneurship. As such, it offers a seminar in Entrepreneurship and Small Business, as well as a Business Ownership course that focuses on ‘re-preneurship’ (the purchase or taking over of existing businesses).

“Within the Entrepreneurship Club, we knew we wanted to be involved with start-ups that were already past the concept stage. So we reached out directly to District 3.”

The John Molson MBA Entrepreneurship Club The John Molson MBA Entrepreneurship Club: (from left) Ravi Sapra (President), Aws Al-Hasani, José Armando, Rajni Teotia, Jesus Mondragon, Shreya Rugle and Utsav Sharma

District 3’s MBA À la Carte

The District 3 incubator is a unique initiative within Concordia University’s ecosystem. It offers an intensive program designed for passionate tech start-up founders and a space that allows for collaboration between students, faculty and alumni. District 3 houses over 100 start-ups, helping them with office space, coaches and plenty of other resources.

District 3 pays attention to the start-up entrepreneur’s struggle around finding the right talent to help build their companies. As such, it has been working within the Concordia community to try to solve this problem by creating better connections between student talent and start-ups. The result is ‘Talent À la Carte’, a resource list of service providers that entrepreneurs can choose to work with.  For example, the Talent À la Carte list might include designer, accounting or web design services.

District 3 had also previously involved the services of John Molson MBA students on a more ad hoc basis to support the entrepreneurs, recruiting the students directly through individual professors. However, the Entrepreneurship Club was looking to forge a more formal involvement of MBA students with District 3 start-ups.

“By offering our service, we formalized the connection with MBA students by adding an ‘À la Carte’ program with the amazing Diana Horqque.” recalls Al Hasani. “She really went out of her way to make this project possible. We are forever grateful to her help!”

As a result, District 3’s ‘MBA À la Carte’ launched this past summer with five MBA students embarking on a semester-long consulting gig, devoting 5-10 hours per week with District 3’s budding entrepreneurs. Rajni Teotia and Michael Wood worked with Extergy, a start-up exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sustainability within the construction industry. Meanwhile, Vishal Panicker, Hussam Al-Maleh and Wood linked with a start-up called ArtVenture that sees art as an asset and finds ways to build art portfolios like any other asset. For his project, Aws helped Xeohive, a start-up wanting to build models / algorithms using AI to better predict cryptocurrency prices. For Aws, the summer collaboration ended up going so well that he was offered a permanent position at Xeohive!

“The biggest misconception that I hear from a lot of people is that most start-ups fall under the same categories or industries. Yet, it is extremely diverse and, similarly, they are hungry for people with diverse backgrounds. No two MBA students are the same, with different perspectives and career objectives, but, likewise, no two start-ups are the same either. The goal is to find the right fit between the two.”

District 3’s MBA À la Carte seems to be tapping into MBA students’ own hunger to connect with and advise start-up entrepreneurs. Just under 15 people joined the Fall term and there is already a significant interest for this Winter term.

Fintech Cadence

District 3 houses the Fintech Cadence accelerator program, a non-profit focused on the fintech (Financial Technology) industry and helping people excel in the fintech space. It is a great resource for students wanting to start a business and needing the resources to do so. Fintech Cadence offers focused certification programs that are discounted for Concordia students. The accelerator program helps organize two big events every year to help students and entrepreneurs build their teams and businesses: Cooperathon, the largest open innovation competition; and Formathon, Canada’s only fintech testing ground.

This year, Aws and two other MBA students participated in Cooperathon. “The experience that I had with District 3’s MBA À la Carte motivated me to launch my own start-up with two of my MBA program colleagues; Jesus Mondragon and Shreya Rugle, also members of the Entrepreneurship Club.”

The result is Art-4, a data analytics start-up using AI / Machine learning to forecast customer behaviour.

Cooperathon 2019 At Cooperathon 2019: Aws Al-Hasani , Paul Bugnon and Felix Saint-Denis

Aws also encouraged other MBA students to participate in Cooperathon. Paul Bugnon, a graduate of the Surgical Innovation Program and member of Team SymSolve who joined the District 3 innovation center in the Fall, is working to change how breast implants are shaped using augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Felix Saint-Denis is developing the FoodAI tool to promote sustainable food systems and help people minimize food waste.

“All three of us are participated in Cooperathon with three different ideas and in different industries.”

Reaping the rewards

Aws is excited about the opportunities coming to him from his involvement in District 3’s MBA À la Carte. Last September, Aws was asked to be a speaker at a fintech conference at École Polytechnique to talk about the direction in which the industry is moving.

“I found myself really getting involved in the industry and doors kept opening. I was being solicited on LinkedIn daily. People started asking for my input and wanted to me to get involved in their projects. I found that a large part of conversations with students and start-ups is explaining all the resources that are available through District 3 and the Entrepreneurship Club.”

Polytechnique Fintech conference Sept. 26, 2019 Polytechnique Fintech Conference - Sept. 26, 2019

“Even if people can’t participate in District 3’s MBA À la Carte program, we want to offer other opportunities for students to get involved in entrepreneurship. This is a great link to create, in the mutual interest of both start-ups needing to bolster their business strategy and MBA students looking for a challenge in consulting work. It goes much further than being able to add consulting experience to your CV; we need to leverage this relationship the Entrepreneurship Club has forged with District 3 and really show what a huge boost it can be economically, professionally and educationally.”

To find out more on the Entrepreneurship Club and for news about future opportunities to collaborate with District 3 start-ups, visit the club’s Facebook page.

For more information on the full range of John Molson graduate programs, visit our website. Then connect with a recruiter to arrange a one-to-one meeting or participate in one of our many online information sessions.

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