How I Grew My Business and Earned an MBA at the Same Time

Written by: Matthew Mullens, MBA ’25

Enrolling in a top-ranked MBA program brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities, especially for those with entrepreneurial aspirations. As a student entrepreneur, you’re probably someone who has a vision and is passionate about solving a problem you feel connected to. To make any progress in your endeavors, understanding the balance between academic commitments and business pursuits is crucial.

As an undergraduate student in 2018, I founded Empasta, a vegan cheese sauce that redefines perceptions of plant-based cheeses. I continue to refine my business as a MBA student at the University at Buffalo.  For those taking a similar path, I’ll share my story and how to navigate being both a graduate student and entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs typically begin with a passion. I’ve always been passionate about sustainability in business practices, but one day it was brought to my attention the profound connection between personal dietary choices and their environmental impact. Motivated by this realization, I decided to share a culinary creation of mine with the public. Leveraging the resources within my community and on campus, I refined my business idea and established the necessary infrastructure. 

After multiple iterations, I took my product to a local farmers market, a pivotal step that validated my concept and propelled me to expand into retail and e-commerce. This experience underscores the importance of community support and market validation in shaping a successful business model. 

For MBA students contemplating an entrepreneurial endeavor, it essentially boils down to two key elements: passion and time management. Balancing academic responsibilities, social life and the unexpected challenges of entrepreneurship can be daunting. The initial stages may yield minimal financial rewards but the fuel of passion sustains you. Effective time management becomes your practical tool for success allowing you to navigate the demanding landscape of MBA studies and entrepreneurship. 

The experience can be distilled into three fundamental steps: 

Step 1: Look for a Business Idea 

Passion is the driving force. Identify a subject matter or problem that resonates with you. In my case, it was sustainability, particularly in the realm of reducing environmental impact of a product. If you have an idea, want to join an entrepreneurial team or want to learn more about how to launch a business, the UB School of Management has numerous on-campus resources, entrepreneurial professors, on-campus incubators, competitions, support groups and much more. In fact, entrepreneurship is a strategic initiative for the school and you can get involved in the hot start-up scene in Buffalo through our many events and partners:

Step 2: Build and Improve the Business Idea 

Define your “why” and address a real need in your chosen field. For Empasta it was offering a tasty meltable cheese alternative. Consider the practical aspects of your product or service. For example, does it save time, resources and expertise required for customers to replicate the product themselves? In the beginning, consistent communication with startup incubators, both on and off campus, builds credibility and fosters continuous improvement before your first sale.

Step 3: Implement the Business 

Starting on campus has its advantages. For example, you will have access to a ready-made test market — your fellow student body. The shared university experience increases the likelihood of peers giving your idea a chance. Utilize this resource for feedback and adjustments. Engaging in pitch competitions also provides exposure and often comes with mentorship opportunities, catalyzing your entrepreneurial vision. 

In conclusion, while the path of a student entrepreneur pursuing an MBA is demanding, it is possible with dedication and time. As you embark on this dual journey, remember that the challenges are part of the growth process and the rewards are well worth the effort. Your journey is unique, and each step you take contributes to the vibrant tapestry of your entrepreneurial success. 

Bio: Matthew was born in Pontiac, Michigan, and moved around a bit while growing up, having lived in four different states before graduating high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Matthew earned his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, North Carolina, with a major in Industrial Systems Engineering. During his undergraduate program, Matt worked part-time with the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce in the start-up incubator program and developed his first business, Empasta. He is an intellectually curious professional with a passion for sustainability in business practices, supported by hands-on experience across a variety of roles. In his free time, Matt loves to explore the outdoors, whether it’s kayaking, hiking or exploring new cities. He also enjoys anime, traveling, chess, reading and spending time with family and friends. Taking time to engage in these activities has been most beneficial in helping him succeed in his work and academic life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *