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4 Stories of Entrepreneurial-Minded Graduates Who Leveraged Their Learning to Launch Their Own Business

Written by Bannon Puckett on Nov 5, 2021

Related content: Graduate Programs, Boot Camps

Clockwise from top left: Toshe Ayo-Ariyo, Sonal Patel, and Danielle Ho from UInclude; Ian Hamilton; Luke Hayes; and Stephanie Winans

Behind the many inventions that have transformed our lives—from the printing press to digital streaming services—are the entrepreneurs who dreamed them up, turning mere ideas into reality.

For National Entrepreneurship Month this November, we’re celebrating several entrepreneurs who leveraged the skills and lessons learned in 2U-powered programs to launch their own business and create something new. Check out these inspiring stories from graduates of online MBA programs from American University’s Kogod School of Business and UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, as well as boot camps from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies.

Moving from Sales to CEO

When Ian Hamilton enrolled in the online MBA program from American University’s Kogod School of Business, he left behind a decade-long career in sales. At first, he had questions about where his path might lead—but it didn’t take long to realize entrepreneurship was the answer.

The knowledge and expanded professional network Ian gained through MBA@American, coupled with his prior sales experience, formed the foundation he needed to launch a business of his own. With help from his college roommate, Ian created TruTriage, a remote 911 nurse triage solution.

As CEO, Ian oversees a range of responsibilities across the business, including finances, strategic partnerships, and sales and marketing. He credits the MBA@American program for its central role in getting him to the executive suite. “It has really given me a crash course on how to run a business in all aspects, and more importantly the resources to fall back on when I had questions,” said Ian.

Reflecting on Company Culture

Upon joining the founding team of a startup called Bundoo, Stephanie Winans realized she needed more business knowledge to successfully manage her team. She enrolled in the online MBA program from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School because of its strong reputation, vibrant sense of community, and the opportunity to concentrate in both marketing and entrepreneurship.

Just months after starting MBA@UNC, Stephanie was promoted to COO at Bundoo, and later CEO. She attributed her success to two lessons from the program: understanding the importance of organizational culture and learning how to raise business capital.

“This program has been a catalyst for both personal and professional growth. Learning how company culture can foster innovation versus stifling innovation, and how it can really bond teams, motivated me to develop a unique culture for the startup,” she said.

Editing for Equitable Outcomes

Toshe Ayo-Ariyo, Sonal Patel, and Danielle Ho—three participants of the USC Viterbi Data Analytics Boot Camp—were inspired by a research paper to create something remarkable: a content-editing app that detects gender-biased language.

“The wording of job descriptions is having a negative impact on women's desire to apply for roles,” said Danielle. “Hiring managers may not even be aware of this. Using our tool can help them remove gendered language and attract more talent to their companies.”

Since winning 2U’s 2020 Next Level Contest, where students around the country get to pitch “next-level” ideas to judges from the tech industry, the tool has transformed into a diversity recruitment platform. Called UInclude, the platform utilizes programming languages and visualization tools that the trio learned in the boot camp.

Connecting Farmers, Beekeepers, and Technology

Having held various roles at his family’s beer distribution business, Luke Hayes was no stranger to the mechanics of running a company. After earning an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and completing the Northwestern Coding Boot Camp, he started a business of his own: Exchange Bees.

Exchange Bees connects farmers in need of pollination services with beekeepers, and also provides consulting and sales services. In his role as CTO, Luke manages a team of developers as they track and analyze beehive heat levels, develop applications for regulating beehives, and update the company’s website.

Building on his background in computer science, the boot camp provided Luke with a comprehensive understanding of different programming languages and software. “The boot camp curriculum allowed me to put all of my disparate knowledge together,” he said. “I was able to organize my skills and gain a cohesive understanding of the full programming stack.”

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