Residual Impact Of Pandemic On Entrepreneurial Choices


The American business owner has a rich history steeped in the dream of financial and professional independence. The act of hanging a shingle has symbolized a critical decision for first-time entrepreneurs.

The path to entrepreneurship continues to be laid by the advanced accomplishments of those early-career professionals able to adorn their LinkedIn profiles with three important letters—MBA.

Illuminate Ventures examined the direction taken by MBA students finding a professional and magnetic pull to architect a career path around a singular idea. Over 80% of the 500 business school students from more than 20 notable institutions see entrepreneurship as a probable next step following graduation. Managing partner Cindy Padnos of Illuminate Ventures was surprised as a professional who integrates MBA students as interns. “It blew my mind that so many were interested [in entrepreneurship].”

Estimates from the Graduate Management Admission Council before the Covid-19 pandemic were far less bullish of a potential correlation between MBA graduates and entrepreneurial pursuits. Just five short years ago, roughly 25% of MBAs expected to take a path less traveled.

Wedged between these findings was the pandemic that may have shored up independent approaches to career pursuits.

Policy Informs Practice

Rolling up to the onset of the global shutdown was the University of Michigan (U of M), Ross School of Business student Jeremy Leung. He had just accepted an internship with American Airlines, and then the bottom fell out. Without an internship to go to, Leung returned to his home in Australia.

Like many students who pursue advanced degrees, Leung’s resume was substantive. His work as a political aide for the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs gave Leung an expanded worldview of opportunity. “Even before I received my MBA, I benefitted from incredible travels and learn-by-doing experiences with world leaders.” Later lessons at U of M gave me a deeper context of the incredible opportunities to participate and witness policy and diplomacy in action. I began to see the world from a different and manageable perspective,” says Leung.

Leung represents a growing number of international students turned entrepreneurs who have a knack for connecting strategic dots between business and international relations.

Post-government ministerial efforts brought Leung to New York to serve as the Director of Business, Innovation, and Policy for the American Australian Association. The largest privately funded non-profit dedicated to connecting the U.S. and Australia. The 70-year-old organization, through economic and educational bond efforts, has awarded over $14 million to over 900 scholars since 2002.

A brief stint in Mexico as an MBA business consultant to Uber added to Leung’s growing list of experiences that ultimately influenced his future choices to enter the startup space.

International Startup Players

Leung’s approach to business origination and ownership was diverted or born out of the residual of a global pandemic. Recent data suggests the U.S. economy continues to be bolstered by entrepreneurs whose origins are outside the contiguous 48. “Immigrants to the U.S. are more likely to start businesses than native-born Americans are, according to a study that takes a wide-ranging look at registered businesses across the country,” reports Peter Dizikes of MIT News Office. 80% more, as stated by Yasmin Amer’s piece on the findings for WBUR.

Co-authored by Pierre Azoulay, an economist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the study suggests immigrants are highly influential in job creation through their efforts.

“Immigrants found more firms in every bucket,” says Azoulay. “They create more small firms, and they create more medium-size firms; they create more large firms. It’s not the case that [immigrants] only create growth-oriented startups. It’s not the case that they just create subsistence businesses. They create all kinds of businesses, and they create a lot of them.”

According to the American Immigration Council’s special report, New American Fortune 500 in 2022, “Immigrant entrepreneurs have long been an important part of America’s economic success story. Some of the largest and most recognizable American companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. This includes household names such as Apple and Costco, as well as newcomers to the Fortune 500 list like Jackson Financial and Caesar’s Entertainment.”

Leung hopes to add his name to the list of success stories dotting the entrepreneurial landscape. “As I took in more and more lessons, I started to see windows of opportunity that would allow for my own innovation,” says Leung. Global opportunities quickly converted to a new way of thinking for Leung. His work with an Australian dropship company changed his perspective on the global marketplace. Leung’s time with the Australian dropshipping company, Cettire, combined with his acquired international knowledge, spurred his entrepreneurial spirit. “I found that the collective of my experiences had supplied me with an internal confidence to establish my own company leveraging a global mindset.”

The now COO and co-founder of the burgeoning e-commerce and California-based Ascend Ecom logistics company reflects on his diversified past. “I realized my interest was not really in finding that classic or expected corporate job after getting my MBA. Truthfully, I saw an opportunity to make the most out of a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The pandemic enforced the necessity of logistics to support global economies, and I was ready to embrace the startup, e-commerce culture,” shares, Leung.

According to Inc. magazine, 85% of MBA students are considering entrepreneurship after graduation. “In fact, nearly 1 in 5 of Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA graduates in 2020 went on to start their own ventures. More than 1 in 10 Harvard Business School MBAs did the same,” adds

The sheer number of early-career professionals fashioning an MBA into the world of entrepreneurship continues to expose the international influence on the global economy. The Association of MBAs yearly award to the MBA Entrepreneur of the Year went to Ximena Aleman, an entrepreneur from Uruguay, continuing a trend of international winners.

CEOWorld Magazine’s ranking of the most entrepreneurial countries finds the U.S. in the pole position of independent economic development. Leung and others from down under have brought Australia into the eleventh position. “I learned so much at Michigan and, most importantly, the incredible opportunity to integrate my international experiences in the U.S. I had to start my company here,” exclaims Leung.

The unplanned accelerant of a global pandemic appears to have sharpened the professional focus of Leung and countless MBA graduates applying life experiences to professional success stories.

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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