Although an entrepreneurial spirit often shows up in lists of prized American traits, it’s certainly not exclusive to the US. Over the years, most of our classes have included international students, who have relocated from their home countries or further abroad to attend Acton. Given the complex and compelling case discussions that take place, international students must already be fluent English-speakers of course, and we find that they bring rich and valuable perspectives to the classroom. Not only do they gain a deeper insight and appreciation for American bootstrap entrepreneurialism, but they introduce a larger and more nuanced world view to their classmates, often making them amongst the most valued contributors to a discussion.
There are many reasons why an international student would come to Austin, Texas to study entrepreneurship at Acton, and many opportunities that they may follow once they graduate. We spoke with three of our international alumni from different parts of the globe whose pursuits of their entrepreneurial journeys led them to the US. They agreed to share some of their experiences before and after Acton and offered some advice for other international students considering the program.
Amit Perl (’09) is Co-Founder of Outils LTD, a specialty kitchenware business in Israel that serves institutional healthcare providers that cater to the elderly or the disabled. As such, Outils’ (named for the French word for “tools”) primary customers are hospitals and retirement homes. Prior to Acton he was a Consultant for McKinsey & Company and a Tax and Legal Associate for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Although Amit is primarily focused on managing his company’s finances and operations, he assured us that he still is utilizing the valuable lessons and experience that he got from Acton’s Sales Challenge. “I most definitely go out on sales calls!” he chuckled.
Rodrigo Rodas (’09) is Managing Director of DNA Group in his home country of Guatemala. The private firm, based in Guatemala City, was created with the purpose of developing, investing and incubating viable business endeavors within Central America and the Caribbean. Rodrigo identifies business opportunities, presents them to investors, then either launches the business directly or assists funded companies to achieve their set goals. Before Acton, he worked for Aixen International, a boutique wealth management firm focused on investments in Central America.
Sid Mofya (’10) is a Corporate Liaison in Tanzania for HJF Medical Research International (HJFMRI), a Maryland-based nonprofit with operations in different parts of Africa and Asia. HJFMRI is a healthcare delivery organization, focused on conducting research into HIV/AIDS, malaria, and influenza in Africa, and delivering ongoing support to organizations that support people living with HIV/AIDS. Sid runs the Corporate Operations Office in Tanzania, representing HJFMRI’s interests there, connecting the local work with the group’s international objectives, and managing all local concerns as needed to further its mission. Before Acton, Sid worked for the UK Ministry of Justice, Shell Oil UK and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
On choosing Acton…
I decided to attend Acton because of its three promises and the fact that the program was designed for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs and taught by successful entrepreneurs. In addition, Acton was the only school I visited where I saw a group of students genuinely engaged in class. Finally I was drawn by the challenge of hard work and the fact that it is an innovative and disruptive program.
I am originally from Zambia, but was in the UK before I attended Acton. I knew I wanted to return to Africa but first wanted to prepare myself for a mission-oriented business path. Having started a business in Zambia before, I knew there were many things I needed to learn. Acton’s three promises had me hooked immediately. I have never seen that combination anywhere else. It was such a strong match for me that I did not look at other business schools.
Before Acton, I had spent several years as a consultant in two well-known global companies, while I dabbled at starting a company of my own. I had finance and operations skills, but I realized that I needed people and sales skills and that I needed to learn them from people who had actually gone through the entrepreneurial experience.
On their experiences as an international student…
I believe my experience at Acton was the same as that of any other student, without any unique challenges to face. In terms of advantages, it was great to experience how people from different parts of the world think, view business, and discuss cases in class. I was privileged to have a diverse group of people in my class and I believe that insights regarding how things work in other parts of the world benefited me along with the entire class.
In the classroom, being international made me different. I was one of five or six internationals out of a class of 35. I found that I could bring things to the table that I thought obvious, but that other people in the class found very insightful. I also moved my family to Austin with me, and I do not regret that, even though it was asking a lot of my wife and daughter. I can’t imagine going through that tough year with them many miles away. That would be my number one recommendation: if you have a family, bring them with you.
By and large I believe that my experience at Acton was quite similar to that of my American classmates, with many hours of work and not enough sleep! Everyone at Acton was extremely helpful throughout the application process, the visa process, and of course during my time in Austin. Students are the customers at Acton and the school’s focus on them is unrivaled.
On their professional international experience after Acton…
I knew that wanted to return to Africa after Acton and I got my current job soon after I finished the program. In fact, my first contact with them came on graduation day itself after someone who had been at my graduation ceremony heard me speak.
I originally did not intend to leave the US immediately after graduating. I wanted to get some experience before returning home to start my own business. During my time at Acton, the US was going through massive layoffs. When I graduated in May 2009 few companies were hiring. While I had wonderful support from everybody at Acton, and had found some part-time opportunities, I decided to return to Israel. Once back, a friend asked me to do an opportunity analysis for what eventually became our business. After three months of study and analysis, we launched the business. In hindsight, the fact that I felt it was completely reasonable to invest a substantial amount of time and money into a business four months after graduation, plus the fact that the business is alive and well three years later, is the best proof that Acton delivered on its promises.
I planned on staying in the US after Acton. I had the privilege to work for two years with Master Teacher Jeff Serra at Vida Capital. Working with Jeff was another MBA in itself. I learned a lot. I returned to Guatemala in order to pursue my own entrepreneurial journey and assist my father in the development of an energy project.
On their most memorable lessons from Acton…
Every day I am in a situation that reminds me of something I learned from my Acton classmates or mentors. But, as someone with no sales experience prior to Acton, it was those hands-on, sweaty-palms sales experiences – the cold calling and the Sales Challenge – that really transformed my understanding of sales and showed me that I could sell. The critical support I received from classmates on both of those led me to realize that, when I started my own business, it would also behoove me to find a partner who had actual sales expertise. And this is exactly what I did.
My most important lesson was to be comfortable not knowing the answer. This is something I learned by absorption rather than by instruction. I guess that kind of thing cannot be instructed, but only assimilated over time. I had 300 odd cases to help me realize that I do not need to know the answer, and that there may not be a right answer. Questions are more important than answers.
Failure is a part of entrepreneurship and lessons learned from those failures may be the most powerful. To be successful, we must fail fast and cheap.
Advice to international students considering Acton…
Do your due diligence. Know why you want to pursue a business education and if you choose Acton, make sure you know why it is the place for you to get it. Watch a class online and visit the school if you possibly can, because then you will know whether or not it is somewhere you can thrive. There are already many risks to getting a typical US MBA, including moving to the country, sometimes with your family, and taking on a substantial financial commitment. So in making your choice, determine precisely why that is the right move for you.
Talk to as many people as you can who have attended Acton. I found that there were lots of people willing to talk to me and to answer my questions and those of my family. I would also say that if the Acton’s three promises grab you, then find a way to get there. Acton does deliver on all three promises.
Share your experiences from your home country and how business is done there. These perspectives will provide fellow students to new insights and will invite them to share new perspectives with you.
If you’re from outside of the US and are thinking about Acton, please ask Acton staff to put you in touch with non-US alumni. While we’re a small group, I know that we are all passionate about Acton and would be happy to answer your questions about our experiences.
I have no hesitation recommending the Acton MBA!
More Questions? Let Us Know!
Do you have any other questions about coming to the US to get an MBA from Acton? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below or feel free to contact us directly!
And learn what it’s like to go to Acton right out of undergrad, go to Acton as an older -than-average-student, attend Acton when you already own a business, or go into the family business after you graduate from Acton.
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