MBA Driving Forces: Start-Up Seeds of Wisdom

by on May 12th, 2016

Margaret Wu, 2015 Cornell University Johnson MBA, is Vice President of Operations for the biotech start-up Uma Bioseed, which she co-founded in 2014 with Cornell MBA peers. Additionally, she works as a senior product manager at Amazon in London.

Uma Bioseed provides a cost-effective seed coating solution with stabilized organic enzymes to battle viral, fungal, and bacterial seed-borne pathogens. In October 2015, the start-up was awarded $500,000 at the 43North incubator competition in Buffalo, NY—among other wins.

Wu recently shared insights about her journey as an entrepreneur and offered advice to those who may consider launching a start-up.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Johnson at Cornell University?

Wu: I thought about business school for a long time and felt that securing an MBA from a top-tier school would be a smart professional stepping stone and a career accelerator—and help me stay on par with my business peers. I had also just left my first start-up, looking to learn more about the fundamentals of growing early-stage businesses so that I could be more successful at it in the future. I instantly felt a connection to Johnson when I visited, because of the supportive atmosphere and the high-energy community.

What were some of the highlights from your time at Johnson?

Wu: As a Big Red Venture (BRV) Fund Manager and an Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fellow, I had the opportunity to be involved with a wide variety of projects outside of regular studies that exposed me to start-up operations and growth challenges across industries. During my first year, I participated in New Orleans Entrepreneurship Week, helping to create and execute a growth strategy for a local start-up. I also had the opportunity to be part of an Israel Trek with our Johnson Cornell Tech MBA students from New York City. Through this experience, I helped to develop U.S. market-entry strategies for two Israeli start-ups, watched over 40 start-ups pitch, and visited several VCs [venture capital investors] and corporate incubators.

How did you get involved with the start-up Uma Bioseed?

Wu: I’m the type of person that says “yes,” a lot, and when a classmate Facebook messaged me asking if I wanted to participate in a business plan competition in Bangkok, I just said, “Yes.” When I learned more about the technology from Cornell scientist and inventor Stephane Corgie, it was clear that I could help build a solid business plan and draw from my learnings as a BRV Fund Manager and other entrepreneurial experiences.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Uma Bioseed won the Mai Bangkok Business Challenge in February 2015 and the New York Business Plan Competition in April 2015, where we were awarded the grand prize of $100,000. Working on this business with two of the top people in my class has been an amazing culmination of everything I had learned while at business school. And it is proof that having access to the entire Cornell ecosystem allows you to really explore ideas and collaborate with people from other disciplines.

What advice do you have for women wanting to break into the world of entrepreneurship?

Wu: My motto is “be proactive, meet people, and make an impression.” Be entrepreneurial about what you want. I encourage women to seek out mentors, talk to entrepreneurs, and consider securing an MBA to help give you the confidence and skills you will need. Companies want to hire talented women, and if you can hold your own, you will definitely get noticed. I remember during first year recruiting, walking into an event where I was the only woman in a room full of men. And while I was nervous at first, I made a point to enter into the conversations, share my opinions, and not feel intimidated. Standing tall and making real connections has allowed me to excel. I look forward to developing my skills as an entrepreneur and helping other women to do the same.

Content courtesy of Cornell University (Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management).

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