SUSAN Cooper is founder of Accutrainee, a start-up that aims to reduce costs and increase flexibility for law firms by outsourcing their trainee solicitor needs. The company employs the trainees and seconds them out when required. Cooper is a former lawyer – she spent several years working at Hogan Lovells and then in the construction industry – and, of course, her legal experience “helped a lot in reaching my eureka moment.” But she’s also a graduate of Cass Business School’s Executive MBA (EMBA) programme, and she credits the experience as being “hugely instrumental in developing the idea.”
“I always had the underlying desire to set something up, but I wasn’t sure what that would be,” she says. The economic crisis in 2008 encouraged her to commit to an EMBA, a business degree designed for professionals with several years of experience. She believes the programme gave her the confidence, knowledge and thinking space to translate a vague desire to become an entrepreneur into a strongly-researched model – and a successful business.
The EMBA was “a turning point in my thought process on how to take things forward,” she says. “I took everything I’d learnt on the course, and put it into the scenario of setting up an actual business.” The course gave her a “basic understanding of the pitfalls in start-ups, and grounding and knowledge of various different business disciplines and how they work together in an actual firm.” The breadth of the programme, covering financial analysis, management, strategy and professional development, was not geared towards entrepreneurs specifically. But as a consequence of gaining this broad insight, Cooper felt capable of dealing with all aspects of her new firm.
Critically, she could count on the support of her school beyond graduation. Seed capital from its entrepreneurship fund “was hugely helpful for my purposes,” she says. It wasn’t easy to get this funding – the same as with any other private equity fund – but “the support that came with it, including a standing board which I have access to every day,” gave her the ongoing advice to make her business a success. She found support and advice from the rest of her EMBA cohort less useful, but says it did her no harm.
Cooper is critical of the view that business schools can be counterproductive for entrepreneurs – that they can sometimes encourage a restrictive model of business thinking that discourages innovation. “I struggle to see how the kind of character that is blinkered by a course that is meant to widen your understanding could be successful as an entrepreneur,” she says.
In Cooper’s view, you don’t have to have a business degree to be successful as an entrepreneur, “but it will provide you with the tools to help you along your way.”