An MBA Candidate’s Mission to Sustain Startups
Education and Careers An aspiring MBA candidate envisioned a new way to bridge the divide between the nonprofit and for-profit world — through entrepreneurship.
Keith Obilana always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. During his business school journey at Pepperdine Graziadio, he focused on a larger question: What role could entrepreneurism play in transforming individual lives and communities?
“I wanted to better understand how to integrate social responsibility with entrepreneurship,” he says. In his studies, programs partnered with transitional shelters in the greater Los Angeles area allowed Obilana to provide residents with an education focused on personal growth, career development and entrepreneurship. “I knew immediately that this ‘entrepreneurism with purpose’ was my passion and calling,” he reflects.
After serving as an instructor of a microenterprise program in the first year of his MBA, Obilana was contracted to run the entire program, which helps participants create plans to launch their small businesses.
“We’re not all dealt the same cards in life,” Obilana continues. “The program works with individuals who come from very tough backgrounds. Their lives still have value, even though society has discarded many of them. Improving our community, igniting a passion within the people we serve and changing lives through entrepreneurialism was exactly the vision I had for my career.”
“'I knew immediately that this ‘entrepreneurism with purpose’ was my passion and calling...'”
Success grew rapidly. Obilana worked with Greg Williams, who was born with severe brain trauma. With Obilana’s support, Williams developed a business plan and successfully launched Queenie’s Creole Pies, with program supporter Banc of California as his first major customer.
Another Microenterprise client, a former gang member, graduated from the program with a business plan to customize vintage beach cruisers, motivated by the desire to “take something old and make it new again.” The CEO of Banc of California was moved by the client’s endeavor and invited him to personally pitch the beach cruiser idea — first to the CEO, and then to a room of 300 Banc of California employees and executives. The fledgling business soon became the successful Prodigal Cycles.
Hatching the “excubator”
Even with these successes, Obilana’s entrepreneurial spirit still yearned for the next step: his lifelong dream of launching his own business. Obilana began analyzing what makes startups successful. He looked at the various processes startups go through, from ideation to project launch, and then determined that startups often succeed when they receive ongoing support and advice from key stakeholders.
Obilana launched an “excubator” — a program that supports startups for a longer period of time than an incubator, which typically only helps startups in their earliest stages. Obilana’s first clients? Former Microenterprise program participants who welcomed the opportunity to create product prototypes. The program still thrives today. So far, more than a dozen businesses have engaged with his excubator, and Obilana says his business has a waiting list.
Looking back at his journey, Obilana hopes that this effort can be replicated for others who seek to advance socially responsible entrepreneurialism. “A great MBA program inspires a broader vision of what can be achieved in this world,” says Obilana. “You are handed the tools and the reins to turn your entrepreneurial spirit into purposeful reality.”