Entrepreneurship is a global phenomenon and to prove it 11 Olin Business School students traveled to Hungary in May to work with start-up companies in Budapest.
The trip is an integral part of Clifford Holekamp’s course, “Danube Venture Consulting Program” which was offered for the second time this year. Holekamp is a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at Olin and initiated the consulting project with a private equity firm in Hungary.
Class members are undergraduate and graduate business school students who work in teams with start-up ventures on specific projects. “The clients include a reality T.V. production company, an off-road GPS software provider, and a Hungarian social networking website,” says Holekamp. “While the projects and clients are all quite different, there are some interesting overlaps related to interactive and mobile media strategies.”
Ryan Spies, MBA ’11, worked on the GPS product team in Hungary, “I really benefited from learning how cultural attitudes affect the business in developing countries. Just 20 years ago this country was exposed to market capitalism. What an extreme change from the socialist economy they had been under for the previous 30-plus years!”
Spies says he welcomed the opportunity to experience a country through the eyes of business professionals who live and work there. “One factor I found particularly surprising, but it makes absolute sense, is that there is virtually no inherited wealth in Hungary. It’s as if the entire country started off at 0 in 1990. This has profound implications when you’re talking about a private equity business. You’re just not going to see the massive amounts of money that you see in the States or Western Europe.”
Ben Erdel, MBA’11, consulted with a start-up social networking website. “The most interesting take-away to me was the geographic and cultural limitation many foreign businesses face,” Erdel says. “Hungary is roughly the size of Missouri with a language entirely different from any other. In the United States, businesses can easily focus on global markets, but I realized that many foreign companies are much more limited in their scalability.”
While the experience of Hungary and working with a reality T.V. production company was new for Nicole Lindenbaum, MBA ’11, she found that basic business principles are similar wherever you are. “You still go about solving a problem the same way, using tools and methods that are applicable in the U.S., the process is the same. So while it’s certainly essential to be aware of and sensitive to cultural differences in a project like this, the business training I’ve received at Olin has well prepared me for any situation.”
The students will continue to work with the companies via the internet now they are back in the U.S. and will complete their project reports later in the summer.
Holekamp says, “The students represented Washington University admirably. I was very impressed with their focus and enthusiasm for their projects.”
For Alex Neuman who is working on a double major in engineering and entrepreneurship, the trip was more than a project or course capstone, “It confirmed my suspicion that I would like international work to be a large part of my career going forward.”
Like many of his fellow students, Neuman says his experience working with start-ups in Hungary proved that the language of business is truly global.
“It reaffirmed my belief that “the world is flat” when it comes to global business,” says Neuman, “and that barriers to business continue to be broken down as we progress into the digital age.”