In Your Shoes: An MBA Lecture on Entrepreneurship, Perspective, and the Challenges of a Startup

When was the last time you stepped into someone else’s shoes and learned something helpful or surprising about somebody else’s experience? For students of MaastrichtMBA’s On-Campus track, it was during their Corporate Entrepreneurship Lecture on Wednesday afternoon. During a three-hour class, Floor Oosterlee, MBA alumna and co-founder of the startup In Your Shoes, and Ivo Schils, Innovation Leader and Service Designer at UMIO, provide students with an educational chance to step into the shoes of a startup’s co-founder and experience the challenges she faces building her company.

The On-Campus MBA track meets for eight on-campus educational weeks, filled with classes from Monday to Friday. This educational week’s topic is Entrepreneurship and New business models – and with that topic, what could be more instructive than having students step into the shoes of a starting entrepreneur?

An inspirational conversation at an MBA lecture

“My motivation for founding this startup originated here, at the MBA,” Floor starts her lecture. “It came from one of my own blind spots. At the start of one of the lectures a few years ago, I sat next to one of my MBA colleagues, a man of colour. I asked him, very naively, if he ever experienced racism in Belgium, where he lived. I expected his answer to be ‘no’. I know better now because he laughed and answered, “Every day”. As he started listing examples of how unconscious racism affected him daily in the workplace, I realised the magnitude of the problem – and how blind I had been to it.”

“This didn’t sit well with me, and I really wanted to do something to help change this situation for the better,” Floor continues. “It was in the back of my mind until I sat next to Kai Yin Or during our own Entrepreneuship module two year ago. The lecture was about real pain points in the workplace, so I told her this story and asked her the same question. I didn’t expect her answer to be ‘no’ this time. As she also began listing examples, I became more frustrated that many of us would never be able to fully see her perspective. We wanted to create something that would enable us to mimic the experiences of people of colour who experience a form of discrimination, such as around race, gender or a disability. The impact of experiencing something is so much bigger than just hearing about it, so we really wanted to enable people to feel what others feel daily. That’s when we started brainstorming about our startup, In Your Shoes.”

Exploring opportunities

After that first conversation, Floor and Kai Yin explored opportunities that could help them mimic experiences. They wanted people to be able to step into someone else’s shoes quite literally, so they reached for VR to create an interactive and truthful learning experience. As VR can be quite expensive and creating prototypes can take months, they expanded their idea to a broader programme and a prototype that was achievable faster and at lower costs.

The prototype became a learning experience with various video scenes from a person’s life, each followed by questions about how the user would respond in that situation. This is based on the software of our now partner Intractive, that offered to work with us on getting the first products out there. The scenes are all based on real-life experiences; there are no right or wrong answers to the questions, as they are meant to help users reflect on their actions. The next steps are testing and improving the tool and talking to potential customers, finding the ideal target audience, and maximising impact while making enough money to keep the startup going.

 

A valuable learning experience

After listening to Floor’s pitch, students were divided into groups and motivated to discuss Floor and Kai Yin’s main challenges using the Six Thinking Hats, a method of investigating issues from various perspectives in a conflict-free way. At the end of the lecture, they were invited to step into Floor’s shoes and pitch their idea about her startup. What is the product? What is its added value? How do you take it to market?

A valuable learning experience, says Pieter Robaeys, On-Campus MBA student: “Pitching ideas is something I’m used to in my professional practice, but it never happens in this setting. We are now given the opportunity to ask all of our questions in a very early stadium, to discuss her ideas, offer constructive criticism, and are stimulated to think about how we would handle challenges if we were in her shoes. I’m learning from my fellow MBA students and their knowledge and experience. This lecture prepares us to be able to function in a situation like this, which I think is important in my professional practice.”

“I think it’s very valuable to see the things we’re learning here taking shape in practice,” Ellen Keesmekers – Stouten, On-Campus MBA student, agrees. “It’s interesting to see how Floor takes the lessons she’s learned here at the MBA and uses them to build her company. In the MBA programme, relevant theories and scientific backgrounds are always tied to current practical examples, which is a huge advantage to me. It shows that what we’re doing in class is absolutely beneficial; the MBA gives us the tools we need in practice, but it also teaches us that we have to tailor the things we’ve learned to the challenges we face on the job.”

The value of an MBA degree: confidence, growth and personal development

As an MBA alumna, Floor knows how valuable the MBA programme can be for professionals who aspire to entrepreneurial careers. “I started the MBA programme seeking growth in my job and a boost to my professional development. I had a background in international relations and politics, and I worked at a large corporate, so I kept thinking: if I want to grow in this organisation, I need an MBA degree”, Floor explains. “Looking back, the programme has brought me so much more. It has shifted my career path and offered so much growth and personal development.”

“Certain experiences, conversations and interactions I had during the MBA, as well as specific modules such as the entrepreneurship module, have all led me to believe: I can put my career into my own hands. In my corporate job, there were a lot of things I couldn’t do or wasn’t allowed to try. The MBA programme has helped me to see that I could take matters into my own hands”, Floor continues. “So, I quit my job and started travelling. I also started working, and still work, as a freelancer in the climate and sustainability field. And I co-founded the startup In Your Shoes with Kai Yin Or, who I met here at the MBA. The latter may be the biggest advantage of participating in the MBA programme: it has given me the confidence that I can start and lead my own company.”

 

This article displays the student insights and experiences of a corporate lecture of our On-Campus MBA Entrepreneurship and New Business Development module. Our On-Campus track has an on campus learning format and is part of the executive modular part-time MaastrichtMBA programme. The programme has a Triple Crown accreditation and is aimed for professionals with at least 5 years of working experience.

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