A retrospective review of my MIT GLAB Experience

On September 4 2014, Prof Simon Johnson walked into E51-345 at 1pm and kicked off the renowned MIT GLAB Action Learning Program for the Class of 2015. GLAB is one of the key reasons why I chose to pursue my MBA at MIT Sloan, so this was a long awaited moment for me and I had huge expectations. At the end of it all, I will admit undoubtedly that my expectations were effectively met.

The quality and diversity of the discussion themes during the first half of GLAB guaranteed an atmosphere of intense engagement throughout the duration of the class. Prof Simon’s extensive economic development experience, his outstanding facilitation skills, the compelling individual insights from an incredibly diverse class of MIT Sloan students and the real world insights provided by an impressive roll call of audacious global entrepreneurs ensured every participant received first class education on global entrepreneurship.

Brazil to USA

Our task was to help our client expand from Brazil to the US

During the second half of GLAB, we shifted from the classroom into the field. I and my Team were matched with Denox – a technology company based in Brazil, an emerging market.  Our task was to find practical solutions to strategic growth challenges facing our client. My team’s objective was to generate product ideas, develop a market entry strategy and recommend a financing framework that would enable our client break into the US market.

This task was particularly challenging because it required us to think counter-intuitively. The common trend in our increasingly globalized world is that of western companies expanding into emerging markets, not the reverse. Therefore we needed to acquire deep insight into the workings of the entrepreneurial ecosystems of the US and Brazil – two significantly different economies, and then figure how to export ideas and capabilities built in Brazil to the US. Thankfully, our class sessions in the first half of GLAB had given us valuable insight into the dynamics and peculiar characteristics of economic regions across the globe. We invested a decent amount of time reviewing entrepreneurial ecosystems in Frontier, Emerging and Developed economies. We also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the ecosystems in each region and looked at cultural factors, financing ecosystems, access to talent and consumer demand. This background gave us a broad global perspective of entrepreneurship plus a useful frame-work for analyzing and dissecting unique challenges facing entrepreneurs in different regions of the world.

While working with Denox, we went through the entire process of doing contextual research, analyzing market and consumer data, developing targeted product ideas and identifying important partnership opportunities for accessing the US market. Despite working with a team of 4 MIT Sloan Candidates, this was by no means an easy task. While working on this project, I understood how difficult it can be for entrepreneurs to expand their ventures into new territories. It takes immense effort and shift in perspective to assess and navigate the complexities and nuances involved in entering new markets. It was interesting to observe the numerous differences between the economic and entrepreneurial climates of the US and Brazil. I also found out that the differences in priorities between Brazilian and US customers are quite significant. I realized it was important to recognize these differences because experience in an incomparable market is more a liability than an asset when expanding to a different type of market. To create an effective market entry strategy that would resonate with consumers and other stakeholders in the US, we had to look away from our client’s experience in Brazil and consider only capabilities that are relevant to the US market.

The other important lesson I learnt was about language. Before traveling to Brazil, I didn’t quite appreciate the importance of learning Portuguese. It just didn’t occur to me that it would be nearly impossible to communicate except with a few bi-lingual locals who understood English. The moment I arrived at the airport, I discovered I could barely interact with anyone except with my hosts and one employee at the hotel. Even the immigration officials at the airport didn’t speak English. I scrambled to learn basic Portuguese but it was a little too late. I discovered first-hand how difficult it can be to conduct business in an environment where you literally do not speak the local language.

Overall, I had very rich and rewarding MIT GLAB experience that provided a unique hands-on opportunity to engage with two radically different markets and discover how skills, capabilities and products built in one could be exported to create and capture value in the other.

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