My passion, my path: How an entrepreneur brought her startup to life at Kellogg
How do MBA students use their time in business school to shape their post-graduation career path? In a new series, ”My passion, my path,” we talk to recent Kellogg graduates who share in detail the exact courses, experiences and pieces of advice that made all the difference as they navigated business school. Read on as we kick off this series with Zell Fellow Nicole Cuervo, who used her Kellogg experience to launch her startup.
By Nicole Cuervo ’22 MS, MBA
In high school, I grew even closer with my grandmother Rose than I had been as a child. She had recently moved nearby, allowing me to spend hours hearing her stories and baking together.
It was then that I noticed how her chronic pain and arthritis gave her problems dressing herself, particularly putting on a bra. I wanted to find a way to help her — there had to be an adaptive bra option I could buy her, I figured. But none seemed to exist.
I had an idea: Perhaps I could launch my own product and help people get dressed painlessly.
I interviewed women and gathered data for my idea, but when I approached my undergrad entrepreneurship professor for help, he discouraged me. I felt disappointed, but I moved on — for a while. My startup plans laid dormant while I worked as a consultant, but I always held the idea close to my heart.
Finding my perfect fit
When I visited Kellogg while considering business school, I knew this was the place where I could bring my new venture idea to life. I was interested in deepening my design thinking expertise and improving my foundational business skills, and the curriculum at Kellogg seemed to cover it all. My visit also showed me that Kellogg had great people who were warm, welcoming and encouraging.
In 2020, I enrolled in the MMM program. During my time there, Kellogg helped strengthen my resolve to develop products that solve important pain points for women and to start my company, Springrose. We’ve designed a unique product and during development, I saw how our adaptive bra would’ve helped my mom as she struggled with a frozen shoulder. I know that my product can improve the lives of millions of women across the world.
This past spring, I received my MBA from Kellogg and a Master’s in Design Innovation from the McCormick School of Engineering after two years of nonstop classes and work on my business.
I’m now working on my venture full-time and soon we’ll publicly launch Springrose, an adaptive intimate apparel company that improves quality of life for women with limited mobility. We make products so that the one-in-three women in the United States who have limited mobility can get dressed painlessly and independently. My goal is to champion people like my grandmother Rose, who taught me so much about joy, love, and resiliency.
My two years at Kellogg were hectic, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Here are a few tips that helped me make the most of my time and bring Springrose to life.
Focus in on MBA courses that advance your idea
I decided to only take classes that I could directly apply to my business. Here are a few I found to be the most helpful:
- New Venture Development (ENTR 462). I took this course with Rick Desai. It’s a fantastic class that helps you think in a scrappier way. You learn how to test your assumptions and how to de-risk the business. It's a high-energy, time-intensive class, but you’ll love it.
- Digital Marketing Implementation (MKTG-956-0). I took this with Scott Levy, who walked us through how to use Google Ads, Facebook Ads and other tools and practices. We got funding to put our own ads up online, measure their performance and understand firsthand how it all works. As a brand owner and consumer, it was fascinating.
- Independent study. I did an independent study at the McCormick School of Engineering with Professor Greg Holderfield, one of the co-directors of the MMM program. He opened my eyes to the world of industrial design. I learned how to express my ideas from my head on paper and how to rapidly iterate them. He’s gregarious and knowledgeable — it was a welcoming and wonderful environment.
Make time to network
I’ve already listed some great people — I met so many amazing people at Kellogg — but here are some great people I met:
- Everyone working at Social Impact at Kellogg, especially Megan Kashner ’03 MBA and Devin Rapson ’22 MBA. The sheer amount of funding and support I received from the Social Impact team was incredible.
- Rick Desai and Sonali Lamba ’12 MBA, who both teach New Venture Development, were wonderful to have on my side. They will be for you, too; they’re there to support you.
- Last week, I spent five hours writing a marketing plan and I sent it to a marketing strategy professor, Tim Calkins. I asked for feedback, and he gave me a ton. It’s especially amazing since I’m an alumna now, and I hadn’t had class with him in a year.
That’s the huge benefit of Kellogg: People care. They want to see you succeed, and they will give you the honest feedback you need to get there.
Share your ideas and you'll find support
After letting my idea lay dormant for years, then seeing how it blossomed at Kellogg, the main lesson I want to give you is simple: Be courageous and open.
I was discouraged by a previous professor when I first thought of the idea for Springrose, but sharing my ideas widely with professors at Kellogg helped bring my idea to life. I had this amazing group of fellow students and professors there rooting for me and giving me brilliant feedback — feedback they had gained from years of experience. And you can have that kind of support, too.
When you come to Kellogg, share your ideas widely. Let people support you and invest your support right back into them. It can help bring your ideas to life.
— As told to Hal Conick