“You’re surrounded by smart people extremely willing to help you.”

The entrepreneurial bug bit Clemens Raemy early. As a high school student in Switzerland, he started an online premium tobacco business that took advantage of the tax differences between the German and Spanish markets. “I did it for two years,” Clemens says, “then they changed the tax laws. It was a great experience, but my idea was too vulnerable to government actions. I realized I needed to learn more about business to avoid the same mistakes in the future.”

Clemens’ work at Summit Partners provided some of that education. “Summit is special,” he says. “Unlike most private equity firms where the partners do the sourcing, at Summit, associates like me made the initial outreach to CEOs. I got to know them well and they were eager to share advice. Most of them said I should start my own company sooner rather than later – just jump into the water.”

A place to raise all the arguments

Before making the leap, however, Clemens wanted to know more about what he was jumping into. “I saw HBS as the perfect opportunity to get the management experience I didn’t have,” he explains. “The HBS MBA is a credential everyone recognizes; half the VC partners I’ve met have passed through HBS.”

In the Entrepreneurship Club, Clemens met Jesus Fernandez. Unbeknownst to either of them, they had worked at Lehman Brothers in London at the same time, but hadn’t crossed paths. Now they are partners in “SaferTaxi,” an innovative start-up intended to make taxi riders more secure in developing countries. “Every 36 hours someone gets kidnapped from a taxi in Argentina,” Clemens says. “It’s every 20 hours in Ecuador, and in Mexico, a taxi passenger is robbed, assaulted or kidnapped in a taxi every four hours.” Through mobile phones, riders can register their drivers to check their record and contribute their own feedback. “The whole point is to increase driver accountability.”

Clemens and Jesus have sought advice from Jeff Bussgang, a Flybridge Capital general partner and an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Arthur Rock Center. They entered the Business Plan Contest and have applied for a summer fellowship.

But the value of HBS extends beyond connections and resources, Clemens believes. “I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve learned. The classes are a safety zone in which everyone can raise all the arguments, even if they’re controversial. You’re among people you know and trust. That’s the strength of HBS. You’re surrounded by smart people extremely willing to help you.”

Nothing to lose

HBS’s strength was reinforced during the India IXP Clemens joined. “We visited a school founded by an HBS alum and promised to help them raise money for technology,” he says. “When we visited New Delhi Television, we asked for a monitor on the school’s behalf. In India, things usually move slowly, but just three days later, the school got its TV.”

Clemens expects his business interests to move rapidly as well. “After graduation, I’ll develop SaferTaxi if it’s successful. If not, I’ll start a new idea. I have nothing to lose. I can take all the risks I want. Even if you lose money, education is a treasure that can never be taken away from you.”