Chris Abkarians (HBS MBA 2020) says, “There is a magical window while you are at HBS, where you can get in touch with anyone in the world, through LinkedIn, through the HBS network, or even a cold email, and they’ll respond.”

Chris was a content and strategy manager at Netflix when he applied to HBS. He knew he wanted to start something new—he wanted to go to business school to become an entrepreneur. Chris is from Southern California and studied Political Science at Duke during undergrad. He had been thinking about entrepreneurship for a while, and the business school application process helped Chris rip the Band-Aid off. He says it was “a forcing function to put me in a mind space to be an entrepreneur, to walk away from doing the easy job.”

Nikhil Agrawal (HBS MBA 2020) grew up in India and studied aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He worked at Boeing as an engineer for several years before applying to HBS. “Almost no one from Boeing ever applies to a full-time MBA,” Nikhil said. He applied with the goal of going into consulting after business school, as he saw an MBA as a chance to help him switch industries.

Chris applied to Stanford GSB and HBS, and had a very tough decision to make when he gained admission to both. He ended up choosing HBS despite the perception that Silicon Valley is more entrepreneurial. For Chris, HBS stood out as the best option for entrepreneurship because the entrepreneurial resources are robust and HBS is in a big and innovative city. Another entrepreneur-friendly feature of HBS is its leave-of-absence policy. HBS allows students to take up to a 5-year leave of absence during the MBA to work on a company. “HBS doesn’t require you to reapply if you want to come back, that was a huge advantage,” Chris added.

The summer before business school was a busy one for both Chris and Nikhil. Chris posted on the incoming HBS class Slack page that he was looking for a co-founder interested in working on a start-up during business school. Nikhil expressed interest. They corresponded remotely initially; their first in-person meeting was in Harvard Square, across the river from HBS. At this meeting, they learned a bit more about each other: Chris is more social and had business expertise, Nikhil prefers to stay inward-facing but has amazing technical expertise. They both fondly remember a moment on HBS’s Spangler Lawn, when the two fully committed to the venture, as well as to each other as co-founders.

From that point on, Nikhil and Chris started working on Juno (formerly known as LeverEdge) and they have built it out over the last one-and-a-half years. Juno uses the power of collective bargaining to get lending institutions to lower interest rates for students at top-tier graduate institutions. Their start-up has helped hundreds of students access over $100M in loans at rates and terms that are better than what any single student could get on their own.

Chris and Nikhil both feel Juno would not have gotten to the stage it is at without the HBS MBA ecosystem. In particular, Nikhil credits the HBS case method for allowing him to see frameworks across different cases and for giving him confidence in the structural management and evaluation math that are integral to their work with Juno.

They were also very involved in the formal entrepreneurship ecosystem at HBS. For example, they were part of the Venture Incubation Program every semester at HBS, as well as the Rock Summer Fellows program. The Venture Incubation allowed them weekly check-ins with a dedicated i-lab advisor, office hours with entrepreneurs-in-residence, and dinners and socials for peer-to-peer learning. As part of the Rock Summer Fellows program, they received peer and community support, as well as monthly stipends from the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship to cover their rent and living expenses during the summer, so they could focus on working full time on their startup. They also enrolled in two classes (Product Managment 101 and Field X) that allowed them to work on Juno for school credit.

In addition to using these formal resources, Nikhil and Chris feel that two additional things have been immensely helpful at HBS in building out their start-up: their professors and their classmates. They cite Professor Tom Eisenmann, who created the January term Start-up Bootcamp, Professor Jeff Bussgang, who teaches the elective course Launching Technology Ventures, and Professor Julia Austin, who teaches Product Management 101/102, as being extremely valuable in advising them and connecting them with contacts in industry.

They also point to RC Strategy Professor Ben Esty and EC Negotiations Professor Kevin Mohan as particularly helpful early on in their company. In fact, Chris says, “we literally spent 30 minutes meeting with Professor Mohan, and he completely changed the way we structure negotiations we do with banks.”

Anytime they had a problem, or anytime they wanted to get in touch with someone, they reached out to classmates, many of whom were previously entrepreneurs themselves. Their classmates were always willing to help at the drop of a hat. In fact, they were able to get in touch with an important PR contact through a highschool classmate of one of their section mates.

They have grown their member base to 35,000 people, facilitated over $250M in loan volume, and expanded into new segments. They are currently operating fully remote with a full-time team of 10 people. Chris and Nikhil are excited for what the future holds as alumni and will continue to utilize the HBS network as they grow as entrepreneurs.