It’s Wednesday night at the Ivey Business School.
Much of the building is quiet, with smatterings of students studying together, reading cases, and preparing for another long day of classes.
Meanwhile, a group of 22 students are taking their seats for a first-of-its-kind program at Ivey on Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA).
ETA involves buying and running a pre-existing business. Here, an entrepreneur doesn’t have to come up with an idea, which is a fun but risky exercise filled with many unknowns, but acquires a proven company and drives it towards a new level of success.
Through the course, which ran from October 11 to November 22nd, students discovered how to identify ventures for acquisition, learned about the intricacies of the deal-making process, and how to operate businesses with long-established legacies.
The four-part program was led and crafted by Ivey HBA ’06, Shamez Virani (Co-Founder & Chair), and Braydon Myers (Vice President) of Toronto-based investment firm, Alcorn Partners, in partnership with the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship Powered by Ivey.
For Shamez, it was an opportunity to share how Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition changed his career path. And it’s a story that can be retold in the careers of more and more Ivey students who seemed destined for a life in the world of consulting and investment banking.
I explored the world of investment banking after graduating in 06’ and quickly realized I was far more interested in building and investing in businesses. In launching Alcorn Partners, I am fortunate that I get to do both while partnering with remarkable entrepreneurs to acquire enduringly profitable small-to-mid-sized companies across Canada and the United States.
Shamez Virani, HBA '06
For Morrissette Entrepreneurship, it was an opportunity to take the lead in opening another avenue for students to pursue careers in entrepreneurship.
“There have always been a range of myths involving how or who can be an entrepreneur, and while we’ve spent time dispelling those assumptions, we’ve also created avenues for people from various walks of life, and various disciplines, to explore entrepreneurship as a career path,” said Eric Morse, Executive Director of Morrissette Entrepreneurship.
That diversity has always been part of Morrissette Entrepreneurship, and ETA adds another feather to a growing group of programs, courses, and initiatives that go beyond start-ups. For twenty years, the Institute has supported high-growth entrepreneurs through executive development programs like QuantumShiftTM and the BDC’s Growth Driver Program. Family Business has been a central focus as well with the institute supporting the Family Enterprise Advisor (FEA) program, and the preparation of next-generation leaders through FamilyShiftTM. Morrissette Entrepreneurship also supports social entrepreneurship through courses, competitions, and academic research.
For Ivey, Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition seems a perfect fit, connecting deeply to its legacy for producing entrepreneurs and business professionals in the world of consulting and finance, and bridging the gap between them to meet a period of transition happening across North America.
An explosion in ETAs
Since the 1980s, the idea of Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition was explored and championed by the Harvard Business School, where courses and pathways were built to help MBAs move into leadership roles in established firms.
While it is a relatively new phenomenon in Canada, Ivey alumni have played an important role in that short history.
One of Virani’s classmates, Erik Mikkelsen, HBA ’06, together with Rob Cherun, HBA ’04, were part of Canada’s first successful search fund, Auxo Management. They purchased a Toronto-based video surveillance firm and have since grown the venture through additional acquisitions and expansions, from 55 to over 1600 employees across North America. Similarly, Nathan Tam, HBA ’06, has acquired a number of small-to-mid-sized businesses through his firm, Ashbridge Partners.
Over the past few years, more and more have explored this avenue to entrepreneurship, sparking headlines like Bloomberg’s “MBAs Are Spurning McKinsey to Buy Small Companies.”
But Bloomberg’s article wasn’t a lone canary in the coal mine.
The Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BetaKit and The Entrepreneur have all taken note of how Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition is booming, and providing a less risky path into entrepreneurship. Some are even exploring this avenue as a means to increase entrepreneurship amongst communities of colour.
While the program at Ivey has focused on the process of finding and negotiating good deals, Virani has elevated the importance of connecting with founders and the employees who have made these companies what they are.
"All great businesses have one thing in common: great people. At Alcorn, we disproportionally focus on being great stewards of the legacies that have been created by the people who have built the companies into what they are today," said Virani.
As the program comes to a close, Virani is looking forward to eventually meeting this first cohort of students, out in the field working with search funds, partnering on deals, and operating and growing their own firms for better outcomes for everyone involved.