Top view of men using laptops for coding and writing. Coworkers sitting by the table and working.
Theory to practice: students yearn for guidance on how to deal with financial issues during the early years of a start-up © Vgajic/Getty Images

When Martim Gois enrolled in his masters in finance, he might have expected a career in banking or bonds — not bugs. But last year, Valpas, the company he co-founded, raised €1.6mn in seed capital to expand its business of providing a tech-based, pesticide-free solution to tackling bedbugs.

“Managing cash, so you don’t run out of money, is a crucial function at a start-up and the masters in finance has helped us develop and scale to more than 30 destinations, and grow 100 per cent year on year while running profitable operations,” says Gois, who met most of his leadership team while studying at Aalto University School of Business in Helsinki.

“But,” he adds, “it would have been really helpful to have had more practical help with fundraising and bootstrapping — and maybe bringing in, as professors of practice, a few entrepreneurs who have exited, or even failed!”

Martim Gois, co-founder of Finnish start-up Valpas
Caught the bug: Martim Gois says his masters in finance helped him develop his start-up Valpas, which uses tech to tackle bedbugs

Many masters in finance (MiF) graduates enjoy successful careers working for large financial corporates, but some seek a more entrepreneurial path. Some are inspired by the success of start-ups like Stripe and Revolut and, while there has been a slowdown in fintech investment in recent months, global fintech funding exceeded $75bn in 2022, according to CB Insights.

Recent financial downturns and the Covid pandemic have also prompted many finance graduates to rethink their career plans, says Professor Sami Attaoui, head of the finance department at Neoma Business School in France.

“After these crises, some graduates shifted their interest away from pursuing careers in banks to risk management and investment funds,” he adds. “But others have also been attracted by careers in digitally disruptive, small to medium-sized firms.”

The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, which offers expertise and support to entrepreneurial students across Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reports a 50 per cent rise since 2020 in finance-related student start-ups applying to its capstone accelerator, MIT delta v. The centre’s executive director, Paul Cheek, says fintech companies launched as a result of its support include Sigma Ratings, Posh Technologies, Almond FinTech, Zumma and CashEx.

FT Masters in Finance ranking 2023

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Find out which schools are in our ranking of the top 55 pre-experience postgraduate finance degrees. Also, learn how the table was compiled and read the rest of our coverage.

Appetite for starting up businesses has rocketed since the pandemic. According to data consultancy Beauhurst, the number of UK companies incorporated by people aged 18-24 quintupled from 11,500 in 2019 to almost 57,000 in 2022.

Most business school incubators will welcome start-ups founded by MiF students. At Grenoble Ecole de Management, for example, its incubator has helped one graduate launch a business producing reusable period pants, and another to set up a venture helping village mayors access public financing. “Fifteen years ago, our graduates launched businesses to make money — today, they often launch them to build a more sustainable world,” says Stéphanie Boyer, programme director for the MSc in Finance at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

Schools have also been adding entrepreneurship modules to their MiF programmes. In the UK, Durham University Business School’s New Venture Creation module helps students build some of the competencies needed to launch a business, exploring entrepreneurial finance, managing growth strategies, execution intelligence and exit strategies. Programme director Saadat Saeed says students are encouraged to develop ventures based on ethical, sustainable and responsible business practices.

But, for Alexandre Prot, co-founder of French challenger bank Qonto and an MiF graduate from HEC Paris, entrepreneurship should be a fully integrated part of courses. “There are many ways these courses could encourage an entrepreneurial mindset,” he suggests, “from entrepreneurship contests and campus meetups to conferences for interaction with successful entrepreneurs who could share their stories and experiences.”

Alexandre Prot, co-founder of French challenger bank Qonto and an MiF graduate from HEC Paris
Par for the course: HEC Paris MiF graduate Alexandre Prot says entrepreneurship should be a fully integrated part of courses

Hubert Pellerin, co-founder of flexible jobs platform Parents on Board, says his MiF from Paris-based Iéseg School of Management gave him “a range of in-depth knowledge and hard and soft skills, essential to make a company run”.

“But,” he adds, “it could be a good idea to have theoretical and practical courses that deal with the major financial issues that start-ups face during their first years — and perhaps bring in a business angel who could explain their vision and points of attention.”

There ought to be more courses on how finance is evolving, says Sylvain Pages, an MiF graduate from Edhec Business School who has launched corporate finance firm AltfinPartners and software as a service (SaaS) Altgency. “Edhec has a brand that’s well respected by banks and investment funds in France and we’ve been able to recruit a third of our staff from the school.

“But finance is also about building a new world based on more environmentally friendly assets, on companies with new governance models, on new financial relationships focusing on trust and transparency. This world needs to be imagined, thoughtfully planned and shared in order to develop the finance structure that will support it.”

Masters in Finance Ranking 2023

Find out where business schools sit in this year’s ranking, learn how the ranking is complied, and read the rest of our coverage.

It is a view shared by Audencia MiF graduate Jean-David Bar, co-founder of royalty-based crowd investing platform We Do Good. “In just the last couple of years, revenue-based finance has become a global trend, blockchain technology is pretty much mainstream and environmental issues are leading to environmental footprint accounting. Future financial leaders need a wider vision than they may have now.”

That’s some wishlist for business schools to consider. “Entrepreneurship and finance-related ventures often demand interdisciplinary expertise,” says Saeed at Durham, “and finding faculty members with both academic qualifications and relevant industry experience can be a challenge”.

Madeleine Bjørnestad Røed, who studied for her MiF at NHH Norwegian School of Economics, points out that a career in “big finance” can itself be the place to incubate a business idea.

“Yes, a course in fundraising for start-ups and more contact with venture capitalists and accelerators during my studies could probably have helped me,” says Røed, who co-founded social media and investment platform Stack after working in investment banking. “But I would never have worked eight years in finance without my masters in finance, and then I would never have had this idea — or the competence to execute.”

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