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Romanian MBA Students Turn Class Projects into a Business

Blog written by Dr. Perry Haan

A group of students in the Tiffin University MBA program in Bucharest, Romania took their class projects over the past year and a half and turned them into a business. The group recently received its second round of venture capital funding for the endeavor.

Marius Cealera, Marcel Iancau, Mihai Iordache and Stefan Zghibarcea used their class project from their marketing management class in their first term of the Tiffin MBA and have grown it into a viable business. Tiffin University Professor Dr. Danielle Foster taught that first class. The group had a real zest for knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit that was remarkable from the very beginning, according to Foster. “I knew immediately when we began the experiential learning process of building a marketing plan for the class that this group would launch Casa de Idei” she said.

The business, Casa de Idei, is an online interior design firm. According to the company’s web site it is “a modern online platform that brings together enthusiasts and professionals in interior design.” Casa de Idei translates to “Ideas House” in English. The team decided to use business for its MBA assignments through the program. According to Cealera, “We realized a minimum viable product would be relatively easy and cheap to develop and launch, so we started working on it.”

The idea was then developed in each of the classes through the rest of the MBA program. “It worked out more or less in-line with the MBA curricula. We developed our marketing, financial and overall strategy as we went through the modules. Each course added a new piece to the puzzle” Cealera added. The group used Casa De Idei in as many assignments as it could. Cealera said “it is clear for all of us that Casa De Idei exists only because we had the chance to meet in the right context. The Tiffin MBA in Bucharest provided that context for us.”

Iancau knows the interior design industry and proposed starting something similar to his classmates based on what they were learning in the MBA classes. Iordache and Zghibarcea brought their knowledge of sales and marketing to the project. The members bootstrapped the initial funding of 20,000 RON (approximately $5,000 US) to get things started.

As the company was developing through the different classes it became obvious they were going to need more funding to grow. After the first year, the team had completed most of the business plan with product strategy, market research, business development and projections for the next two to three years. What it lacked was funding to accelerate its growth.

The first round of funding was secured through the CritBiz programme in October, 2018, an EU sponsored business accelerator with which Iancau was familiar. “We applied for funding using all the materials developed in class, including the business plan” said Cealera. The project was one of ten selected to do a live pitch of its idea. Using slides created during the marketing class and the story they kept using in all their classes, they won a non-refundable grant of 40,000 euros (approximately $45,000 US). The group was surprised that it was not more difficult to obtain funding. “Securing funding is not that hard, especially in the Romanian market where substantial funding is available through EU funding initiatives” according to Cealera.

In November, 2018, the team applied for and was granted another 26,000 euros (approximately $29,000 US) from an accelerator program sponsored by Telekom, one of the largest communication providers in Europe. For this second round of funding the team “used our trusty slide deck and story from our classes, got selected as finalists and did a five-minute presentation in front of well-known entrepreneurs in Romania” Cealera said.

Despite stiff competition, the online interior design business the team built differentiates itself by providing a platform for users to share ideas and experiences. The site is aimed at urban and suburban homeowners in the major metropolitan areas in Romania. The company is investing in additional technology to offer more functionality to its platform. Casa de Idei is creating a new platform and premium accounts, which will add new revenue streams. It is also planning to launch mobile apps for the site for Apple and Android phones by the end of the year. Two employees were recently hired to assist with business development and cyber security and there are plans to hire two more for a total of seven employees by the end of the year.

Tiffin University Romania Roxana Farrugia, Director said of Casa De Idei stated, “The MBA program has inspired our students to embrace the entrepreneurship spirit, benefiting from teacher’s know-how and colleagues’ feedback, they managed to make this marketing assignment a viable project. I am also glad that through this project, the MBA program becomes a real return on investment, which is a vital consideration for MBA candidates picking this type of program.”

The company has drawn attention from the Romanian media. Casa De Idei received coverage on a national TV station dedicated to business and entrepreneurship. Cealera was interviewed by one of the well-known financial analysts in the Romanian media. Casa De Idei also initiated a series of online design contests in partnership with large design and furniture firms. “This exposure increased our user based from a few registered users to more than 1,000, quickly surpassing our growth projections for the year” Cealera said. The site’s content is quickly growing, with more than 250 independent articles added to the platform.

The future looks bright for the company. It is planning to apply for more EU funding to develop products in the areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Cealera stated, “The EU is investing heavily in the practical application of these technologies, so there are multiple sources of funding, if we can put together a good plan.”

Dr. Laura Mays, Director of the Tiffin MBA in Bucharest, remarked about the success of the students’ plan. “I am thrilled at the way these students turned the concepts they discussed in the MBA program into a viable business. This is an ideal outcome! We can now use Casa de Idei as a case study. What could be better than that, for our students to see how the TU MBA influenced these already ambitious men to refine and implement their ideas.”

Cealera said the Tiffin MBA provided the networking required to put the team together and the right curricula to move the project along, “even when we had our doubts. It (the Tiffin MBA program) pushed us to create quality content, knowing it will be closely scrutinized by our colleagues and professors.”

This venture embodies everything TU professors hope will happen as a result, at least in part, of participating in the Tiffin MBA program Mays said. “The founders of Casa de Idei made it quite clear what about the program helped them to put their business together. They have created a pathway for others to follow.”