Real Humans of Dartmouth Tuck’s MBA Class of 2021
Robert Sewell, Tuck’s MBA Class of 2021
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 5 years in strategy consulting; 3 years founding and running a renewable energy startup
Why business school? Why now?
In 2016, I launched my first startup to commercialize renewable energy technologies developed at Georgia Tech. We thought we had the perfect product—a solar panel attachment clip that reduced panel attachment time from 5 minutes per panel to under 30 seconds.
We pitched our clips to the largest solar equipment manufacturers across the world, trying to show them how we could help them save millions of dollars of installation costs on their next project. We had a deal lined up to license 20 million clips to one of the largest European solar manufacturers, but the deal fell through when we were undercut by a billion-dollar French manufacturer with a similar product at the last minute.
This experience taught me that it takes more than just a great product to succeed as a startup. I recognized that I needed formal training in finance and management to be able to convince customers and VCs to take a chance on my next startup.
Why Tuck? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
From early on in the application process, the admissions team and Center for Entrepreneurship showed me tons of resources that I could leverage to build out my solar company while in school. I spent over an hour with the head of the entrepreneurship program reviewing the different programs and incubators I could jump into as soon as I started. They convinced me that starting business school didn’t mean hitting pause on my company–instead my company provided a real-world scenario where I could apply what I was learning in the classroom.
What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2021?
I want to use my experience incubating technologies at both $100 billion tech companies and bootstrapped startups to help my classmates in the VC and entrepreneurship clubs incubate new ideas and products while at school.
Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
Before I went into consulting, I wanted to spend my career in the music business. I was in a band in college, hosted my own radio show, and spent a summer working at a record label on the Lower East Side.
Post-MBA career interests?
Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Start early—I took the GMAT while I was still in undergrad even though I wasn’t sure about going to business school. I know that I scored higher than I would have if I had waited, and it removed stress during the application process.
–One thing you would change or do differently?
I would’ve avoid getting too deep into the details of my essays before having a clear picture of my full application story. I wasted a ton of time wordsmithing essays that never made it to the final application.
–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
Letters of recommendation—I felt like it was a lot to ask of my recommenders because of the amount of time and thought they put into the process. Starting this process earlier makes it less stressful.
What is your initial impression of Tuck’s students/culture/community?
Because of Tuck’s location, the people that choose to come here are really excited to get involved. A majority of first-year students live on campus and are involved with activities nightly.
One thing you have learned about Tuck that has surprised you?
The amount of resources for startups on campus. The Center for Entrepreneurship just launched a startup incubator, and the school is quick to connect students with opportunities across the broader university. The engineering school is across the street from Tuck, and I’ve already begun working with the school to sponsor engineering research for my startup.
Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Prioritizing my time. I am working on two startups while I am here, and it’s already tough figuring out which activities/meetings/lectures to participate in during my spare time.
Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Ski season! There are about 10 mountains within an hour of Hanover, and it sounds like the whole school plans to ski most weekends this winter.