Q&A with Executive MBA Entrepreneurship Club Co-President Niki Schur-Narula
Today on the blog, we’re excited to feature a Q&A with Niki Schur-Narula, a GEMBA format student in our Executive MBA Class of 2021. Niki is one of the co-Presidents of the Executive MBA Entrepreneurship Club (EMBEC), and we recently caught up with him to talk more about his background, what led him to Darden, his role as a leader of EMBEC and more.
If you’re passionate about entrepreneurship and interested in learning more about Darden’s executive formats, we invite you to join Darden Admissions, Niki and other members of EMBEC on Monday, 21 September at 6:00 pm ET for a webinar about Entrepreneurship and Darden’s Executive MBA Program. Register now! All registrants will be emailed a link to a recording of the session.
Who are you? What’s your background?
I’m Niki Schur-Narula. I live in New York City and I am a second-year GEMBA student and Managing Director of Urmatt Ltd., a social-impact, organic foods business based in Thailand. Urmatt and its partner businesses work closely with disadvantaged communities in Thailand to grow a number of different crops, from which value-added consumer-processed goods are made and distributed internationally.
I was born in Bangkok, Thailand, to a German-American mom and an Indian-Thai dad. I grew up in Bangkok and Toulouse, France. After high school, I moved to upstate New York to begin my undergraduate degree, which focused on music and art. From there I went on to work for a number of contemporary art galleries and international art fairs in New York, and then continued in this trajectory in Berlin, Germany. I came to a point in my career where I realized I wanted to be making more of a difference in bettering the world and people’s lives. I decided to make the switch to my family’s company, which I felt would give me a solid foundation in “business as a force for good.” This brought me back to Thailand, where I ran the marketing division of our company before taking on the Director
role in New York City.
How did you decide to pursue an MBA?
All of my experience in non-arts business has been gained through on-the-ground learning. Eventually, I realized that it would be wise for me to gain some fundamental skills to plug the holes I felt existed in my business acumen. Growing my network and meeting other working professionals through an Executive MBA program, which would allow me to continue to work, was also a big draw.
What led you to Darden?
Darden had an immediate appeal. I was considering a number of programs along the East Coast, and I kept circling back to Darden for a number of reasons. Firstly, I had heard great things from alumni about the strength and reach of the Darden network.
Secondly, the program seemed to be much more well-rounded than a number of its competitors, many of which are geared more heavily toward specific industries that did not suit my long-term purposes. The format of monthly in-person residencies with online classes in the off weeks made it easier to accommodate my business travel, which was a challenge with other schools’ schedules. The Case Study Method and working closely with a core team was also a huge draw. Especially at the executive level, it is invaluable to apply business learnings to real-life situations. Lastly, and most importantly, every person I met at Darden was so passionate about the program—I knew it had to be special.
Now that you are in the second year of the program, how has the program impacted your work?
Where do I start! For one, I can finally understand what our CFO is saying! It has been very impactful. Through the Executive program, I have been able to learn from my classmates’ wealth of professional experience and leverage their connections to meet individuals in relevant companies. My professors have helped me make some important business decisions, and another classmate and I are discussing the possibility of launching a new venture. And I’m only a year in!
You are one of the leaders of the Executive MBA Entrepreneurship Club. What attracted you to this role?
I am Co-President of the Entrepreneurship Club alongside my pioneering colleague Claritza Jimenez. I was attracted to the role because I have experience in developing new, bootstrapped businesses. Adopting the Co-President role offers me a position from which to assist members of my cohort in navigating similar situations. It also allows for direct connection with Darden’s entrepreneurship initiatives like the Batten Institute, as well as with professors who specialize in this area.
I’ll use this opportunity to mention that I also founded the EMBA Sustainability Club, whose mission is to demonstrate that business and altruism are not mutually exclusive—you can be profitable while being environmentally and socially responsible! Most recently, we brought in Bart Houlahan, founder of B Corps, as a guest speaker to discuss this topic with us.
What do you hope to accomplish with EMBAEC this year?
We have a lot in store! We’re focused on tightening up relations with the residential Entrepreneurship Club and the Batten Institute, bringing in some great speakers, connecting students with venture capital opportunities, and we will soon be launching a regular EMBAEC newsletter to keep everybody up to date on the goings-on we are setting up.
Any words of advice for our prospective students?
Darden is a demanding and often taxing thing to add to your already busy life. Make sure that your family and friends are aware that you’ll likely be unavailable for much of the week. Don’t go in blind—sit in on a class, talk to alumni and current students (I’m always happy to have a chat), see if the case method is for you. It may sound daunting (and it is!), but I know that I made a great decision in joining Darden. I’ve learned from some stellar educators, I’ve made some great friends, and I have a newfound sense of motivation thanks to my cohort.
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