Juliana Montoya (MBA ’20) knows that big ideas sometimes start out small.
One of her first jobs out of engineering school was working for a Silicon Valley startup in Colombia. From the start, she was hooked. She thrived on the fast pace, the team-focused culture and the opportunity to discover new technologies poised to change the world.
“It opened my eyes to what it really means to start and grow an idea from scratch,” she says.
As the company grew, Montoya progressed in her career just as rapidly. Within a few years, she was leading a team of seven and making strategic decisions. At that point, she started to notice a gap in her foundational business knowledge.
“I had a lot of questions about how I could motivate and inspire my team. We were still a high-performing group, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was missing some critical pieces around strategy, implementation and leadership,” she explains.
Montoya knew that she needed to invest in her own learning and development before committing her time and energy to the next big idea.
She applied to various business schools, and though there were many strong programs she could have pursued, the chance to enroll in the Full-Time MBA program at Rotman as a Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) fellowship student was the stand-out choice.
Every year, the CDL awards up to 20 scholarships to incoming Full-Time MBA students with a demonstrated interest and strong background in entrepreneurship. CDL fellowship students are invited to key events, including the annual Rotman Machine Learning Conference and the Disruption Experts Speaker Series. As well, students are guaranteed a spot in the second-year CDL Advanced course, where they have the chance to contribute directly to the development of a seed-stage startup that has been accepted into the year-long, objectives-based CDL program.
Not only did this opportunity allow Montoya to maintain her connection to the startup world while working towards her degree, the network she developed at Rotman would set her up for her larger goal of launching her own enterprise.
“Coming to Rotman has been a game-changer for me. I’ve been able to pursue my passion and share the space with very talented and inspiring people.”
Hitting the ground running in the startup space
Montoya didn’t want her time in business school to be spent cooped up in lecture halls and libraries, so she hit the ground running in the startup space as soon as she arrived at Rotman.
In her first year, while maintaining a full course load, she started working with Skim AI, a CDL startup based around a research automation tool that enables users to comb through volumes of text rapidly to extract key insights.
Though the team was cut from the CDL program mid-year, Montoya agreed to stay on as their marketing director. In between classes and studying, she regularly skyped with the startup and headed up a few of their projects. In the past year, she’s led the redesign of their website so that it generates better-quality leads, supported the team with recruiting new talent, and set up meetings with potential investors and partners.
For her, this hands-on experience aligned perfectly with the core MBA program.
“I felt like I kept my connection to the outside world,” she says. “With the CDL, you have the opportunity to apply everything you learn in class, right away, in the real world. You’ll walk away with a tested set of lessons.”
“With the CDL, you have the opportunity to apply everything you learned in the MBA, right away.”
—Juliana Montoya, MBA ’20
Now, in her second year at the school, she’s been matched with a promising CDL startup, Circle Optics, which has developed the technology to render one seamless, image representing a 360-degree view from a single point. (This is in stark contrast to current technologies that awkwardly stitch together shots taken at various angles from one point and often warp images).
It’s an exciting application with tons of business applications and Montoya is eager to get the group in front of investors.
“The best part about being part of a startup is realizing the range of problems you can handle,” she says. “Sometimes you’ll be faced with big challenges, with no idea on how to go forward, but you talk to people, do your own research, fail and start over again. You figure it out.”
Starting from scratch, again
As graduation approaches, what’s next for Montoya?
After Rotman, she’s headed to IBM as a client representative for global markets.
While some of her peers might be surprised that she’s not joining a startup or launching one of her own after business school, Montoya wants to gain experience in the corporate space. She’s eager to learn more about the organization’s incubator programs and advancements in machine learning, blockchain and quantum computing.
“This is just another step in my journey,” she says. “I feel like I’m starting from scratch in a different way. I expect to learn a lot about the Canadian market and working for a big organization.”
Still, she knows that she’s been bitten with the entrepreneurial bug and fully intends to pursue her own venture, eventually.
“I’m not sure exactly what my startup will look like, but there are some interesting opportunities in AI and machine learning,” she says. “I really want to use and share what I’ve learned here. Eventually, I want to bring my ideas back home to Colombia. I’d love to help businesses grow and scale and create impact in the communities there.”
Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »