“What we do at Blair is provide a service that offers American college students the money to pay for their tuition or their cost of living. In turn, they pay a percentage of their income once they graduate,” explains co-founder and WHU alumnus Mike Mahlkow. “Not only do we offer financial support but we also help them to secure their first job after graduating, become more employable, and ultimately get hired. Essentially what we are providing is a digital career center on top of the funding we deliver.”
Mike, a WHU Bachelor student who graduated in 2017, met his first Blair co-founder during an exchange semester in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California. “We hit it off straight away as friends and built a couple of businesses together before launching Blair earlier this year,” he says. “It is inspired by Brain Capital, a successful financing scheme currently offered by WHU, which I think many WHU students have considered doing something similar in other countries. That is where the inspiration came from as well as other income-share agreement funds in Germany. We noticed that many of our friends in the USA complained about student debt while our friends in Germany did not, despite having the same financing needs. The only difference was these income-share agreements, which are uncommon in the USA and this is what we wanted to change. If students have higher-paying jobs then they earn more, which means we will earn more too. So it’s a fairly holistic business plan that is beneficial for all stakeholders involved.”
“It’s not only the student clubs and that everyone supports each other; studying at WHU helped me to dream bigger.”
“A lot of the things I do now are only possible because of what I learned at WHU. Aside from academics, I think the biggest benefit of WHU is the community. You are studying with so many ambitious people that it drives you to be more productive and everyone is always pushing each other to be better. Before WHU, I never thought or believed it was possible that I could be working in Silicon Valley with my own company. During my studies, I was Chairman of Saidia Consulting (the pro bono student consultancy at WHU) helping NGOs and social businesses, as well as Vice Chairman of Confluentes e.V. (the student-led management consultancy at WHU supporting companies of all sizes) which helped me gain a perspective on the different problems that businesses have, whilst learning to manage teams. Then there was my internship with a start-up in Silicon Valley after my second semester. Again, the WHU community stepped in to support me – an alumnus who invited me surfing with his friends despite not knowing me at all. No matter where you are in the world, you can always be sure to find WHU alumni there who are happy to help.”
“We aim to improve the lives of the students we finance and the people we work with.”
This year, Mike and his co-founders (David Nordhausen and Constantin Schreiber) found themselves in the unique position of being a part of the Y Combinator program, an American seed accelerator that has helped launch companies such as Dropbox, Reddit, and Airbnb. “Being a part of Y Combinator has been on my bucket list for so long. The partners are extremely helpful with tactical and strategic questions and you form a strong bond with the founders in your batch. Each week YC invites accomplished entrepreneurs who talk about their struggles and successes – we actually met some of our first investors during these weeks. We made a lot of progress as a company, which would not have been possible without the program, and our network simply exploded. We have access to contacts now we could not have dreamed of before and it is mind-blowing to think I have met 50% of my start-up heroes this summer.”
As Blair goes from strength to strength, investing in more students and hiring people to join their team, it seems only natural that in the coming years Blair could become a mainstream financing option for college students in the USA. So what advice does Mike offer to WHU students who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs? “Firstly, choose the people you co-found with very wisely. It should be people you genuinely like, who complement your skills, and who you’ve worked with before. Secondly, I found it incredibly helpful to get involved with as many side projects as I could during my studies. It broadens your perspective and enriches your experience. Don’t be shy to create your own opportunities - not everything is always publicly advertised. Put effort into trying different things, especially those others might not do - that is where you find the greatest opportunities."
To find out more visit www.joinblair.com