Gaining Focus: MBA@UNC Student Lauri De Cicco Repurposes Her Venture

toddler_resourcesEntrepreneurs often hit roadblocks while launching their ventures. With so much to consider, from financial modeling to marketing, it can be challenging to coordinate everything while also aligning every decision with the core mission of the business. When Lauri De Cicco decided to enroll in MBA@UNC, she was struggling to generate interest in her new venture, Toddler Resource. Through online MBA entrepreneurship courses, De Cicco gained the support and resources she needed to take her idea to the next level.

Pinpointing Key Strategies Through Market Testing

Like many entrepreneurs, De Cicco’s journey began when she realized a need that had yet to be met. While searching online for things to do with her toddler on vacations in various cities, she began to notice that there was a lack of insight on what activities or places would be appropriate. Not only that, she found that other mothers were having the same issue finding this information. That’s when she began developing her Web site, which would not only offer helpful reviews for parents, but also make those opinions available in a central location. There was just one problem. She lacked fundamental strategies to make her business successful.

There is a crucial step that can make or break a new venture: testing the market. Dr. Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, emphasizes the importance of market testing when he coaches students in the program. De Cicco realized that before she could launch her business, she would need to fine-tune the content to fuel Web traffic. The more parents she could attract to her site, the more viable it would appear to investors. To do this, Dr. Zoller suggested that De Cicco seek feedback from her target audience to make her Web site more useful. After developing two detailed surveys, she sent them to 100 people and gathered their input on what content they would find interesting or helpful.

“I was too spread out. I wanted to be all things to all people. What I learned through the program is to find your beachhead customer and then expand from there.”

De Cicco’s studies in the MBA@UNC Program and Dr. Zoller’s mentorship enabled her to not only identify her target customer, but also tailor her Web site to fit their needs and preferences. Ultimately, that direct fulfillment of consumers’ desires is what makes a business flourish.

Fulfilling Three Roles: Mother, Student and Entrepreneur

For De Cicco to take her venture to the next level, MBA courses in entrepreneurship would be crucial—but not just any program would do. MBA@UNC not only offered rigorous entrepreneurial courses, but it also provided a full suite of coursework to help De Cicco hone essential business skills and grow as a leader. In addition, the interactive online platform provided De Cicco with the convenience she was looking for. As a mother, she needed an education that would offer maximum flexibility so that she wouldn’t have to compromise her home life. In fact, the primary reasons that De Cicco left her position as vice president of operations for a computer manufacturing company were the long hours and stress that prevented her from spending time with her daughters. Fortunately, MBA@UNC provided the perfect solution: an education that would empower her to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams without adversely affecting her family life. Since entering the program, she has moved from Orlando, Fla., to San Diego, Calif., and the online program allowed her to make a smooth transition and keep up with her studies.

A Nurturing Environment

De Cicco had extensive professional work experience before entering MBA@UNC. However, there were many critical business skills, such as financial planning, that she needed to prepare for a leadership role. Through her coursework, she gained a better grasp of the fundamental skills she had been missing, such as how to get funding from sponsors or how to manage and organize the business as a C-level executive. Most important, she was able to gain perspective on her own business by analyzing and assessing case studies of other entrepreneurs in Dr. Zoller’s New Ventures Discovery class.

“At MBA@UNC, I gained a sense of confidence that I really could do it. I saw examples of other people who had gone from their concept to launching a business and seeing it be successful.”

In this course, Dr. Zoller provides a variety of cases studies of real-life businesses, from a brewery to an aviation company. Students examine the entrepreneurs’ journeys from start to finish, and in the process, learn from their mistakes and successes. This insight, De Cicco said, was especially valuable to her in determining what was necessary to move her business forward. According to De Cicco, one advantage of pursuing an entrepreneurship MBA online is that she can benefit from the experience and knowledge of other students with different professional backgrounds. This unique learning community, which fuses a wide variety of perspectives and experiences, is just one of the things that sets UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School apart. De Cicco is able to attend virtual classes in small groups with video discussions, presentations and real-time simulations that drive learning to a new level.

“I think I’ve actually had more direct interaction this way. If I were just sitting in a classroom, I would be able to remain anonymous. Whereas the way these classes are set up, you’re on video, you’re on-screen, you get called on in every class and you need to come prepared and ready to interact.”

For De Cicco, the accessibility of her professors and classmates combined with the dynamic nature of MBA@UNC courses proved to be the perfect combination for pursuing her entrepreneurial goals.

About Lauri:
As the CEO of Kanuto, Inc. (dba Toddler Resource), Lauri is responsible for day-to-day operations, as well as leading the company’s strategy, investor relations and business development. Lauri has an extensive background in technology having worked at several Silicon Valley technology start-ups. Among them are Panasas Inc. where she was the Director of Support, Network Appliance where she was the Director of Global Partner Programs, and Penguin Computing where she was the Vice President of Operations, Hardware Engineering and Service. Lauri began her career as an officer in the United States Army. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point and is a current MBA student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Lauri is the mother of two lovely daughters who are the priority in her life.