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Ernest Kabuye, Weekend MBA student and a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University

How did you end up at Chicago Booth?

I was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda. I came to the US to do my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Northeastern University in Boston and did my master’s at Tufts University. I then worked for four years in the medical device industry. During that time, I picked up digital photography, grasped a curiosity for life through listening to a hip hop group called A Tribe Called Quest, and solidified my love for football—or soccer, as you call it here. In traveling back home, I started to feel the need to do something to contribute to Africa’s economic recovery, and that is how I came to consider getting a PhD and MBA. Let’s just say that Mark Twain’s quote “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most” is applicable here.

Tell us about your first entrepreneurial endeavor

There is a lot of opportunity for growth in Africa that is not visible, but is present. I started a Venture Capital (VC) firm called Impala Capital, which focused on getting high-net-worth individuals to invest in seed stage companies in Sub-Saharan Africa. My first foray into VC, I crashed and burned. I learned that I might need to approach things differently and that I would benefit from more technical expertise, which is why I decided to pursue a PhD. I also wanted to have a better understanding of how to run a business, which is where the MBA came in.

I felt like this was the right time to pursue these opportunities and build the foundation I needed to try to kickstart the VC firm again and give that a second shot. Even now as I continue to expand my network, the people I speak with are more responsive because they see what I am building through my education. Sub-Saharan Africa is virgin territory for innovative ideas and experimentation. I want to place myself at the center of it so I can have these opportunities. I am learning a lot about better execution and how to navigate that landscape. 

You juggle a lot of commitments. How do you keep those balls in the air?

I decided that while I am in the US, I need to maximize the opportunities as much as I can. I need to make sure that every year counts for something. Being surrounded by people who are always looking forward and trying to do something significant in their lives helped me to reflect on mine. 

It’s also all about time management. I’m very structured with my calendar and I use the tools around me to stay on track. When I started at Chicago Booth, the program helped me figure out what I needed to do and helped me put a timeline against my goals. When the pandemic started it was another shift—I had just figured out how things work, and now this threw a wrench in my plans. However, the pandemic provided me with an opportunity to get involved in more activities and have more room for engagement; I could now attend workshops or conferences regardless of where I was located. I saw an opportunity to devote myself to more activities; I joined the Admissions committee and became a co-chair for the Coalition of Minorities in Business

Name a highlight from your time at Chicago Booth

Establishing relationships with professors. The Rugby World Cup was in progress when I was taking Business Statistics with Professor Nicholas Polson. I have spoken about the sport in a couple of podcasts and I go deep into the analytical side of formations and players, based on their history and tactics. Professor Polson is from the UK and supported England while I supported South Africa. We spent a lot of time after class talking about tactics and stats and it was like a real-time application of his class, which I really enjoyed.

Booth Weekend MBA student Ernest Kabuye

"Booth is a place where there are real opportunities to put together something you haven't seen before. I had a lot of support and positive response along the way and realized that I was in the position to pull the trigger and try to make new events happen."

— Ernest Kabuye

On Joining the Coalition of Minorities in Business

I wasn’t initially sure if I should come to Chicago Booth. I wasn’t sure what I would be getting myself into, especially as a student of color. At the time, I spoke with another African American student named Tim Turner,‘20, and he was very frank with me. He said you’re going to find that there’s not enough Black representation at any school. The difference at Chicago Booth is that you can actually try to do something about it here. You won’t get that freedom elsewhere. 

I became active with the Coalition of Minorities in Business (CMB) around the time that Chicago Booth transitioned to an online format. Before that, I didn’t have bandwidth to take on the role, but when I saw I had the time, I thought I should seize the opportunity to do something. As a black immigrant from Uganda, learning how the US civil rights movement paved the way for the fight for equality for African Americans made me further appreciate the value of access to higher education I was receiving. It also made me recognise there is more that still needs to be done. Getting involved with CMB is one way to help provide opportunities to get more Black representation on campus.      

Which CMB event are you most proud of?

In the class Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity, Professor Scott Meadow discussed the fact that there are not a lot of Black Private Equity (PE) groups/professionals in the industry. He talked about the need for more progress and encouraged those who are in the position to make these connections to help be a part of that change. I became interested in connecting with PE professionals of color, especially those who are Chicago Booth alumni. CMB partnered with the Private Equity Group to host a virtual event: Navigating Private Equity as minorities. Our panelists included Martin Nesbitt, ‘89, the co-CEO of The Vistria Group and the Chairman of the Barack Obama Foundation, along with Hind Hassan, ‘19, and Drew Godwin, ‘18. I was surprised at the response because we had more than 100 participants. I was encouraged that Professor Chris McGowan attended the event and praised us for bringing back a Chicago Booth alumnus to showcase Black alumni in the PE industry. 

How are you creating more opportunities for representation in and outside of Chicago Booth?

Booth is a place where there are real opportunities to put together something you haven’t seen before. I had a lot of support and positive response along the way and realized that I was in the position to pull the trigger and try to make new events happen. I am now working on a VC event for CMB. There’s not a lot of representation in this space, but if people see those who look like them in the industry, they may feel they can be a part of it, too. 

I’ve made it a point to encourage those I meet in the USA and Uganda  to apply to Chicago Booth and I offer to help them with their applications. It’s important they see someone who looks like them head to a school like Booth. I think there are those who want to apply but stop at the application submission stage, perhaps because of fear or self-doubt (which I also had). I want to help people see that opportunities live on the other side of that fear.

Learn more about the Coalition of Minorities of Business.

Read more about Ernest Kabuye.