Duke - The Fuqua School of Business
Juliana Taylor

Juliana Taylor

Class of 2012

The MMS program pushed me to link what I was learning in the classroom to real-life situations. In undergrad, there is a tendency to separate the academic world from reality, but Fuqua bridges that gap.

International Roots

I spent most of my teenage years in Ghana, which is where my parents are from. They came to the United States for graduate school, and I was born in Rhode Island, but we all moved back to Ghana in 1999. I already knew the language and most of the customs, so the transition wasn't too difficult for me. I attended an international school, and there were students from all over the world, including a few Americans. I came back to the U.S. every summer, and then for college. I was always expected to study hard, get good grades, and get into a top U.S. university.

I graduated from Princeton in 2010, and then returned to Ghana for some real-world experience. I worked at Google as a Project Coordinator where I focused on business and university outreach programs. One of my programs assisted small- and medium-sized businesses by showing them how to leverage online tools.

Addressing Business Needs in Ghana

Working at Google sparked my interest in business, specifically in strategy and development in emerging markets. Through my work, I became aware of how few resources were available for small business owners in Ghana. Many didn't have basic bookkeeping tools to manage their accounts. This really limited their potential, so I started to think of ways that I could help. I began looking through some of my mom's old MBA textbooks, and came up with the idea of creating specialized accounting software. I did a lot of research and built the initial version of the software myself. I worked with accountants in Ghana to ensure that my software would be viable and useful. I included all of Ghana's tax codes in the software. Then I worked with a developer to fine tune it and build the final version, which I launched as "Start Smart." It's a one-stop shop where businesses can manage their finances.

Start Smart is a grassroots effort aimed at empowering small business leaders. I support and promote it through a blog, Start Smart at Entrepreneur's Corner, which is also educational. I really want to help small business leaders in Ghana who have limited access to resources and education. My blog enables me to do that by sharing what I've learned in MMS. I write about how to define a brand, how to identify customers, how to cut costs, intellectual property, transitioning from a family business, etc. I'm not sure how far Start Smart will go, but I'm really passionate about supporting business development in Ghana.

Lessons Learned

I decided to pursue the MMS program because I wanted to develop foundational business skills from a rigorous and globally-focused school. I found Fuqua to be the perfect fit for me, and the MMS program has been a great experience. The journey has been tough and at times overwhelming, but I'm definitely glad I did it. I had the chance to refine my ways of thinking, and gained new knowledge.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from MMS is that your time at Fuqua is what you make it. Graduate school builds maturity. You are expected to set your own goals beyond those dictated by grades and use these goals to determine how you use Fuqua's resources. The opportunities are endless and being proactive is key—channeling your energy toward your passions will help you reach your full potential.

The MMS program pushed me to link what I was learning in the classroom to real-life situations. In undergrad, there is a tendency to separate the academic world from reality, but Fuqua bridges that gap.

Outside the Classroom

During the MMS program, I developed my entrepreneurial interests, worked with the local Durham community, and formed what I hope will be lifelong friendships. I love writing and enjoyed sharing my Fuqua journey on the MMS Student Blog. I hope my posts provide prospective students with an insightful view of the MMS program and life at Fuqua and Duke. Working on the student blog is actually what inspired me to launch my Start Smart blog, and I've learned a lot from getting involved with this kind of social media.

In addition, I was a founding member of the MMS Black Students' Association (BSA). Forming a club was simple, so don't hesitate to create a student club if one doesn't already exist for you. My classmates and I were motivated to create the group because as students of color, we wanted a resource that catered to our particular needs. But sometimes ethnic organizations can be polarizing, so we took a different approach and were open to everyone. We held events, like a food drive and fashion show, which any student could participate in.

We worked a lot with the students of the Black and Latino MBA Organization. We set up a mentoring program with them, which paired MBA students with MMS students. The purpose of the mentorship program was to create opportunities for MMS students to learn from the experiences of MBAs with similar interests or backgrounds. It was also an outlet for honest conversations and for sharing general advice on the job search and professional goals. My MBA mentor is going to do consulting in Africa, and it was great to get to know her because we understood each other's interests and had a lot in common. It was very beneficial to engage across programs and broaden my network to include the MBA students—they have more professional experiences and a lot to offer to MMS students.