Brandeis International Business School

She’s training the next generation of entrepreneurs

Bozhanka Vitanova, MA’16, created an algorithm to help businesses build better teams and boost their workers’ entrepreneurial ‘muscle’

Bozhanka Vitanova, MA'16 is flexing her entrepreneurial muscles. | Photo credit: Heratch Ekmekjian

Bozhanka Vitanova, MA'16 is flexing her entrepreneurial muscles. | Photo credit: Heratch Ekmekjian

Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with worries about not having what it takes?

One Brandeis International Business School alumna can put your mind at ease.

Bozhanka Vitanova, MA’16, says entrepreneurial skills can be developed, trained and honed similar to how athletes master their craft on the playing field. Like basketball players who continuously work on executing a perfect jump shot, Vitanova says entrepreneurs also have to exercise and cultivate essential skills.

“Entrepreneurs use muscles and build a muscle memory of skills that help them succeed,” said Vitanova, who has worked as an entrepreneur in seven countries and also brings those same skills to Brandeis’ next generation of aspiring startup founders. 

Through the Hassenfeld Family Innovation Center and the Brandeis NSF I-Corps Program, she helps promote innovation on campus and transform research breakthroughs into commercial enterprises.

Originally from Macedonia, Vitanova arrived at Brandeis as a Fulbright Scholar studying ways to support entrepreneurship in developing countries.

“My research consisted of studying social entrepreneurs who started businesses at age 34 or younger and I’d examine different factors – skills, mentorship, finance – but something kept coming up that I had not foreseen,” said Vitanova, who graduated from the Master of Arts in International Economics and Finance (MA) program.

“When I’d ask an entrepreneur how they got a specific skill, they’d refer to a life event that happened early on, when they were very young,” Vitanova added. “This kept happening over and over.”

These events usually consisted of a major success or personal triumph, which Vitanova believes helped develop an essential skill or spark a person’s entrepreneurial drive.

She says an experience like that can be powerful, particularly during the teen years, and that adults looking to unearth the same skills need to tap into a similar frame of mind.

Vitanova shared her research as a contributor to the 2020 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting through an article about fostering entrepreneurial skills. She also shared her work with Edie Lush from Hub Culture in Davos, Switzerland and spoke about how big businesses can best collaborate with small ones on a podcast with Unilever CMO Keith Reed. 

“I’m excited about understanding how there can be a solution that is simple and elegant to increase the power individuals have, especially moving forward, with technology and automation changing human jobs,” said Vitanova.

“Many people are apprehensive about this, but I want my research to help us understand how humans can interact with machines and how we can move from individual abilities to collective abilities,” she added. “How team members interact and how we foster collective intelligence will become increasingly important.”

Through her own startup, Entrepreneurial Muscle Lab (EML) Solutions, Vitanova has turned her research insights into a solution called TeamLift

Using an original algorithm Vitanova developed to discover and streamline the talent and competencies of each team member, Vitanova serves clients through constructing new collectively smarter teams or by crafting tailored solutions to overcome existing bottlenecks.

Though Vitanova ultimately wants to increase a group’s collective intelligence for the benefit of their business, she encourages individuals to nurture many of the trainable abilities and skills that are hallmarks of good entrepreneurship — like resilience, communication, agency and resourcefulness.