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Saving soles

Toolkit equips Ben Levinson '15 MBA for launching startups and inventing surf shoes

October 3, 2021

 

Ben Levinson '15 MBA (far right), with people from his entrepreneurship class. From left: Chris Bell, Hong Lee, Veronica Horta, professor Patrick Millsap and Leitta Mayers.
Ben Levinson '15 MBA (far right), with people from his entrepreneurship class. From left: Chris Bell, Hong Lee, Veronica Horta, professor Patrick Millsap and Leitta Mayers.

Traversing sharp rocks can be perilous for surfers’ bare feet. But wearing protective footwear makes it difficult to feel the surfboard. It was this conundrum that Ben Levinson ‘15 chose to address during an entrepreneurship class at the Mount. “We had to come up with a product idea and build a business plan around it,” says Levinson. “I had just done some surfing in the Philippines, so I came up with a shoe that protects the bottom of your foot but also detaches from the foot and stays connected to your lower leg. The exposed foot gives you greater control over the surfboard.” 

Ben Levinson '15 MBA received the Sigma Beta Delta award, which is presented to the top three graduates in each MBA class
Ben Levinson '15 MBA received the Sigma Beta Delta award, which is presented to the top three graduates in each MBA class

On a whim, Levinson submitted his business plan to the California Inventors Assistance Program and — to his surprise — his invention was chosen to receive assistance from a patent attorney. In 2018, he received the patent for his surfing footwear and is currently working with COMUNITYmade to bring it to market. 

“If it wasn’t for that entrepreneurship class, I wouldn’t have developed my idea or pursued a patent,” says Levinson. “As a result, my invention has turned into a really fun side project.”

The MBA program not only helped him patent his footwear but served as a catalyst for his career: Time and again he has relied on the teachings to launch and grow startup companies including Pillow, a hospitality company that has since been sold to Expedia, and Airbnb Plus, a collection of top-tier housing.   

According to Levinson, the program’s four phases — external environment, internal environment, strategy creation and strategy execution — have helped him succeed in the business world.

“Prior to the program, I had never approached problem-solving holistically though this lens,” he says. “It completely changed my mindset about how to approach different types of challenges and come up with creative solutions.”

In 2018, Levinson began working for Latch, a New York–based company that develops smart access systems for apartment-style buildings. In addition to launching operations in Los Angeles, he recruited and hired managers to scale out the company. Today, Latch is a publicly traded company with a value of more than $1.56 billion.

Classmates Melissa Lopez, Ben Levinson, Hong Lee and Kimberly Kan at UPS in China
Classmates Melissa Lopez, Ben Levinson, Hong Lee and Kimberly Kan at UPS in China

“The accelerated pace of the MBA program prepared me well for the fast pace of young startup companies, and the cohort-based model prepared me for the professional environment,” says Levinson. “It was an invigorating experience — one I’m very grateful for.”

 

 

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