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Brynne Kennedy MBA2012 is a recognised game changer. The recipient of numerous awards and honours, including the Stevie Award for Entrepreneur of the Year, Women of the Future Awards, Women in IT Awards and Management Today’s 35 Under 35, she is also a London Business School (LBS) Distinguished Alumna.
And while Brynne is grateful for all the recognition she has received since launching her company, Topia, in 2010, LBS has a special place in her heart because of the “debt of gratitude” she owes the school.
“Topia began as an idea during my MBA at LBS. I had a vision for a company that could address the issue of international employee mobility. Mobility was something close to my own experience working in different locations around Asia prior to taking the programme, and the School gave me the perfect platform to sound out different ideas and approaches to tackling the domain.”
What began as an idea quickly blossomed into a very real opportunity. Under the banner “Work Everywhere,” Topia today is the world’s first end-to-end global mobility management software suite, servicing more than 100 multinationals in the US$32bn+ technology category. The company harnesses technology to respond to mega-shifts in future of work trends: globalisation, demographic changes and AI-led disruption that are driving massive increases in remote working and employee mobility around the planet. Offering administration, data management and compliance solutions to HR teams, while managing the physical relocation needs of employees, Topia picked up the award of Workforce Game Changer in 2017.
“I founded the original company as an MBA at LBS. The initial impetus came from first-hand knowledge of how cumbersome it is to have to relocate for work. During my time at the School I started looking at the market to see if anything was out there tackling this and the idea to start something up began to take hold. I took courses with Professor John Mullins, one of the world’s foremost authorities in entrepreneurship, and slowly we began to codify the hypothesis into an actual business. LBS professors were also instrumental in helping me shape my pitch to secure funding.”
Before graduating, Brynne had secured an initial grant of GBP£400,000 and “Move Guides,” the predecessor to Topia, was launched. She was well on her way to disrupting the industry. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
“Being a female entrepreneur is really tough. And breaking into the tech sector is tougher still. The majority of venture capitalists are male and you have to work really hard to get your ideas over. It’s well known that substantially fewer VC dollars go to women, and there are a range of additional obstacles, from unconscious bias to overt harassment.”
Brynne found motivation in the company’s mission to remove barriers between people and connect us as a single human race, and to be an example for other women to follow – she is passionate about playing her part in opening up the pathways for other female entrepreneurs. “When you’re starting a company, running it and taking risks, you need to believe deeply in what you are doing, and in the core values of your mission. Then you need to find a real sense of resilience in all areas.”
Brynne drew strength from a support network that included many of the ties and bonds she had made at LBS among fellow MBAs and faculty; a network that she credits with helping her find the confidence to take the first leap, and that has continued to support her in her decision-making, company financing and personal health.
“LBS gave me an incredibly strong network of friends and colleagues who have brainstormed with me out of the goodness of their hearts over the years. And a number of our investors have come from the LBS alumni network.”
Support is something that Brynne is very grateful to have received and she acknowledges the important role that help and guidance have played in her career. “Female leaders start behind in the race, so it’s hugely important to get backing and assistance where you can find it. Something that I would love to see is greater equality in things like parental leave, so that you have more equality in the home. Gender stereotypes still endure and I do believe that companies and policy-makers could do much more to address this.”
All of that being said, Brynne is incredibly passionate about entrepreneurship as a career. “Building a company is an incredible career and privilege. I recommend it to everyone – regardless of background. With hard work, you can make it a reality.”
For aspiring female entrepreneurs looking to break into the startup space, set up their own business or even disrupt an industry, Brynne stresses the importance of building – and retaining – self-confidence.
“There will be plenty of people who will tell you that you can’t do it. When you’re a first-time entrepreneur, the majority won’t see you as being poised for success. And that’s amplified when you belong to a gender, race or any other kind of minority group. What you have to do is figure out a way of protecting and sustaining your core values and convictions.”
Brynne’s mission to connect people and places has not been limited to her work with Topia. In 2017 she founded Mobility4All, a philanthropic initiative that supports those impacted by poverty, conflict and climate change, initially refugees.
“I’ve worked with large enterprises over the last decade focusing on the 1% who have the privilege of moving around the globe for work opportunities. I also wanted to give something back to the other 1% of the population who are mobile for different reasons; people who have been displaced by war or climate change or poverty.”