Malachi Koop originally wanted to be a pastor. Now, he’s pursuing his MBA—an unlikely transition for someone who attended a small Bible college as an undergrad.

“The reason I wanted to be a pastor was really to help people,” Koop says. “That mission hasn’t changed, it just looks a lot different now.”

Koop discovered soon after graduating from the Moody Bible Institute that he could make a difference through business. He launched a social enterprise that sold unwanted books and then used those profits to financially support organizations serving at-risk youth in Chicago, Illinois. The startup ultimately failed, but it opened Koop’s eyes to the gaps in his skill set.

“One of my big takeaways was that I was too naive going into the process,” Koop says. “I hadn’t taken any business classes in college. It set me down this path of thinking really seriously about going back to school and getting my MBA.”

It was around that time Koop found Harvard Business School Online’s Credential of Readiness (CORe) program. He wasn’t sure that an MBA was the right fit, and so initially decided to pursue CORe as a substitute.

The flexibility of an online education appealed to Koop, who had simultaneously started another business “completely by accident.” A friend had asked if he could help with a project, which turned into another assignment that then snowballed from there. Koop launched a consultancy focused on helping hospitality companies make data-driven decisions. Although it wasn’t a social enterprise in the traditional sense, Koop saw it as an opportunity to equip his clients with skills he thought could put them on an upward trajectory.

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At the same time, Koop was building new skills, as well. After completing CORe, he enrolled in HBS Online’s Leading with Finance and Negotiation Mastery courses.

“The way that I look at social enterprise, it’s not a particular industry or sector, it’s a way of approaching business and solving social problems,” Koop says. “It can, and should, be applied to every industry and, from that perspective, I wanted to learn more.”

Although his business was growing, life had other plans. Koop was on the verge of getting married and was talking with his fiancé about starting a family. In an effort to find more stability, Koop accepted a role at Nebraska’s Midland University as the director of marketing and communications.

It didn’t take long, though, for him to catch the learning bug again.

“I initially decided to take CORe instead of an MBA,” Koop says. “But instead, HBS Online is what confirmed for me that I wanted to pursue an MBA. I was worried about being able to prove to an admissions committee that I had what it took from a quantitative perspective, but HBS Online gave me another data point on my resume to prove it wasn’t going to be an obstacle for me.”

Koop was accepted into Georgetown University’s Flex MBA program and has since moved to Washington, D.C. with his now family of three. He’s taken on a director of marketing role at higher education research, strategy, creative, and digital agency SimpsonScarborough, and will be working full-time while earning his master’s degree.

Although making the transition from Nebraska to Washington, D.C. wasn’t easy, Koop notes that the network he’s created through HBS Online continues to help him tremendously. Through an HBS Online networking group, he met a fellow learner living in D.C., who not only toured apartments for his family before moving, but has connected him with several different job opportunities.

“I didn’t expect the courses to be as interactive as they are,” Koop says. “I made real friends through HBS Online. I saw other people in my cohort start businesses together and really lean on each other. It made for a more authentic learning experience.”

Post-MBA, Koop has dreams of creating a social enterprise studio that brings dedicated and talented individuals together to create new businesses that solve some of the world’s biggest problems, including poverty, hunger, gun violence, and educational access.

“There’s so much room for social enterprise disruption, especially when you look at the developing world,” Koop says. “The idea is to create a studio that creates, incubates, and funds social enterprises. It’s my ultimate dream to start that.”

And now with a background in business, the former aspiring pastor is optimistic that he can.

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Lauren Landry

About the Author

Lauren Landry is the associate director of marketing and communications for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at Northeastern University and BostInno, where she wrote nearly 3,500 articles covering early-stage tech and education—including the very launch of HBS Online. When she's not at HBS Online, you might find her teaching a course on digital media at Emerson College, chugging coffee, or telling anyone who's willing to listen terribly corny jokes.