Business Black Belt
29 Sep, 2011
When he moved from Rio to Rochester, Dr. Mario Roberto took an unexpected detour.
Doctors occasionally hang up their stethoscopes to pursue entrepreneurial dreams. But to leave your country right after graduating from medical school and bypass the formal practice of medicine to create your dream business 5,000 miles away in a small city in the U.S… that’s unusual!
Mario Roberto, M.D., 33, didn’t set out to launch a business in America’s
heartland. After graduating from Brazil’s top-ranked medical school, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, he moved to Rochester, Minnesota, in 2004 to be with his wife, a physician who was doing a residency at the Mayo Clinic.
But the seed of Roberto’s business idea had been with him long before he entered medical school. Roberto is a world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) black belt and a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, a discipline that includes a wide array of fighting styles but relies primarily on boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, wrestling/grappling and Jiu-jitsu.
When he arrived in the U.S., Roberto had to make a cool-headed assessment. He’d always have his medical degree, but he knew his physical strength and energy would decline as he became older. This was clearly the optimal time to realize his long-held dream of launching an MMA gym. The practice of medicine could wait.
There were challenges to establishing a professional fighting gym—particularly the stigma of violence and danger that MMA carries.
Roberto persevered even though his opening day was not auspicious: he had exactly one student.
Today, Roberto has a thriving business, the Mario Roberto Jiu-Jitsu Academy, with a steady stream of students in Rochester and at affiliated locations in Pennsylvania and Indiana. It took common sense combined with a savvy understanding of what motivates a person to pursue martial arts training.
Roberto’s first common sense decision: Keep overhead minimal. “I began by sub-leasing from a local boxing gym instead of having a place of my own,” he says. Roberto also negotiated an unusual lease arrangement, paying a percentage based on the number of students he had.