Raising the Bar: Two JD-MBA Students’ Path from Classroom to Startup


Student Experience After Law School Community Students
Charles and Savar at Kaieteur Falls in Guyana
Kimberley Charles (left) and Kiyan Savar at Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, where they spent a month in preparation for the launch of their startup, Cane Cutter’s rum.

Kimberley Charles (JD-MBA ’24) and Kiyan Savar (JD-MBA ’24), students in the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and the Kellogg School of Management’s JD-MBA Program, will have something special to toast with when they graduate this spring: an early batch of Cane Cutter’s rum, results of the startup the pair launched while students in the program.

Prior to coming to Northwestern, Charles worked in consulting at Deloitte in Washington, DC. She became interested in pursuing a dual JD-MBA while working to solve business-related issues with federal government clients in the firm’s lobbying arm. While at Northwestern, she pursued data privacy law and ultimately received an offer from a prominent global law firm to work in the field. “[Kiyan and I] have lived a double life in some ways, where we’ve continued down this data privacy, artificial intelligence research, and law pathway while operating our own business and being entrepreneurs.”

Like Charles, Savar had experience with data privacy before enrolling in the JD-MBA program, having worked in big data before he realized he needed more expertise to make a bigger professional impact. “The legal space around data privacy was new and growing, and something I wanted to be able to articulate relevant legal thoughts on,” he says. “I knew a JD-MBA was something I was looking for.” He was already living in Chicago and looking at three-year programs, so Northwestern was a natural fit.

Charles says the pair came together through the natural bonds of the JD-MBA cohort. They connected over being the children of immigrants (Charles’ family is Guyanese; Savar’s family hails from Iran) and their passion for the food and beverage space. Savar regularly took it upon himself to mix up batches of cocktails to liven up JD-MBA meetings. “Because I’m a masochist, I’d squeeze a lot of limes by hand for bulk margaritas, but I also had a pretty good espresso martini recipe that gained some notoriety with friends,” he says.

Thanks to the Levy Inspiration Grant Program, Charles and Savar were able to conduct on-the-ground research in the Caribbean before deciding to proceed with a product that honored Charles’ Guyanese background. Charles and Savar say their legal education was just as important as their business expertise when it came to launching the brand. “We both had to take Entrepreneurship Law, and early on we started talking about partnership agreements. There’s a lot of paperwork that goes into even choosing the form of corporation,” says Charles. “We had a really early vocabulary of what that looks like.”

Savar notes that one of the first things the pair did when launching Cane Cutter’s was file for trademark protection around its name. “There’s a legal mindset around brands: how do we protect it, or how do we ensure that we can construct around this brand, with legal backing? I think just the way we’ve moved about this, through the paperwork, or just through some of these considerations, reflects the JD.”

Many law professors provided support both in and out of the classroom. Learning about secured transactions in commercial law from Clinton William Francis was helpful both in terms of the content and for the VC alumni that Francis introduced Charles to. Paul Chadha, who teaches International Business Law Negotiations, was another sounding board. “We know we can go to them and ask these complex questions around how we’re approaching growing the business from a legal perspective, and they tell us what they think. We’ve got a group of professors at the law school who are invested and interested in what we’re doing.”

Even courses that don’t directly relate to business helped inform Cane Cutter’s genesis. Charles says that interviewing clients in the Immigration Law Clinic with Uzoamaka Emeka Nzelibe has made her better at customer research. “The process of interviewing clients is very similar to interviewing customers.”

The pair spent most of December 2023 in Guyana, sampling blends and working with Demerara Distillers to get the right flavor profiles for their dark and white blends. In February 2024, Cane Cutter’s Rum won the annual Kellogg Venture Challenge pitch competition and was awarded a cash prize of $1500. Charles and Savar aim to get Cane Cutter’s to market by the time they graduate, in spring 2024.

Charles’ advice to incoming JD-MBAs is to try to seek ways to explore passions, when possible. “If there’s time to look outside of your law books — which there’s not a lot of time in the first year, honestly — there are a lot of resources to follow those passions. It’s just a matter of seeking them out and applying to them.” She says that while good grades are important, so is making the most of the entire JD-MBA experience. “I certainly didn’t start law school and this program thinking I was going to start a business, much less with a fellow JD-MBA, partially with Guyana. It’s taken a lot of different work to get here, but I think it was a great use of both schools, being in this program.”