Does an MBA Help Entrepreneurs?

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While there are several definitions for the word “Entrepreneurship”, the one we like to use the most has been given by Professor Howard Stevenson from the Harvard Business School. He says entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled. So, what this basically means is that all entrepreneurs must deal with limited resources such as time, money, human capital and so on. The Great Man theory and the Trait Theory of Leadership say that true leaders or entrepreneurs are born and not made. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Mao Tse Tung had inbuilt leadership skills i.e. they were born leaders. However, in contrast, we have the Behavioral theories which suggest that people can learn to become great leaders by observing, experiencing and learning. While you may not be born with talents that make you the best leader, we believe that with a little determination, perseverance, and patience, one can learn to be a great leader! So, what about the innumerable programs offered by several universities across the world. Will you be justified in signing up for such a program? What should you look for when you have decided that such a program is for you? Importantly, can an MBA help entrepreneurs?

How do MBA Programs help entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship Programs: What to Look For

Undergraduate/Post-Graduate programs/Short-Term Programs: There are several programs available at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels that are offered by several universities all over the world.  Further, there are certain short-term programs which can focus on a specific area of business.

For instance: Stanford University offers a unique 45-day program on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. While they offer 12 courses to complete the program, you can pick any 8 that seem relevant to you. Therefore, the program can be customized to suit your need.

So, how do you know which one suits you the best?

  • An undergraduate program is supposed to not only initiate you into the world of business management, but also give you the right exposure and experience to pursue your business ideas further. For instance: The Babson College in Massachusetts, USA, one of the top colleges for entrepreneurship studies, distinguishes itself by providing unique programs which combine field-based learning, independent studies, women leadership programs, and opportunities to work as consultants to organizations.
  • A post graduate or a Master’s program is naturally an advanced program that aims to help you to bring your new venture or business to life. While some programs will help you to develop your business, there may be others that help you to create a plan that is supported by faculty or corporate sponsors and some others that focus on building your knowledge of business strategy. The point is that at this level, you get a combination of the best advice from the best teachers, along with the valuable experience of experts from the industry. Also, most people get an MBA after having gained some work experience, so they are better placed to use the education and exposure to establish their own venture later.
  • While some of the most successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs (a Reed college dropout) or Bill Gates (a Harvard dropout) have had little formal education, what is common amongst them is the fact that they have all had an innovative idea, to begin with, and then have worked consistently towards their goal with a single-minded focus. However, the question remains – does an MBA help entrepreneurs ? We believe that some isolated data points cannot be used to make a generalization. A preliminary education in the basics of managing a business of your own is essential. This will not only equip you with the right knowledge but expose you to like-minded people and maybe avenues to pursue your ideas.

So, now that you have decided to get into a program, what is it that you should look for?

Does the MBA help entrepreneurs? Key factors to look for

The focus of the school/program: There is an enormous difference between getting into a school that is known for its entrepreneurship programs and studying in a school of Entrepreneurship. However, that requires a bit of research and understanding.

For instance, while the Babson MBA (Entrepreneurship) program is ranked number one and produces quite a few entrepreneurs each year, Harvard and MIT’s business programs are tied at number three.

Harvard and MIT despite being third produce many entrepreneurs and this is probably because of the resources they provide, their network, and their brand name (makes it easier to raise funds).

Teaching Methodology: Let’s face it, we all know that learning how to be a good entrepreneur is something that is very subjective. While certain elements of managing a business that can be taught, a major portion of it is instinctive and very experiential.

So, books and exams will be irrelevant in this process. For instance, Babson College has a unique way of teaching entrepreneurship and one of its methods requires undergraduate students to start a business as part of the coursework. This not only develops confidence but also a deeper understanding of navigating unknown territories.

Supporting Faculty and their experience: If a Master’s program in entrepreneurship is extremely successful, then the credit must go to the faculty who find it in themselves to create the content and provide the knowledge that the student seeks.

You will find that many schools have a policy of only full-time professors, while many others choose to have part-time faculty on their rosters. However, a balanced number of both kinds is essential where one provides you with the information that only a traditional academician can and the other who can give you vital knowledge from the industry.

For instance, Steve Blank who co-founded several startups including Convergent technologies is now a familiar face in the School of Business- University of California. His classes focus on starting a new venture and managing Business Development, among other things.

Check out their Alumni: The alumni of a school are like a window into it. They can provide valuable insight into the strength of the program, its value in the outside world, and the success of the people who have gone through the program. A look at the list of entrepreneurs who have graduated from Babson College gives us Arthur Blank (co-founder of Home Depot) and Robert Davis (founder of Lycos).

These are just two examples, but going through the list of alumni will often tell you how strong the school is in educating, and importantly, inspiring its alumni to be successful entrepreneurs. The answer to the question “does an MBA in entrepreneurship help entrepreneurs ?” is a yes.

Choosing to work for yourself and seeing your idea move from the conception stage to reality can be daunting, filled with doubts, worries, and risks. The right entrepreneurship program will not only provide you with the best foundation but will also give you the confidence to move ahead and make your dreams come true!


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