Does an entrepreneur really need an MBA?

Many entrepreneurs use the business school platform to raise capital

Updated: Nov 19, 2018 04:23:12 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

A business school experience teaches you a lot more than finance, entrepreneurship, or how businesses operate. You learn as much, if not more, outside the classroom than inside it. As an entrepreneur who attended business school, I often get asked these questions:

» Did you really need business school? What did you gain?
» Does business school teach you how to be an entrepreneur?
» Was it worth the money because you were pursuing entrepreneurship? How was the return on investment?
» Companies in the Silicon Valley are increasingly hiring people without college degrees, let alone executive education or MBAs? Should I waste my money?

My answer to all these questions always begins with ‘It depends’. Everyone is different. The answer depends on several factors and variables. - The level of understanding of how a business should be built
- The amount of prior work experience
- The type of business/ product a budding entrepreneur is pursuing
- Whether or not the entrepreneur has a founding team with him/her, in case he needs one, and various other factors.

Most of the top MBA programs in the world have several activities on offer related to academia, entrepreneurship, recruiting, networking, and so on. I classify the choice of activities into four broad baskets here. From my experience, a student can easily spend 100 percent of his/her time on each basket alone. Students must decide how much of their time they want allocate each one of four.

This activity basket involves core classroom learning and development. An activity that (almost) everyone engages in at business school. The first few months of most top MBA programs involve classes that are technical in nature, mostly ‘101’ lessons in Finance, Organisational Behavior (HR), Economics, Accounting, and Marketing. Once students understand the core subjects, the classes in the later part of the MBA become more interactive. Students are expected to incorporate the learnings from the ‘101’ classes into discussions and debates during the more advanced courses.

Most classes directly relate to running business or a business function. Whether it’s about raising money, cost accounting, or marketing/ branding. You need to learn all of it as an entrepreneur. At the business school I attended, we had a class called ‘Your First Hundred Days’. It was a real-world simulation of what the first 100 days are like for founding teams.

Formalised clubs, forums and networking events – most top business schools have formalised social and career-focused clubs for individuals that are either like-minded or for those pursuing a similar career path. The MBA program I attended had several clubs. The Rugby Club, the soccer club, a real-estate club, an entrepreneurship club, a private equity club, and so on. Groups of students work together, network, invite speakers, organise trips to related companies, meet club alumni, participate in entrepreneurship competitions, and so on. Members of each club build deep relationships for life.

Most entrepreneurs engage in club activities. A few entrepreneurs find their co-founders or even identify new business opportunities through these leadership groups. They learn from other’s experiences and mistakes. For example, a Russian friend at the entrepreneurship club at INSEAD sold his first company for $7 million at the age of 22. He used most of that money to fund his next company, which went bankrupt by the time he was 25. He then came to business school at the age of 26 to explore new ideas and figure out his next move in life.

Socialising, travelling and having a good time
It's very important to have fun while you learn. I strongly believe in the saying – ‘Stop networking, Build Relationships’. You don’t build relationships at networking events and conferences. You build them at business school, outside classrooms – while travelling, socialising or playing sport.

Every entrepreneur needs to possess strong interpersonal skills. While socialising outside the classroom, one learns how to deal with people from different countries, cultures, backgrounds. Students build lasting relationships with peers and a network of future leaders that will spread across industries and geographies.

Recruiting/ Job Hunt
Securing a good job after business school is the primary objective for many. Students looking for a new role post business school often spend a lot of time exploring new opportunities.

As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to spend any time doing this. However, you can learn from companies that interview your peers. I picked up on a few interview techniques from the larger corporates that came to recruit at my business school, for example, using case studies while hiring senior management.

By engaging in the aforementioned activities, entrepreneurs acquire numerous skillsets and a strong network. However, I have listed four to five areas that most entrepreneurs benefit from by attending a top-tier MBA Program.

Finding a Co-founder
The entrepreneurship clubs, competitions and classes provide an entrepreneur with a platform to identify potential co-founders. Ones with complementary skill sets or prior experience – either in a specific industry or geography.

Learning the basics of running a business
A majority of students at the top MBA programs have had a successful start to their careers – often as consultants, investment bankers, industry professionals, and so on. However, most have never dealt with the challenges that a fledgling company faces. For example, the hardships related to creating the right company culture, the first 100-day strategy, decision making driven by one’s gut without the availability of data, and so on.

Raising capital
Many entrepreneurs use the business school platform to raise capital. Professors, alumni, grants, competitions often end up as the source for the first round of capital that business school entrepreneurs use to kick-start their business.

Lessons in M&A/ Roll Ups
Learning about buying/selling/merging business. This is a lesson that I benefited from. These lessons especially important for students raising money to run search funds.

Learning from other entrepreneurs
As the blog title suggests, business school provides the opportunity to learn from other students and alumni that have pursued the entrepreneurship path in the past. Lessons on success and, more importantly, lessons on business failures can be very useful.

Building a network
MBA programs allow entrepreneurs to build a global network of peers, professors, alumni that might benefit their businesses some-day.

Whether business school is necessary to be a successful entrepreneur will continue to be a debated topic. Attending a business school has many advantages, however, the decision will always depend on what stage the business (or idea) is in and the knowledge/ background of the entrepreneur.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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