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Young Entrepreneurs Shouldn't
Give Up on the MBA
In the past few years, anyone with an interest in entrepreneurs and start-up culture will haven noticed that it's become trendy (for lack of a better word) for young people to pursue their own business ideas.
In some cases, this is a result of the resounding success some young professionals have had starting their own companies in the tech industry.
In other cases, we may even be able to credit something like the popular ABC show Shark Tank, which constantly showcases small businesses and inspires viewers nationwide.
In a Business Insider article in 2014, credit for the wave of young entrepreneur start-ups even went to the simple fact that business software is more readily available for independent users.
You may have noticed that nowhere in there did I mention anybody crediting great MBA programs with the wave of young entrepreneurs that's grown these past few years. This isn't necessarily because entrepreneurs are no longer pursuing MBAs, but it is true that some of the successful ones don't.
Given the cost and time involved in seeking a graduate degree, there are many out there who believe such a thing is more of a hindrance than a kick start these days.
I can understand this viewpoint. But as someone with MBA experience and the occasional opportunity to speak with young people about their goals in school and in business, I also believe quite strongly that an MBA education can still be very beneficial to young people hoping to start their own companies. Here are a few reasons why.
MBA's are Still Relevant
To begin with, I would contest the popular notion that an MBA education is outdated.
The Financial Times posted an interesting article in which two different entrepreneurs answered the prompt "Do entrepreneurs need an MBA?" with very different responses.
The first, Brent Hoberman of Made.com, suggested that business school "teaches students how to manage big companies not how to found start-ups."
The second, Jeroen Kemperman, who founded Treeveo, argues back by revealing that in his school experience he not only received support for his own ventures, but he was able to use early work on his company to secure course credit!
I tend to encourage readers to trust the second outlook. This is not to say that Hoberman is wrong. There are certainly many business school environments focusing on broad concepts and traditional business careers as opposed to encouraging entrepreneurial pursuits. But schools have a way of adapting to the times, and there are only going to be more cases like Kemperman's in which a business school education can be tailored to individual needs and desires.
In such experiences, the school environment can provide an ideal launch pad for a business concept.
Beyond the potential perks of being able to use school as a vehicle for personal pursuits, I also believe that the benefits of an MBA for an aspiring entrepreneur start even before the classes commence.
To illustrate this point, I sometimes use a very simple metaphor:
An outlined and strategically planned essay is almost always more coherent and effective than one written without a plan.
And are you more likely to write a paper with an outline in a school setting where such a process might be required, or on your own with no guidance or deadline?
With this in mind, you can think of the business school process (from application through graduation) as something of an outline for your future. For many, this is a pretty literal interpretation.
I'm always interested in the perspective of new students on matters like these, and at Menlo Coaching, a site where MBA expert Alice van Harten provides application assistance, student testimonials make it clear that the "outlining" process (as I'm calling it loosely) is integral in their success. Many thank Van Harten for helping them to express and describe themselves honestly, and to lay out their goals clearly. This is a process you aren't necessarily asked to do if you don't go through an MBA education, and it can be extraordinarily helpful not just in getting you into school but also in helping you to realise the kind of entrepreneur you want to be.
The Benefits Outweigh the Costs
And finally, I'll address the biggest issue, which is money.
People nitpick about the value of education at an MBA program, but the true reason that many are beginning to turn away from graduate school is that they'd prefer to get a start in the "real world" as opposed to taking on debt to pay for school that may or may not launch a career.
This is perfectly understandable, and for students who are confident in their entrepreneurial vision and potential, I say go for it. But it's also foolish to ignore the potential benefits of an MBA when you're just starting out.
An MBA can still give you an advantage in finding a day job while you develop start-up ideas on the weekends or after hours. It can make you look like a more serious candidate when you're meeting with potential investors somewhere down the line.
And similarly, it can make you a more appealing and experienced option for potential business partners.
These all sound very general, I realise, but the difference they can make can be the difference between your private company sinking or swimming—a difference that may just make up for the cost of attending graduate school!
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About the Author
Brian Oliphant is a freelance writer based out of London, where he lives with his wife, Janet, and their two dogs. When he's not working or spending time with his family, Brian enjoys cycling and home brewing.