Can you learn to be an entrepreneur or is it something innate? This is a question that often divides opinion in the management education world. Some believe that entrepreneurs are born risk-takers whose brains are wired differently than the rest of the population. Others believe it’s possible to learn the core skills to set up a business, take risks, and launch a new product or service, even if you’re not born with the ‘go-getter’ genes.
Most MBA programs now incorporate entrepreneurship courses that cover topics such as finding an idea, building a team, writing a business plan, raising funds, and setting up the legal framework for a company.
Dedicated entrepreneurship centers, such as the Polsky Center at the University of Chicago Booth or the Rock Center at Harvard Business School, have become more commonplace in the last decade. These centers support MBA entrepreneurs (current students and alumni), foster innovation across the business school and promote cutting edge research to help bring entrepreneurship into the academic mainstream.
As an alternative to the generalist MBA, many business schools also offer entrepreneurship-focused courses for graduate students. For example, Imperial College Business School in London recently launched a specialist Masters in “Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Management” to teach future business owners how to structure, innovate and flourish.
Whether it’s a full-time or part-time MBA, or a specialized Masters, there’s no doubt that today’s graduate management programs offer varied and practical educational content if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur. But there are arguably other, even more important, benefits of going to grad school before setting up your business venture – here are three:
- Changing your perspective: Getting a graduate management degree is a great opportunity to take some time out of your daily working life and view business ideas with a fresh perspective. You might miss your eureka moment if you’re doing long hours in a demanding job. Going to grad school and shifting your perspective – a new city, new country or new experiences - could be a great way to open your mind to opportunities.
- Building your network: Enrolling in a graduate management degree program will connect you with a fresh network of talented people who may be able to help you. This could include people with complementary technical skills or market knowledge, as well as other entrepreneurs to exchange ideas with. At Stanford, a name that’s front of mind when you think about entrepreneurs, you’re more than likely to rub shoulders with future dotcom innovators, given its location in the heart of Silicon Valley and access to a renowned computer engineering faculty.
- Funding your idea: Many business schools help their student entrepreneurs access funding, meaning you could get seed funding from your business school or angel investors that might otherwise be tough to come by.
One example is the Venture Lab at IE Business School (Madrid), which runs a twice yearly Venture Day in which the top five MBA entrepreneurs present to investors and build relationships that can eventually lead to successful funding.
Similarly, the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai has recently launched funding programs to help their MBAs and EMBAs to start their own businesses: the Incubation Program for campus start-ups; the Acceleration Program for early-stage alumni ventures and the China 500 program for high growth enterprises.
So if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur but not yet convinced you can launch a start-up alone, maybe it’s time you head to business school to sharpen your ideas, bolster your skills, meet helpful people and potentially access some funding?
If nothing else, you might meet the next Michael Bloomberg, Salman Khan or Melinda Gates, who all cut their teeth on graduate management programs as a launch-pad for entrepreneurial careers.