3 Reasons Future Entrepreneurs Need an MBA, and 1 Exception

entrepreneurs and the MBA

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.

If you’re planning on launching your own company, you don’t need to go to business school, right? Many would-be entrepreneurs think that a brilliant idea alone will take them to the top, just as it did for the MBA-less Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

The reality, though, is that for every super successful entrepreneur who eschewed the MBA, there are scores more entrepreneurs with MBA degrees who have changed the world, such as Nike co-founder Phil Knight, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman or Warren Buffett, who grew Berkshire Hathaway from a textile manufacturing business into the world’s fourth-largest public company.

An MBA program can’t teach you to feel more comfortable with taking risks or to be more passionate about your idea, and it won’t give you a constant thirst for new projects – those are some of the innate qualities a successful entrepreneur has.

However, an MBA program can teach you how to turn a good idea into a good business. If you have startup fever, here are three reasons you should go to business school first and one time you may not need that MBA.

B-school is the best incubator for budding entrepreneurs. MBA programs have always prepared students to launch and manage their own businesses. But over the last decade, the number of courses, centers and contests dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurship has mushroomed.

Business school has become the safe place to test out your most creative, outrageous and ambitious ideas without the pressure and fear of failure if that company or those ideas don’t work. In fact, failure is just as valuable a learning tool as success, because it offers students the chance to find out what went wrong and refine their business models to nail it next time out in the real world, when the stakes are much higher.

You’ll have teachers and mentors guiding you along the way as you search for that big idea that will change lives. You’ll also see all sides of the entrepreneurial experience, find out what it’s like to collaborate to execute your vision and ultimately have a better understanding of whether entrepreneurship really is your calling.

B-school offers the best environment to build your team. Entrepreneurial success requires teamwork, strong business relationships and a network of classmates who can provide introductions or advise on various areas, as well as seasoned professors who can weigh in on business dilemmas as you build a plan. In fact, good relationships with your professors can translate into a lifelong pipeline of talent connecting graduates with current MBA students.

Even if – like the majority of applicants – you don’t plan on pursuing a joint MBA degree, you can still take advantage of interdisciplinary studies in other areas that interest you. As a part of the greater university community, top-tier business schools often offer MBA students the chance to take courses alongside students from other graduate programs.

For example, the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business provides students with real-world entrepreneurial experiences through cross-campus initiatives and involvement with the business community. You might find someone outside of the MBA program who could become a valuable asset to your team down the line.

B-school will teach you how to run and grow a company – not just launch it. So many entrepreneurs have failed at getting their business idea off the ground precisely because they didn’t have some of the necessary tools in their arsenal that they would have learned at business school.

You have to be able to transition your idea into an actual business. It might be a startup, but you want it to grow – and last. More than many other business roles, an entrepreneur needs to know a little bit of everything. Even if you start a tech company, someone has to do the accounting, know how to market your product or service and act as a leader for the team.

If you choose a business school that relies heavily on the case method, you’ll likely learn from others’ successes and mistakes about growing too quickly. Also, those classes in human resource management, business law or venture capital financing could help you head off some thorny workplace issues later on.

Skip b-school altogether if you are in a rush to launch a company right now. Competition moves fast, especially in the tech industry. So if you already have your product or service fully developed, a crystal clear business plan, sufficient funding to sustain you and an awesome team in place and ready to execute—and if you think spending two years in a classroom might be an undesirable distraction—then it’s time to hit the ground running.

Image credit: inertia NC (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
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