MBA Entrepreneurs

It’s the debate that never dies: Is pursuing an MBA degree is a waste of time if you plan to start your own business? As someone who has started more than one successful enterprise, I say no, and can personally attest to having leveraged a lot of my MBA classes and resources into my business ventures.

In “The Rise of the MBA Entrepreneur,” published last week by Reuters,  several top-tier MBA programs note that classes and centers devoted to entrepreneurship are on the rise, with roughly 5% of full-time 2011 business school students  founding their own companies right after graduation and notable jumps at places like the Wharton School, Stanford Graduate School of Business and MIT Sloan School of Management.

Despite the increased institutional support, many representatives from the career services office are more circumspect in their approach, Reuters reveals, as they advise students to get a high-paying job after graduation and postpone the entrepreneurial dream until the loans are paid off.

Even at Babson College, which has a top-ranked MBA program focused on entrepreneurship, prudence is prized. “Quite frankly, we do encourage students in general to learn on someone else’s nickel before taking the plunge,” says Janet Strimaitis, managing director of Babon’s Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship.

But does that cautious attitude run counter to the entrepreneurial spirit? Chika Ekeji, an entrepreneur who dropped out of the full-time MBA program at MIT Sloan as soon as he got the right idea and team together, believes that advice is traditional and probably pragmatic. “But I actually believe that if the only thing keeping you from starting a company is paying off your student loans, then you should start your company,” Ekeji says.

The article also points out two interesting factors contributing to the recent uptick in entrepreneurship interest: economic trends and a generational shift. With the 2000 dot-com bubble, everyone wanted to be an entrepreneur, says Joaquin Villarreal, manager of the Entrepreneurship Initiative at the Tuck School of Business. When that burst, he notes that suddenly everyone wanted to be a banker.

Meanwhile, the millennial generation has suddenly become old enough to pursue an MBA, and this group is “known for an overblown sense of self-worth and propensity to dream big”–says Maria Halpern, Director of Student Engagement for Wharton’s career management services, making entrepreneurship a perfect career fit.

Whether you fall into the camp of nature or nurture as it relates to entrepreneurship, I think most people would agree that an entrepreneur needs to know the same basic skills as someone running a more established company. After all, every company began as a startup, launched by an entrepreneur.

If anything, you need to know all of the basics as opposed to specializing in one area. My advice to current and prospective MBA students interested in entrepreneurship is to pay close attention in all of your classes””even in the areas you plan to outsource as soon as you have the budget.

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