Do you need a graduate degree to become an entrepreneur? It’s a matter of much debate, with plenty of business tycoons, pundits, and bloggers argue that an MBA (or similar degree) can’t teach you the personality traits you need to succeed as the leader of a business, or that you don’t need
While it’s true that some successful entrepreneurs never went to business school—and some never even finished college—it’s just as true that for every successful business leader who never earned an MBA, there are 2 or 3 more who did get the degree.
When it comes to MBA-less entrepreneurs, success is more a matter of concept, luck, timing, and plain stick-to-itiveness than it is a matter of education. There are a lot of unknowns in that equation, even if tenacity gets a non-MBA entrepreneur closer to success.
So let’s take another good look at why an MBA—or other applicable graduate dregree—is an excellent way to crystallize your career as an entrepreneur.
1. You’ll grow your business more sustainably
One of the main advantages of an MBA for entrepreneurs is that it imparts the knowledge needed to grow a business sustainably. You have to invest and work towards the growth of your business to make it successful, but you can’t just let it grow without guidance, either. You have to know what you’re doing.
Entrepreneur Stephen Greer learned this the hard way when he started his scrap metal business right out of college. Greer didn’t get an MBA, but he writes in The Harvard Business Review that he regrets the decision to skip graduate school. Earning an MBA would have given him the knowledge to protect his business from financial fraud. With case study data and deep understanding of the consequences of unchecked business growth that a strong MBA offers, Greer could have developed a strategy to help his business grow sustainably. That would have saved him a ton of money, not to mention years he had to invest in reorganizing his business after expanding too quickly.
Of course, Greer still managed to sell his company for $250 million, which is nothing to sneeze at. But could he have built an even bigger company, and gotten much more, if it hadn’t been for the lost millions of dollars and untold opportunities that resulted from his mistakes? He quite possibly could have. And it’s important to keep in mind that Greer was lucky; his mistakes, born of his lack of business knowledge, could have easily cost him everything.
With an MBA, entrepreneurs-in-the-making come armed with business strategy, execution know-how, and financial management savvy. Without these, you’re gambling with high stakes—on top of the gamble that is starting a company from scratch.
2. You’ll knock the kinks out of your business plan
One of the biggest benefits of going to business school is that it provides you with a “safe zone” in which to put your business ideas to the test. You’ll learn how to construct a solid business plan, and, as you’re doing so, you’ll have the opportunity to flesh it out in view of colleagues and faculty members who can give you valuable feedback and help you improve it.
In other words, business school provides a proving ground, isolated from the harsh realities of the real world, in which you can safely make mistakes while learning from masters who have tried, stumbled, and ultimately succeeded.
3. You’ll form a valuable network
You’ll never have a better chance to form connections in the business world than during your years in business school.
Whether you go to school on campus or online, you’ll be sharing the same experiences with a group of people who are all destined to do great things in the business world. Later, whether you’re looking for investors, clients, or staff, you’ll be able to draw on your network of business school buddies and former faculty mentors.
Don’t discount the value of your school’s alumni network, either. Most business schools have extensive alumni networks, and sometimes just sharing an alma mater is enough to encourage
4. Education is hard to start after your business is launched
There are plenty of opportunities these days to attend night school or crank our coursework online. But any amount of school work is going to detract from time put into your newly-launched business.
If you start your entrepreneurial journey with a strong MBA foundation, you won’t have to tie yourself in pretzels to complete a degree while juggling P&L sheets, sales calls, staff management, and 1,001 other things connected to your business. You’ll have the degree (and the knowledge that comes with it) already.
It stands to reason, too, that if you pursue a graduate degree before entrepreneurial endeavors, you can use your education to build things right from the ground up—not returning to missteps or gaffes for fixes while keeping your business moving forward.
It’s clear that graduate education has something to offer entrepreneurs. For me, the question isn’t really, “Should I?” It’s more about the how and the when.
MBAs cost money—sometimes a lot of money. And if you have an exciting idea, it can be tempting to bypass additional education so you can get to work on the idea you’re
But how much will you cost yourself in time and money by not adequately preparing for your entrepreneurial journey? Will your mistakes cost you as much—or more—than the cost of an MBA?
It’s worth considering.
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