Entrepreneur. I see an increasing number of entrepreneurs around me and an ever increasing number of those who aren’t but are dying to become one! What was a fairly new buzzword on the block until the last few years has witnessed a certain glamorization, to the extent that many people believe it to be the best thing out there (with the caveat of it working out). A striking 89.54% of the population aged between 18 and 64 in India agrees that in our country, most people consider starting a business as a desirable career choice (Source)
For better or for worse, entrepreneurship has caused a revolution - not only in terms of how we create value but also how we, as the audience, consume it. It has even forayed into the shows we watch and the conversations we have. After all, who would want to miss out coming up with that billion dollar idea over a pitcher of beer with their best friends/dream team? And conversations remind me, we cannot talk about entrepreneurship without talking about the age-old debates that come along with it and always end with ‘to each his own’.
One of the highly talked about, and reiterated debates is: does one need formal education to become an entrepreneur? Courtesy Mr. Tesla, a roaring debate was recently restarted about the value addition of an MBA and he is not alone at the party mourning the “MBA-ization” of the world. But when it comes to entrepreneurship, people might find it even more difficult to justify the need or the value add of an MBA. So, really, do you need an MBA to become a successful entrepreneur? Honestly, my answer would be - it depends. It depends on several factors but for starters, it really matters where you are currently in your entrepreneurial journey, what skills or experiences you are looking to gain and if an MBA will help you steer closer to achieving them.
An entrepreneur is someone who undertakes risks to start and run a business. No job description has ever been made to qualify a candidate as an entrepreneur but the ones that we so ardently look up share a certain set of characteristics such as - curiosity, adaptability, decisiveness, risk tolerance, innovation amongst a few others (Source: Characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, HBS Online Blog). Couple that with other life-saving skills like communication, team-building, organizational, time management skills, strategic thinking and very importantly, resilience. Here’s some more stuff that we already know but often forget - while some of us might exhibit these traits and skills a little more than others, none of these skills is something that we cannot learn or improve upon if we put in the effort.
There is no proven scientific method which can decide if you are going to make it or break it as an entrepreneur. However, developing the ingredients that go into determining your success - whether it is your B-Plan or your skills - can seriously increase your chances of success. And that is where an MBA can play a huge role!
The Part where an MBA comes in
Just about every skill you would gain during your MBA (and that includes a lot of the skills I just mentioned above) would be useful to you as an entrepreneur. Starting off with a specialist leading every function of your startup is a distant and unrealistic dream. You might have to look after the marketing campaign, the logistics and the funding all in one day. An MBA can play a huge role in equipping you with the fundamentals, the right set of knowledge and practical experience about all these different integral components that actually constitute what you’re trying to build - a business. More than any other thing, one cannot undervalue the soft skills that you would gain in your MBA journey.
Several schools offer electives, specializations and associations focused on entrepreneurship wherein you will often find yourself creating a comprehensive business plan, preparing presentation decks and delivering pitches. A unique offering at business schools are dedicated innovation labs which enable you to collaborate with engineers, scientists, marketers et al, and work real-time on your business idea during your MBA. Further, there are specific intensive venture and fellowship programs which provide a great opportunity to budding entrepreneurs for advancing their business ideas and inching closer to converting them to reality. So really, if you are doing an MBA, you have the opportunity to practically apply what you learn each day.
A big asset that you would gain is going to be your community. At B-School, you’ll meet other budding entrepreneurs, industry and functional experts, and an extremely diverse pool of people who could be your potential partners and more importantly, your clients.
Lastly, going to a business school will undoubtedly provide you unparalleled access to seed funding and investment opportunities. On several occasions, you would have the opportunity to connect with investors, venture capitalists and generally, the larger entrepreneurial community of the city you’d be living in. And to be honest, as for any other job, earning your MBA degree from a reputed school will help you be positively placed among an ocean of people and definitely enable you to build your personal brand!
To sum it up, I feel bound to share this excerpt from an article written by Jon Staff, an MBA from Harvard and the founder of Getaway House Inc.,
For me, that meant when I wanted to meet people who knew something about running hotels I was connected to the former CEO of a major global hotel chain. When I needed some quick legal advice, the Harvard Innovation Lab had free lawyers on call. When I wanted to talk to someone who had gone through this startup thing before, the Rock Center for Entrepreneurship put me in touch with entrepreneurs at every stage of growing a company: from seed ventures to those that have grown to a $1 billion+ in valuation.
In conclusion, an MBA may not teach you to be passionate or determined towards what you want to build or make you inherently comfortable with taking risks. It will not present opportunities and ideas on a platter, unless you earnestly pursue them. But what an MBA can definitely do is provide you a safe-space and an opportunity to try and test your idea in a highly conducive environment. The resources and the support you would have is endless and an MBA might be the platform for you to turn your amazing idea into an actual business. Remember, for every Mark Zuckerberg, there is a Phil Knight out there who did an MBA!