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Entrepreneurship and the MBA Qualification

27 Apr 2017

Almost, if not every, English language dictionary defines an entrepreneur as a person who sets up a business at their own risk with the view of making a profit. Definitions do tend to get to the cold logic of a word, rather than capture what is at its very heart ˇV casting aside the drive, the passion, the epiphanies, the solution-finding and the 'dreaming it big' elements which get to what's at the center of most entrepreneurial spirits out there. Moreover, not every entrepreneur is necessarily seeking profit, but what is essential to the definition of an entrepreneur, is the risk they take to achieve their ambition.

Risk is, of course, something that needs to be assessed very carefully, and most business people will do their utmost to try and diminish it. This is where an MBA qualification can present itself as a knowledge-enhancing, risk-reducing tool.

In the same breath, it is very important to consider the nature of the business being launched. It may be that the outlay of a business setup is low, say the invention is an innovative new phone app, and there's a chance a similar app could enter the market - this is an instance where an MBA qualification may not present itself as the best option. However, for those budding entrepreneurs who have a longer-term goal, an MBA in entrepreneurship can help give a project its best chance of success. Here are three benefits to taking the qualification.

1. Building solid foundations through an MBA in entrepreneurship

Top business schools offering an MBA in entrepreneurship draw on specialized resources aimed at setting their students and their business projects on the right trajectory. Candidates learn from professors with an in-depth knowledge of the processes and workings of entrepreneurial activity, much of which they will have developed through targeted research or through their own experience as entrepreneurs.

Under 'faculty', Harvard Business School, for example, lists its academics, and immediately beneath, all of its entrepreneurs in residence - every one of which is a member of the schoolˇ¦s entrepreneurial management team. Not only are professors and faculty helping their students plan for or launch their prospective businesses but they also aim to impart the tools and knowhow to best help new ventures succeed beyond that intrepid startup stage.

Courses such as 'opportunity identification and evaluation', 'venture capital', 'innovation and design experience', and 'entrepreneurial finance and equity' are the sort of topics you can expect to find covered in an MBA-level entrepreneurship curriculum.

Itˇ¦s also worth noting that entrepreneurship training at top business schools doesnˇ¦t limit you to setting up your own business. An MBA in entrepreneurship can prepare graduates to work across a variety of career paths and in areas which include (but are not limited to); corporate innovation and business development, emerging/expanding companies, entrepreneurship through small business acquisition, consulting, social entrepreneurship and venture capital/private equity.

2. Top business schools and their love affair with innovation hubs and labs

While there are many career avenues open to those with an MBA in entrepreneurship, the crux of the matter is that approximately 30% of applicants choose an MBA qualification because they are interested in setting up their own business.

Rather than take a direct plunge, they expect (rightly) that business school will better equip them to succeed. No budding entrepreneur wants to fail in their startup venture, and while failure is often extremely formative, it can come at a high cost too. Top business schools therefore aim to offer their MBA candidates a means to test-drive ideas by giving them a semi-controlled and stable environment to work in. If scientists can do it, why not business people?

Today, there are more innovation centers, startup labs/incubators and enterprise hubs than ever before. Business schools appear to be on a quest to shepherd pioneering minds, converging them in one place where they can bat ideas and let innovation mushroom. Proposals are evaluated by faculty and peers, some will be put into action and a project might come into fruition, or it may fall at the final few hurdles. For the instances in which things do go wrong, there is a friendly team that can help isolate shortcomings allowing the next business model and future projects to be further refined.

Some of the better known startup facilities include the Columbia Startup Lab, Harvard Innovation Lab, Stanford Venture Studio, Tuck School of Business' DEN Innovation Center and the Imperial College Enterprise Lab. This list is in no way exclusive, but provides an example of the sort of environments that are open to those who study an MBA in entrepreneurship, both during the program and, once they graduate, as alumni.

3. MBA networking expands entrepreneurship opportunities

Likeminded people with similar goals pooling ideas and sharing their existing knowledge - this is the sort of experience an MBA in entrepreneurship at one of the worldˇ¦s top business schools can offer. Itˇ¦s one which is likely to give candidates with an MBA qualification a distinct advantage over their peers.

MBA networking and relationship building is one of the main reasons many students opt for business school. Not only are students engaging with their cohort, but they also have opportunities to work with new partners beyond campus confines. Business schools have the capacity to put their students in touch with venture capitalists and angel investors, for example, and MBA candidates are themselves often enticed by the lure of investment. At Wharton, for example, students have the opportunity to become investment associates with Wharton Impact Investing Partners, and at Harvard Business School students can join Rock Venture Partners, to learn about investing in startups.

MBA networking may begin at enrollment (and sometime even a little before!) but access to a global network is there for an entire lifetime. Harvard Business School's Rock Accelerator program for example brings together MBA student founders to work on ˇ§high potential early-stage startups.ˇ¨ Not only are cohorts studying together, but they are also taking their business ventures forward as teams, meaning longer-term commitment and working relationships that bloom in the months and years ahead, if all goes well.

Many top business schools offer a vast array of programs, competitions, and resources dedicated to the needs of their student entrepreneurs. The opportunities for engagement and MBA networking are plentiful if you choose to participate, and as an alumnus of a school that network stays with you, never being more than a simple computer click away.

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