These days when dissident MBAs are the order of the day, it is a moot question whether an MBA degree can help an aspiring entrepreneur acquire the relevant knowledge and skills necessary to succeed. As an MBA from IIMA who became an entrepreneur and later an investor, I believe that some professional preparation has some benefit in making sure one understands the technical aspects involved in becoming an entrepreneur. Why do i feel this way? There are several reasons.
Take for one the multidisciplinary curriculum, nature of pedagogy, and rigor of the course, not to mention the wealth of fellow student interaction and peer learning. In a good institute, this teaches you a hell of a lot in the year or two you spend there. In addition, the relentless pressure to cope with the workload and multiple demands gives you hands-on lessons on time management, self-discipline, teamwork and stress management.
Focus on entrepreneurship education
Apart from that, entrepreneurship education is a major focus of B schools today. Quite a few offer special courses. A common criticism of B-schools is that they train students to be stewards, not creators and calculated risk-takers. With the advent of such a course, the B schools are also reinventing themselves. For example, I teach a course on entrepreneurship at an IIM.
Scale a company
An MBA course teaches you how to run and grow a business, not just start it. It shows you how to go well beyond the idea of a prototype to scale it up by setting up appropriate systems and processes, building an organizational structure, collecting data, using data to improve decision-making, and the crucial importance of culture , the often forgotten key element to business success.
Building a network
Success in corporate life depends on teamwork, and business success is no exception. This means building and maintaining strong business relationships and a network of colleagues or seniors / juniors who can help in different ways. Aside from having a relationship with a faculty who can mentor, make technical or business contributions, or connect you with the right people or a permanent pipeline of talent from your own B-school or elsewhere. For example, many IITs today also encourage professors to set up their own start-ups, often in partnership with students. A colleague of mine has our professor as a co-founder.
It is instructive to remember that often more than what you know, it comes down to who you know or who knows you.
Presence of incubators
Today, many B schools have incubators to actively support students and other entrepreneurs. NSRCEL in IIM, Bangalore, IIM, Kozhikode Live, IIM, Ahmedabad’s Center for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) are some examples of such incubators. The Xavier Institute for Management and Entrepreneurship (XIME) also offers a core course on Entrepreneurship. In addition, there are various other activities and forums to encourage and promote entrepreneurship. The B school says that for the first 20 batches, at least 15 percent of its students own business enterprises.
The sad part is that even today, few MBA students tend to take advantage of the benefits that are available right on their campus when compared to their engineering peers. These incubators have access to funders, mentors, potential grants, and much more. This is a very useful way to better understand what it is to be an entrepreneur.
Project selection for testing ideas
There are a variety of courses and many have individual or group projects as a key component. It would be a good idea to choose course projects well. Nothing can help you more than putting concepts into practice in real life. The type of projects you are working on, as well as the internship choices you choose, can help you figure out the nuances of the business and gain relevant experience that will come in handy when you are actually on your way to entrepreneurship.
A B school may be a safe place to try out some of your most creative, unusual, or diverse ideas without worrying about the fear of failure or finding that those ideas don’t work. As the cliché goes, you often learn more from failure than from success because it allows you to find out what went wrong and better understand what it takes to be successful in the real world.
Institutes with advantages
An MBA from a recognized institute or recognized B school enriches your educational record and I want to tell you that this can impress potential customers, employees, partners and investors. At the very least, it gets you in the door and creates basic credibility.
Overall, a good MBA can add a lot to your entrepreneurship journey, especially in the first few days. Later it also depends on how you play the cards you are dealt with. You can be accompanied by professors and mentors from your alumni. The course pedagogy, faculty moderation, and peer interaction ensure you see all sides of a particular situation, which will help you navigate the journey of the business experience with more confidence and confidence.
(The author, a graduate of IIMA, is an investor and entrepreneurial advisor.)