By Patti Conner
A few months back, the site Small Biz Daily published the article “Does A College Degree Help Or Hurt Young Entrepreneurs?” It’s a fair question and one that, as the article explains, has become increasingly relevant due to the rising cost of a college degree. But as a follow up, I’d like to address the value of an advanced degree for a prospective entrepreneur. Specifically, I’ll cover what earning an MBA can do for a young entrepreneur looking to start a small business.
There’s a sort of inherent catch-22 for hopeful entrepreneurs who choose to earn MBAs: an advanced degree is supposed to better position you for a job. And yet, entrepreneurs are seeking to create their own jobs rather than find existing ones. In that regard, an MBA can initially seem unnecessary for those with entrepreneurial mindsets. Sometimes, they’re dead on; an MBA is by no means necessary for those hoping to start small businesses. But with this simple reality stated, I’d note that my own experience going through an MBA application process and program has proven invaluable in the business endeavours that followed.
You may have noticed I included the application process as part of the benefit of an MBA, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one. For me, however, the intricate process of presenting myself to MBA programs as a worthy candidate wasn’t just about getting into school; it helped me to define myself as an entrepreneur. Somewhat stuck on the written portions of applications, I at one point sought coaching and advice from just about anywhere I could find it, and I come across some interesting testimonials at Menlo Coaching, an MBA consulting and coaching program. I didn’t use the services personally, but those who have frequently point to how coaching helped them organise their own thoughts and experiences in a way that assisted in realising how they really wanted to present themselves. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with as one of the chief benefits of the MBA process. Presenting yourself, applying, and choosing your course of study—at least for an entrepreneur—can function almost like mapping out a sort of personal business plan. The process has kept me on track ever since.
Beyond this process of outlining yourself and your goals, there are benefits to experiencing the actual program. I won’t dwell too much on those related to certain disciplines or the knowledge of professors/instructors, because they vary greatly depending on your program and the classes you take. What should be acknowledged is the value of witnessing the experiences of the people around you. Trulia CEO Pete Flint wrote a post for LinkedIn about how an MBA can make you a better entrepreneur. I was thrilled to see that instead of throwing out the vague term “networking,” he talked about the value of role models and peers. “[O]ne of the most powerful benefits of the MBA program,” he wrote, “was being exposed to the raw ambition of my peers.” I couldn’t agree more. Although, I’d say that in addition to being inspired by others’ ambition, I learned specifically from the successes and failures of those around me. An MBA program will surround you with similarly intelligent and ambitious people who can become invaluable resources for your own career path.
This is not an argument that every prospective entrepreneur needs an MBA degree. But with so much debate over the necessity of higher education, these are some of the intangible benefits that I found made the process worth it for my own entrepreneurial goals.