Five MBA graduates think it helped
The stereotype of a typical MBA graduate is that of a confident, well-dressed person who is destined for a career in management consultancy, finance or climbing the greasy pole at an S&P 500 company. The stereotype of an entrepreneur is a college drop-out. Yet business schools, eager to prove that they are not just factories for manicured professionals, are increasingly keen to teach entrepreneurial skills to their students.
The temptation is to think that the ability and drive needed to start a business cannot be taught. After all, who can engender the combination of opportunism and paranoia usually needed to start a business? But some of those who have taken the path argue that an MBA course has several advantages. Shoshana Stewart, the chief executive of Turquoise Mountain, a crafts business that started in Afghanistan, who studied at the London Business School (LBS), says an MBA gives you three things; a network of people, confidence and exposure, and an array of skills.
The network effect can operate in several ways. Oliver Samwer, who along with his brothers founded the investment group Rocket Internet in 2007, thinks the guest speakers at the WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany, provided him with role models. “My view is that it is all about the dream,” he says. Every time a leader came to the school, it inspired him to dream of a bigger, more global business. He has undoubtedly achieved lift-off: Rocket Internet was valued at $8bn when it floated in 2014 and the Samwer brothers have invested in several other successful technology startups.
Sometimes the contacts are more immediate. Vanessa Coleman started a business called FINsix—which built an efficient and compact power converter—at MIT’s Sloan business school with three other graduate students. They combined their studies with their project, getting initial funding in the second year of the course. And some of the advisers that helped the company had connections to MIT. A business school can also organise events where budding entrepreneurs meet potential investors and, in some cases, those backers will be former students.