How Valuable Is an MBA to an Entrepreneur?

Stephen Greer, author of Starting from Scrap, is a successful entrepreneur who didn’t earn an MBA, but you won’t hear him telling other entrepreneurs to avoid attaining them. In an op-ed he wrote for the Harvard Business Review, Greer brought up a conversation he once had with the dean of Beijing University’s International MBA program, Dr. John Yang. Yang said he believed entrepreneurship is “a matter of the heart” and education “a matter of the brain,” a sentiment with which Greer agreed.

Both believed you couldn’t teach entrepreneurship with an MBA, but they also believed there was significant value in the skills and knowledge afforded to MBA students. Greer posits many mistakes he made in business taught him painful but valuable lessons; lessons that likely could have been learned less painfully with formal training in finance, marketing and strategy from an MBA program.

From his perspective, an MBA is like a toolbox full of tools an entrepreneur can make use of to further their dreams and vision. It may not be the inspiration itself, but it increases the chances of successful implementation of an entrepreneur’s vision.

The Value of Networking with Diverse Professionals

Forbes interviewed London Business School (LBS) graduate and Flat Club founder Nitzan Yudan in 2012 to learn about his experience in business school and whether he thought his MBA was worth the time and money. Yudan did not initially enroll in LBS to become an entrepreneur, but he did develop his idea for Flat Club during his time at LBS.

He credits LBS with his inspiration for launching Flat Club, and judging from his answers, likely got just as much value from being exposed to other students as he did the curriculum. His class at LBS was made up of professionals from approximately 60 countries, which gave him access to a truly diverse breadth of experiences and knowledge. By the time he graduated he had vetted his idea through many classmates who would one day be the target demographics for the services he offers at Flat Club.

Being able to network with fellow students, all of whom possessed valuable insight of their own, gave him an unparalleled opportunity to hone his idea, understand the potential challenges and get invaluable advice from people with a diverse array of viewpoints.

Additionally, his time at LBS connected him with many people who would go on to become business partners in Flat Club. His experience there enabled him to perfect an idea and build a highly skilled, diverse team of professionals who could help him execute his dream.

You Can Find Arguments on Both Sides

You can find people, including business leaders who have earned MBAs and still value that education, who argue against entrepreneurs gaining MBAs, but there’s often a common thread in this criticism. It often revolves around attitude, perceived value and the application of skills taught in an MBA course. These criticisms are also often delivered in shallow platitudes that are light on evidence and heavy on subjective opinion based on one-off experiences.

Before you decide one way or the other it’s important to do your own research. Not every MBA program is equal. Some will instill you with valuable skills that will complement your entrepreneurial spirit, others may prepare you well for a very specific type of career.

It’s hard to argue with the reality though. Companies like OKCupid, Trulia, Zynga, Yelp, GrubHub and Angie’s List were all founded by entrepreneurs who earned MBAs from respected programs. Does this necessarily mean an MBA is the right choice for you? Not necessarily, but it will serve you well to look into some of the business leaders and entrepreneurs you respect and find out what kind of education they attained and whether that experience helped further their goals.

If you’re considering earning your MBA we encourage you to learn more about the MBA program offered at Upper Iowa University.