March 2, 2009
Education and Entrepreneurship
Fred posted his thoughts the other day that you don’t need a college degree to be a successful entrepreneur. He is clearly right in that one CAN be successful without it. Gates, Zuckerberg, Dell have proven that.
I’ve always said that I didn’t think an MBA was a prerequisite for a successful business career. That’s easy for me to say, as I don’t have one despite many years of applying, deferring, cancelling, reapplying and general hand-wringing over whether or not to go in the mid-90s. An MBA is probably a positive on a resume for the most part (hard to argue it’s a negative), but it’s not a prerequisite. Every time I see “MBA preferred” on a job posting, I cringe (we never say that at Return Path). Really? You’d *prefer* to hire someone with an MBA over someone with two additional years of relevant work experience?
That said, I’d note that there are things one gets out of a good college education that are critical to success in life. Yes, they can be learned outside the classroom. But unlike business school material, which is in many cases the stuff of work experience and more easily augmented by observation and the occasional business article or book (as far as I can tell), the things one learns in college which are applicable to entrepreneurship aren’t about the subject matter of the course. They are things like:
– learning and applying new concepts quickly
– critical reasoning
– crisply presenting ideas
– respecting deadlines and guidelines
– understanding and appreciating other points of view
As with business school, these things *can* be learned outside a university environment, and certainly there are unusually talented people who have these traits hard wired. But I do think the university environment cultivates and nurtures these skills in a way that is easier than the “do it yourself” world of teenage entrepreneurship.