So you’ve got a big idea in your pocket, and you just know your start-up would be killer. You can picture yourself running the show, being your own boss, and working on projects you’re passionate about. You want to be an entrepreneur. What’s holding you back?
You’re ready to get in on the entrepreneurship game, but you know you’re missing something—too many great ideas fail to become successful businesses because a great idea just isn’t enough on its own. You’re wise enough to know you need something more: a little traditional education, or maybe a network, or access to the right resources. You might need an MBA.
Just as the workplace has become more flexible with the rise of the gig economy, so too has business education. A two-year, traditional MBA is only one of many options these days. Aspiring entrepreneurs can take advantage of the many avenues to a business education to find what best suits their needs, whether that means diving into the full-time, immersive MBA experience, gaining knowledge and network on the weekends or evenings through a part-time program, or just picking up some business fundamentals through an online course.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these options, and their pros and cons for the entrepreneurial-minded.
A Traditional MBA
When people think of the classic two-year MBA degree, entrepreneurship isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind, but between the quality business education, the peer group, and a cache of resources and a network accessible only through the traditional MBA avenue, these programs are a great launch pad for entrepreneurial pursuits. Whether you are looking for a highly-qualified, equally ambitious and talented co-founder, access to industry leaders and expertise, specific knowledge to overcome a barrier to your start-up launch, or a top-notch network to support you along the way, an MBA has got you covered in all of these areas.
Even better, the MBA can often be the incubator for your start-up: as you go through the program, you can build and soft-launch your business within a supportive and knowledge-rich environment. What could be better? Well, it does get better.
We’ve discussed how the MBA has evolved in the last decade plus, and one of the primary takeaways is that it has become more specialized. As students have sought more particular education beyond the classic training in general management, one of the most popular specialized pursuits within the MBA is entrepreneurship. In order to keep up with this avocado toast-eating, gig economy generation, traditional MBA programs are upping the ante, and offering even more resources for entrepreneurs. Since 2010, entrepreneurial MBA alumni have reported a sharp increase in access to resources including faculty guidance, expert mentors, specialized courses, access to industry specialists and funding opportunities, according to a GMAC survey.
What’s the catch? Well, this is by far the most expensive option. Financing a two-year MBA program will strain most budgets, but the good news is you are giving yourself access to the best shot at success. In recent years, MBA graduates starting a business straight after graduation has dropped, and this may be due in part to the strain of the degree costs. But keep in mind this is the generation of the side-hustle: many MBA graduates are still launching their start-up ideas, just in tandem with a more traditional job to pay the bills, and perhaps gain further experience in a relevant industry.
Whatever your path to your entrepreneurial dream, you are sure to get the education, resources, and support you need from a traditional MBA.
The Part-time Program
If a full-time program sounds like too much commitment, but the in-person aspect of the MBA is key for you, then a part-time program may be the answer. As part-time programs have had to compete with increasing and higher quality online options, they have had to keep pace by offering a greater variety and flexibility. Thus, you can find programs with online and complete-at-your-own pace options, if flexibility is key for you, while if you are seeking the benefits of an on-campus and in-person experience, there are plenty of options that fit this category as well.
We won’t rehash the list above; many of the part-time degrees available at top-notch MBA programs offer the same advantages as the full-time program, just with greater flexibility. If it is key for you to continue working while completing your degree, whether for financial reasons or because you love the work you do and the experience you are gaining, then it is good news for you that part-time programs are evolving with the times, and competing with other degree options for your business.
Finally, there is the world of online degrees and online courses. As course delivery online gets better and more innovative (IE now offers a video feature that measures student engagement by reading their facial expressions!), online courses and degrees have become more valuable, more widely used, and, perhaps most importantly, more widely accepted.
This is the option where you can benefit from the greatest amount of flexibility and tailor your business education to fit your needs exactly. If you’re thinking, “I’ve already got a solid idea, industry experience and network, and a badass cofounder, I just need some knowledge,” the online option is probably a good one for you. To simply brush up on your business fundamentals, or gain a specific set of knowledge in x or y area, there are high quality online that you can take to meet your specific needs, from the highly popular HBX CORe classes to any number of others offered on MOOC forums such as Coursera or Edx. Find what will best suit your need, and go learn, my friend.
Maybe you still want that degree, though, but you love the idea of the flexibility of online courses. You are in luck, because online MBAs have just hit the market. IE and London Imperial College are leading the way with MBA high-quality degree programs completed almost entirely online, and others are sure to follow. This is by far the most flexible option, and often the cheapest route to an MBA degree, and as technology for virtual communication and digital learning improves, so too does the ability of these programs to offer you everything a traditional program can.
To return to the original question, what’s the best path for you—an ambitious entrepreneur with a kickass idea (or three) up your sleeve—to get launch ready? Well, there’s no hard and fast answer because this largely depends on what you need. A little soul-searching and honest self-assessment should tell you whether you can make your dream a reality with an online course here and there, or if you need the kick-start of an MBA program, part- or full-time. Whatever the answer, it’s nice to have options.
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