Entrepreneurs, once a rarity in the MBA classroom, today comprise a large and growing slice of the MBA student population. Top business schools, recognizing how prestige and corporate power has shifted toward founders over the last two decades, are upping their game and competing to offer the best MBA programs for entrepreneurs. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to the MBA options out there from our MBA admissions consultant.
The MBA in Entrepreneurship—why bother?
There’s a good reason more and more entrepreneurs are seeking out MBAs. The foundations in finance, marketing, management and leadership are highly applicable to the hurdles any entrepreneur will face, but even if you don’t feel you need more training in those areas, the MBA credential is key to unlocking many funding sources. Gone are the days when a business can be created from scratch by an upper-middle-class engineer in a garage—achieving returns on today’s market timeline almost always requires big money. An MBA shows investors that you are serious.
But not all MBAs are created equal: some programs are better suited to aspiring entrepreneurs than others. In particular, the best business schools for entrepreneurship tend to emphasize the following key strengths:
- An entrepreneurship concentration or major: While almost every school will offer some courses focused on entrepreneurship, if you are truly looking to start a company, then you should look for a school that puts enough value on the discipline to create a dedicated concentration or major.
- An entrepreneurship center: Many schools will tout their [insert name of legendary businessperson] center. All this means is that they are backing their commitment to a certain discipline (in this case entrepreneurship) with some serious funding. Think the Arthur Rock Center at HBS, or the Herb Kelleher Center at UT McCombs. These centers will provide you with a place to source entrepreneurial resources, receive guidance, make vital connections, and even win seed funding, all of which will put you much closer to realizing your dreams.
- Successful entrepreneurial alumni: just as you should look up the testimonials of a contractor before handing your kitchen over to for a months-long renovation project, an MBA consulting company worth its salt will tell you to look for a track record of success from your target schools. And that track record should reflect your own ambitions—a school may have produced countless successful investment bankers and hedge fund managers, but relatively few successful entrepreneurs. That should tell you something. Look into notable alumni and look up the school’s self-reported statistics on what industries their graduates go into.
Best MBA Programs for Entrepreneurs
Drawn from U.S. News’ rankings, here are the best entrepreneurship programs in the USA.
- Babson College’s F.W. Olin School of Business
The top spot may surprise you, as it’s not a program that typically tops the rankings. And, we’re a bit skeptical. Far be it from us to suggest the good folks at UNWR might put a curveball at the top to attract clicks, but stranger things have happened! Still, Babson F.W. Olin’s emphasis on entrepreneurship is all-encompassing, and is reflected in the program’s ties around the globe, as well as the fact that as much of two thirds of the program is customizable based on students’ proposed enterprise.
- Stanford GSB
Already well-known for its entrepreneurial spirit, Stanford has the unique added advantage of sitting right at the heart of a startup haven—Silicon Valley. But look beyond its location and you’ll discover that through programs like Startup Garage and Stanford Venture Studio (open to all graduate students), the university really does offer something special. Stanford’s core focus is on developing its students into experienced entrepreneurs ready to tackle the vicissitudes of launching a business.
- MIT Sloan
Sloan devotes an entire track within the Sloan School of Management to Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Students can apply for this track once they are admitted into Sloan and, if accepted, will not only take entrepreneurship-related courses but gain hands-on experience launching a venture.
HBS puts its money where its mouth is, offering students the chance to compete for a hefty cash prize ($75,000!) in its New Venture Competition. In addition, students can take advantage of the significant resources available through the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship.
- UC Berkeley Haas
Like Stanford GSB, Haas boasts a location directly adjacent to Silicon Valley—an undeniable advantage for aspiring entrepreneurs. But Haas has earned a top spot on the list by also offering courses, seed-funding, and even a top-notch in-house accelerator program, Berkeley LAUNCH.
- UPenn Wharton
The number one ranked business school overall, Wharton is naturally one of the best MBAs in entrepreneurship. The school offers entrepreneurial students awards from the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund and boasts alumni with highly successful ventures such as Warby Parker and Harry’s (that’s right, the shaving company you hear about every time you listen to a podcast!).
- Michigan Ross
Ross’s annual Entrepalooza might sound like an event for Glee Clubs (we can’t guarantee there won’t be some harmonizing ), but it’s actually an incredible networking opportunity that brings together experienced entrepreneurs and Ross’s ambitious students for panels and workshops.
- Indiana University Kelley
Kelley, like Sloan, offers a dedicated course of study for entrepreneurs through its major in entrepreneurship and corporate innovation. On top of this, students can gain first-hand experience through the Entrepreneurial Innovation Academy, where you’ll learn how to raise capital and have the chance to network with successful, experienced entrepreneurs.
- USC Marshall
Students interested in entrepreneurship at USC must first complete four courses in the subject before they can apply for entry to the Entrepreneurship and Venture Management concentration. Once accepted, they will deepen and develop skills that run the gamut, from how to come up with the next big idea to how to structure a successful new business.
- UT Austin McCombs
From blockchain to social innovation to energy, the list of entrepreneurial initiatives at McCombs is long. Underpinning this is the impressive Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, which supports MBA students with an entrepreneurship minor, as well as the chance to gain experience, earn funding and launch their startup all from UT’s Austin campus.
The EMBA Alternative
If two years out of the workforce is just not feasible for you, then there is an alternative. Aimed at those who are further along in their careers and who already have a greater extent of leadership experience, the executive MBA can also be a great launchpad for your entrepreneurial dreams.
The EMBA can be completed while you continue to work, allowing you to get your degree, and apply the valuable skills and knowledge you are gaining directly to your work, as you are learning it. This can provide a significant boost to your performance in your current work, or, if you are taking on an EMBA to allow you to break out and build your own venture, then you can put the skills you are learning to practice in your current role until the right time.
Just as with the MBA, there are some programs that are a stronger choice for those seeking career development in entrepreneurship following their degree. Furthermore, unless you are pursuing an online MBA (which are growing rapidly, and offer some exciting opportunities!), you will need a program that is close to home. Luckily, there are numerous excellent EMBA degrees for entrepreneurs in major cities, from New York to London to Dubai.
Best Executive MBA Programs for Entrepreneurship
Many of the same schools that offer the best MBAs programs for entrepreneurs also offer the best Executive MBA programs for entrepreneurs. This makes a lot of sense—an EMBA student can tap into the same expertise, resources, and network as the daytime MBA students, so a school that has strong coursework and resources for entrepreneurs will benefit all its students.
However, in addition to the programs mentioned above, here are a few other strong EMBA programs for the aspiring entrepreneur:
- Columbia Business School EMBA
With a prime location in the heart of NYC, Columbia is a great option for New Yorkers seeking an EMBA. In addition, they boast the excellent Eugene Lang Center for Entrepreneurship that houses a Startup Lab, among other resources.
For those outside of the U.S., LBS offers EMBA programs in both London and Dubai with coursework aimed specifically at developing entrepreneurial skills. Their success speaks for itself, with 25% of graduates going on to start their own business.
- UNC Kenan-Flager
If you are one of the growing number of young professionals in the Raleigh-Durham area and you have entrepreneurial ambitions, UNC’s Kenan Flager Business School offers both evening and weekend executive EMBA programs, as well as access to an entrepreneurship center with numerous resources.
If you are ready to start your journey to founding your own business or launching an innovative new product, an MBA is an invaluable first step that will greatly increase your likelihood of success. It can be overwhelming to narrow down hundreds of schools to the three to five target schools that suit you best, so consider seeking professional help from an admissions consulting company. Wherever you are in your entrepreneurial journey, the MBA or EMBA degree will help you find career-long success.