Not even a degree from one of the nation's most prestigious universities will help you excel at entrepreneurship, but it can swing the learning curve. I should know.
Before launching my second company Infographic World in 2009, I earned a Master of Business Administration from Binghamton University. While I'm certain that I'd still be an entrepreneur today if I hadn't attended graduate school, that experience did help prepare me for the daily rigors of running a business. Among others, I'm able to create financial models and develop marketing campaigns. In addition, I was able to make connections with people who would later become key investors. I also learned how to manage people and businesses.
But of course, for every guy like me, there's someone else who had the opposite experience — either they thought school was a waste of time or they begrudge getting stuck with massive student loans. So the question remains: Should you put off entrepreneurship and study it first or run right out and start up? Though either path has its own pros and cons, if you choose school first, make sure you pack these three lessons into your coursework:
- Develop confidence. Use your classes as a tool to develop your confidence in risk-taking. Risks taken in a simulated setting will serve as a base for potentially difficult real-world decisions. Just make sure you choose classes that get you involved. Look for courses that force you to operate as if you were starting a business. Whether it’s pitching a company to financial backers or bootstrapping, that practice could pay off once you really do start up.
- Take case studies to heart. While the things you learn in a classroom setting can come off as “stuffy,” it's important to take them in too. Learn about management styles, financial models and marketing successes. Then, figure out how to take these examples and scale them to fit your specific company. This knowledge base will help you avoid making the most basic mistakes.
- Learn from the best. Seek out professors who will challenge you. It might seem more beneficial to coast with an easy course load and focus your efforts on entrepreneurial experiences outside the classroom. But, at many schools, entrepreneurship professors are seasoned veterans who can help you through the uncertain beginning stages of a business. Use the resources that your degree program offers you while they're still available. If you don't, you're throwing away money.
Use your education to develop your risk tolerance, and apply the resources — classes and professors — that you know will challenge you to thrive. But don't rely on the things you've learned in school for all of your business decisions. A degree is a degree, but your experience will define your ability to succeed as an entrepreneur in the real world.