By Steve Allen
June 7, 2010
When people hear the word entrepreneur, the first image that comes to mind is often that of a small business owner with a great idea who overcame some tough odds to succeed. In reality, entrepreneurs are everywhere and their degree of success varies widely. Large corporations often seek out executives with the skills to take initiative and solve problems with limited resources - the same skills exhibited by successful entrepreneurs. A strong MBA degree can help individuals in both the small start-up environment as well as the larger corporate world develop the necessary skills to take their businesses to the next level.
Those individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit need to have a few years of business experience under their belts before entering into an MBA program. Without that experience, the information they receive in the classroom will not be as beneficial as it could be otherwise. They will have a more difficult time making the connection between the actual projects they are working on and the business world, and will have more trouble implementing their ideas.
Many people find themselves labeled as entrepreneurs before they have taken any classes or learned how to manage a business. Their ideas have quickly blossomed into real business models and they find themselves running small businesses, tackling all the associated problems and risks in a seat-of-the-pants fashion. There may not be enough time to obtain a full MBA degree, but taking some short courses and getting involved with local entrepreneurship organizations are extremely beneficial to these types of entrepreneurs.
Individuals who decide to obtain MBA degrees will see tremendous benefits to their businesses. Upon graduation, they will have a comprehensive view of how businesses work as a whole and will understand how different entities interact with each other, both internally within the company and externally within the larger marketplace. As entrepreneurs, they will be less likely to become too deeply focused in one area of the business and make the mistakes that cause so many start-up organizations to fail. Corporate executives will be able to look at old problems with a fresh perspective and draw from the insight they’ve gained from their years of experience. The faculty members in MBA programs are an incredibly rich resource for students to tap for information and guidance.
Individuals with MBA degrees will also benefit from the experience of working on real case studies in a learning environment. Under the guidance of professors and business experts, students will be able to develop business plans that can actually be implemented. The technology based entrepreneurship initiative in the Jenkins MBA program at NC State University allows students to screen technologies that have the potential to become businesses and then develop actual business plans. Many of our graduates have gone on to start businesses based on these plans, and the concentration has actually raised more than $140 million in funding for NCSU start-up partners since 1995.
Development of Valuable Relationships
An MBA degree does more than provide students with the facts and figures typically learned through a classroom experience. It will also give them a strong rolodex of business contacts. In many MBA concentrations, students have the opportunity to meet with a number of individuals who will be able to help them later on down the line. For example, students in the NCSU entrepreneurship and technology commercialization concentration meet with local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists on a weekly basis. These ongoing meetings help students not only learn from leading members of the business community but also develop relationships, which are valuable in the long run.
Many companies fail because the key executives make basic mistakes when setting up the operation. Whether within a start-up company or a larger corporation, an executive with an MBA degree and the experience that comes along with it often makes the difference between an organization’s success or failure.
Steve Allen is associate dean for Graduate Programs and Research in the College of Management at NC State University in Raleigh, N.C. He has appointments in the Department of Economics as well as the Department of Management, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. Steve also is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit research organization located in Cambridge, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected].