Startup Now? Or Step up to an MBA First?

Guest post by Vince Huang, Senior Admissions Consultant, The MBA Exchange

A common question I hear from smart, driven individuals is whether it’s better for them to jump into the “startup” life or to get an MBA education first.

It’s never been easier to launch your own company or to join one that’s eager to grow with new talent. A confluence of factors — low cost of entry, influx of venture capital, and the rise the of new business models — has led to abundant opportunities in the tech sector.

However, for many future entrepreneurs, attending a top business school first may be worth doing. Here are just a few potential benefits:

1. Establish a Launch Pad

Two years of immersion in a rigorous MBA program is a great way to incubate your big idea. Many b-schools have invested heavily in dedicated offerings that help students refine their models while building strong bonds with the VC and startup community.

The top 20 business schools for budding entrepreneurs, as ranked by PoetsandQuants.com, have an impressive track record for helping student startups succeed. The various offerings include:

• Harvard Business School Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship
• Stanford GSB Center for Entrepreneurial Studies
• Berkeley Haas Lester Center for Entrepreneurship

2. Build a Multi-faceted Team

In addition to talented MBA classmates, leading business schools often reside within leading universities where business is just one of many top tier programs (e.g., computer science, engineering, etc.). For instance, the founders of student lending startup SoFi included not only MBA classmates from Stanford GSB, but also colleagues with master’s degrees in applied economics and computer science engineering. Programs like UC Berkeley’s Clean Tech to Market provide their students with access to superstars from other academic disciplines who could become valuable teammates. Indiana Kelley’s Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation emphasizes “cross-campus initiatives” and serves as a platform for innovative companies.

3. Pivot Into a New Career

For career switchers with entrepreneurial vision, an MBA education provides a path to explore and gain experience in new arenas at a fast pace and no risk. Beyond traditional summer internships, some b-school students participate in experiential projects or work part-time during the academic year. This provides time and space to check out various functional roles within the tech industry.

Many MBA programs feature vehicles for hands-on, experiential learning, such as Northwestern Kellogg’s Venture Lab and MIT Sloan’s Action Learning Lab and Berkeley Haas’s Startup Lab and Lean Launchpad.

A number of business schools offer independent and field studies that blend practical learning with academic guidance from an advisor in dealing with real-world issues faced by actual operating companies. Such opportunities include UCLA Anderson’s Global Field Studies. Some MBA programs even encourage their students to launch an actual startup while attending school; consider INSEAD’s Entrepreneurial Field Studies.

4. Join Exclusive, Powerful Networks

One of the most valuable assets available through an MBA education is the professional network. This goes beyond building relationships with only classmates and alumni. Top-tier business schools have world-renowned professors who consult at the highest levels with Global 1000 companies. Students can gain access to thought leaders merely by asking for an introduction. Faculty also can be a life-long source of talent by connecting MBA grads with current students. Case in point: at my startup, I manage a partnership on special projects with MBA students from MIT Sloan and Berkeley Haas. Professors even serve as advisors for the ventures of their former students.

An MBA education also enables you to build out your professional network through conferences and networking events. Stories about students who connect with a future co-founder at a random gathering are more common than you might think. Major events include the Harvard Business School Student Entrepreneurship Conference, the UVA Darden Entrepreneurship Cup, and the Wharton Technology Conference. And don’t underestimate the potential to pair up with movers and shakers at local alumni chapter meetings.

In considering whether to pursue an MBA, start with your long-term goals and assess how the learning and resources of a top b-school could accelerate your career development. The MBA Exchange can help with a free, expert evaluation of your candidacy. The potential of a business school to supercharge your entrepreneurial future is just too big to ignore!