Five ways an MBA supports “could-be” entrepreneurs

Here’s why

Byron McCaughey is currently completing his full-time MBA programme at Imperial College Business School. Byron instigated the launch of Imperial’s new MBA Entrepreneur Scholarship scheme and pioneered MBA Connect, a group of MBA students who support and mentor startup businesses across Imperial College.

Myself and thousands of others have at one point in our lives had ambitions to follow that dream of owning and running a business that serve customers with an amazing product or solves a problem that’s annoyed us for years with a solution we can’t believe no one’s thought of (perhaps somewhat naively). 

However, when it comes down to it, many people don’t follow these entrepreneurial ambitions as it all appears too good to be true to turn an idea into a successful business. Of course, this hesitation is not unwarranted, as the road towards owning a company is fraught with danger and for every start-up success, there are many more failures. We’ve all heard the stats that only one in every ten attempts at a start-up are successful.

So it begs the question, does formal education such as an MBA stack the odds in your favour or is it even possible to teach entrepreneurship?

It’s certainly hard, or impossible, to teach some of the characteristics of an entrepreneur – you’ll struggle, for example, to teach an inherently risk adverse person to be risk tolerant. But for those who have the entrepreneur’s mind-set, there’s a wealth of fundamentals that can absolutely be taught.

I’m coming to the end of my full-time MBA at Imperial College Business School and having come from a corporate job with plans to follow my entrepreneurial dreams, these are the five key areas that have had a significant impact on me:

1.            A catalyst for change 

From a “career-path” perspective, the MBA is a crucial catalyst for change, literally wiping your career canvas clean and giving you the opportunity to paint whatever future you’ve been putting off. I also love that many of my class started with a particular picture of what company they would work for following the MBA, but after their experience, many have turned to entrepreneurship. 

I regularly heard people say they wished they’d gone out on their own earlier in life and started that business, perhaps opened the boutique café they always wanted or pursued the cool tech idea – but for one reason or another, never took that step. I was terrified of that being me, so quit my job and started the full-time MBA, confident that I can at least be sure that I’ll give the idea of owning my own business a real crack.

2.            An enhanced toolkit 

An MBA gives you a toolkit of additional skills and knowledge that helps to instil the confidence to take that first step towards entrepreneurship. Not to mention, a better chance to handle the opportunities and the knock-downs that will come with running any business.

The MBA augments a person’s natural skills with a practical toolkit, such as how to define a target market, build and market a brand, design a VC-ready business model, or the management skills to run a big organisation.

It also addresses the softer skills such as emotional intelligence and the way to better understand yourself, what makes you tick, your biases, and ultimately the necessary self-awareness to create and run a successful business.

3.            A different perspective 

The MBA exposes you to different cultures, industries and ways of thinking – in short it hugely challenges the way you view the world. 

You meet ambitious people, entrepreneurs and experts who can help to re-evaluate and reconfigure your thinking - it opens your mind to different ways of doing things, in solving problems, interacting with all kinds of knowledgeable and inspirational people and in circumstances within and outside your comfort zone.

All this gives you the mind-set to find solutions where other haven’t, to connect two seemingly unconnected things to create an amazing product, not to mention that the people during your MBA who help create this ‘new-you’ will likely become colleagues, advisors, investors, or even co-founders of your business venture.

4.            An entrepreneurial training ground

It’s not often in life that you get a year to think of problems and throw different solutions against the wall to see what sticks. In my time here, I’ve played around with business ideas ranging from debt finance to wine and real estate.

At Imperial you’re thrust into situations where you are pushed to be creative and innovative. Solutions are then found because you’re surrounded by like-minded people who have access to the technology, innovation and research from a scientific perspective. The environment is a safe one where without much risk you can explore business ventures and opportunities.

As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think there is a better environment to realise your entrepreneurial potential – and who knows, you might decide it’s not for you, but at least you can look at yourself in the mirror and say you gave it a go.

5.            Headspace 

All of us are leading busier and busier lives, and for those wishing to pursue an entrepreneurial career, it’s very difficult to find time for change. Not only is it difficult to find time to decide what you want to do, it’s also a challenge to find time to execute what you want to do. No doubt this lack of time is a big factor to people not giving it a go.

One of the things about doing a full-time MBA is that while it’s a busy year, you’re away from the pressures of a day job and there’s time to reflect and think about what you’re doing or want to do. That’s a luxury you simply don’t get when you’re in full-time work mode and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly in helping to have significant impact in the chances of you running with your entrepreneurial ideas.

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