You might have heard—on this site, no less—that an MBA is no longer pertinent to an entrepreneur.
Some of the poster boys of entrepreneurial success–Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg–declined to complete their undergraduate degree, let alone shoot for a graduate honour.
But if you talk to an entrepreneur who earned an MBA, he or she will probably testify the lessons they learned were crucial to their success.
So, which is it? What’s an entrepreneur to do?
The answer lies in which classes you take.
We polled professors, venture capitalists, and founders with graduate degrees to find out what MBA courses are most beneficial to entrepreneurs.
What It Is: A detailed look into what makes a good business idea.
Why It Rocks: Today, many aspiring entrepreneurs arrive at business school with an idea in hand. This class lets them know whether that idea is any good.
'It's all about the go, no-go decision,' explains USC's Mednick, who teaches the course. 'I don't know if you've ever read a business plan that says, 'we're going to fail in month 18.''
What It Is: A deep dive into the life cycle of an emerging business--from pre-start to exit.
Why It Rocks: USC brings in expert guests---including CEOs of Fortune 500 companies--to address specific topics in entrepreneurship. Students gain a collection of others' experiences to draw upon and a Rolodex of high-powered contacts.
What It Is: The course puts you in the shoes of a VC firm trying to make the most of its investments.
Why It Rocks: Thinking from the perspective of a VC firm is a terrific skill for the aspiring entrepreneur. Marissa Evans, who took such a class at Harvard, recalls being the only one in a class of 90 to throw her support behind a 'Company X' that turned out to be Callaway Golf.
'I realised that diverting from the pack isn't necessarily a bad thing---it can be where disruption and innovation can come from. I also realise that in this case, I had some good insights.' That confidence proved invaluable when it came to time to leave the comfort of business school for the cutthroat world of startups.
What It Is: You'll learn to use existing technology to improve your business concept.
Why It Rocks: With the help of this class, MBAs can dispel the notion--once and for all--that an engineering degree is superior. They'll capitalise on engineers' hard work to break the bank.
What It Is: A chance to team with classmates to consult an actual entrepreneurial company and generate a deliverable for the CEO.
Why It Rocks: 'It takes entrepreneurship out of the realm of theory and tests some of the concepts to see whether they really work,' says Drexel's Loschiavo.
What It Is: A crash course in crafting a business plan.
Why It Rocks: MBAs can get a leg up on their under-trained competition, by learning to write concise, complete, and compelling business plans. Putting pen to paper lends legitimacy to your idea, and might even help sort out nagging issues with the business concept.
What It Is: A necessity. Good luck managing a company without a basic understanding of finance and cash flow.
Why It Rocks: Startups don't have the luxury of expert accountants that their corporate counterparts do. 'If you're starting a business,' explains Loschiavo, 'it's really essential that you understand the fundamental accounting and finance because its your lifeblood.'
What It Is: Practice for those unexpected obstacles you're bound to run into as an entrepreneur.
Why It Rocks: You'll have something to draw upon when your business model looks lost. 'Ultimately, it's a ride,' says Evans, who believes this class helped her identify her leadership weaknesses. 'You're not sure what's going to come around the corner, so just make sure you fill up your boat with people you trust and feel confident about.'
What It Is: The ultimate how-to for companies looking to capitalise on another firm's strengths. Be warned:n you'll be crunching numbers.
Why It Rocks: A good merger can help you rise to unanticipated heights, but a bad one can sink your genius idea. You'll leave this class with the analytical tools necessary to identify the best move for your business.
What It Is: Another chance to evaluate a company from the investor's perspective.
Why It Rocks: Looking for what makes an entrepreneurial company attractive will familiarise MBAs with the characteristics of a successful company.
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