Why an entrepreneurship concentration is a MBA bootstrapper’s secret weapon

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You don’t need to earn an MBA to start a company. But it doesn’t hurt, and an MBA concentrating on entrepreneurship, specifically, could help would-be founders get ahead right out of the gate.

A majority of students who go to business school—as many as 80%, by some measures—have entrepreneurial aims. While a standard MBA can give students a broad base of business knowledge, which will likely help them in numerous ways if and when they do start a company, an entrepreneur MBA, or an MBA with an entrepreneurship concentration, may give students a leg-up.

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But an entrepreneur MBA isn’t only for entrepreneurs, either. It can help you learn to guide your thinking, focus on big-picture projects and strategies, and climb the ladder if you plan to work for an employer, too, rather than start your own company. In all, an entrepreneurship-focused MBA can help prepare you to found a startup, or slide into a leadership position in a larger company.

What is an entrepreneur MBA? 

An entrepreneur MBA is a type of MBA, or MBA concentration, that specifically prepares students to be entrepreneurs—or, to start their own companies after graduating (or before). While the main focus of these types of programs is on the nuts and bolts of founding a business, they tend to also drive home the idea of thinking like an entrepreneur, too, which may be helpful to students in numerous fields.

“Among all the classes you can take when you’re earning an MBA, mine are focused on how to think and act entrepreneurially either within a large company or within a startup of their own,” says Doug Villhard, a Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurship and Academic Director for Entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. 

In effect, entrepreneur MBAs, or MBA students concentrating on entrepreneurship are developing a certain mindset or perspective—a focus that other types of MBA programs may lack.

“It’s more of an ecosystem perspective,” says Rosanna Garcia, a Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Students are not all starting companies, which is why the entrepreneurial mindset is so important.”

And for students, it’s the focus on developing that mindset that can make a difference when they eventually set out to found a company.

What is the specialization of MBA entrepreneurship?

An MBA specialization in entrepreneurship is more or less the same thing as an MBA program with an entrepreneurship concentration—in some respects the terms are synonymous. So, some schools may offer MBA programs with MBA specializations, and those programs seek to provide students the chance to take classes that teach skills specific to entrepreneurs.

That can encompass a number of topics, including analytical tools, organizational design and management skills, and more. Depending on the specific school and MBA program, specializations can vary as well. For example, entrepreneurship MBA specializations could focus on innovation or technology—but some entrepreneur MBA programs may not have specific specializations within the entrepreneurship concentration.

Is an entrepreneur MBA worth it? 

Studying entrepreneurship as a part of or main focus in an MBA program may be worth it if you have an aim of founding a company. But it can also be worth it for those looking at climbing the corporate ladder and leading a division or portion of a larger company, or creating some sort of spark within their current company.

“The majority of students have interesting careers within larger companies,” says Villhard. “They don’t want a cubicle, but they want to put themselves in a position to launch the next product or service,” says Villhard. But he says that roughly a quarter of his students are pursuing entrepreneurship on their own, and that “ends up sucking in the other 75% of the class.”

“A reason to use your MBA program to go after an entrepreneurial idea is the off chance that it takes off and you start a startup,” he says. “The beauty of it, too, is that it is a fallback plan—you get an amazing two years of knowledge, and come out of it having workshopped something serious.”

But again, whether it’s worth it will ultimately depend on the individual student’s specific goals.

How the entrepreneur MBA can be a founder’s secret weapon 

Garcia says that the true magic of entrepreneurial-focused MBA classes and concentrations is that they can foster innovation and creativity within students—again, it’s all about developing a mindset.

“It’s not just that I’m going to teach you how to be innovative, how to ideate, or how to start a company,” she says, “but I teach from the ecosystem of perspective—that’s why the entrepreneurial mindset becomes important.” She adds that students at WPI get a lot of repetitions while they’re at school, too—they work directly with local incubators and companies, getting hands-on practice with real-world business problems.

And, perhaps most importantly, Garcia says that entrepreneurship-focused MBA programs and classes drill home the concept of “customer discovery.” That is, “we make sure they ask whether there is actually a need in the marketplace” for students’ business ideas. 

“When a student goes through customer discovery, goes out to the marketplace, and finds that there’s no market,” she says, “we consider that a success. They’ve learned a lot. We encourage failure, but also consider it a positive.”

That’s why these programs can be something of a “secret weapon” for future founders. “They give you the chance to make the mistakes now, while you’re in school,” she says, rather than face planting when the stakes are higher.

Villhard says that he takes a similar approach.

“A misnomer is that people think that entrepreneurship is about starting companies. It is. But what it’s really about is finding a problem, falling in love with that problem, talking to a ton of people about that problem, forming a hypothesis for a solution to that problem,” he says. “That kind of thinking is how companies launch products.”

Additionally, students also get the chance to learn directly from entrepreneurs—like Villhard—who’ve found success in the business world. Villhard, accordingly, is able to blend his real-world knowledge into his classes, allowing students to absorb even more insight and expertise while they’re in class rather than, perhaps, learning some difficult lessons later on.

“Those of us who have been through this before, what we’re trying to do is to create a curriculum that we wish we had had back in the day,” Villhar says. “And to try and help students with some lessons that we had to learn the hard way.”

The takeaway 

Entrepreneurship MBAs or concentrations may be a good option for those who have aims at founding a company or startup in the future, or who simply want to give their careers a shot in the arm. While these programs will give you a broad business education, they will also help develop an entrepreneurial mindset, which may help professionals in a variety of settings or positions.

“It’s not just a business discipline, it’s a skill set that you can apply to anything,” says Villhard. Plus, students may have an edge when they graduate and try to launch companies in that they’ve likely already workshopped their ideas, worked directly with mentors, and perhaps even started their companies while still studying—in all, the degree program may serve as a sort of secret weapon for prospective entrepreneurs.

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