Five Ways an MBA Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur-Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Five Ways an MBA Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur

When thinking about role models for entrepreneurship and innovation, perhaps Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak come to mind. It’s no coincidence, as their stories of world-changing innovation and industry transformation follow a similar trend: one or two college drop-outs work around the clock on an idea that most people dismiss early on as trivial or unremarkable. This is usually followed by a breakthrough and massive, global success.

You very rarely hear about MBAs in these founding stories. And in entrepreneurial circles, founders or early employees holding an MBA can even be stereotyped as doing more harm than good.

I took a different entrepreneurial path, starting Trulia during business school and then taking it public eight years later. Because of my experience, I often get approached by entrepreneurs trying to decide whether or not an MBA will help them achieve their dreams, or if instead, it might hold them back from being creative and innovative enough to be successful.

Going to business school requires sacrifices: there’s the opportunity cost of getting less actual work experience while you’re in school and the potentially significant debt of school itself. And then there’s the perception that MBA students at top schools are risk-averse people looking for the next big brand to add to their resume – a safe, well-paid job at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, or the like.

While not for everyone, based on my experiences, I believe an MBA can foster entrepreneurship and innovation in people in the following, powerful ways:

1. Learn from role models via case studies, frameworks, and peers.

While studying at Stanford, learning frameworks to problem solve made a big impact on me, and it’s something I’ve taken with me as an entrepreneur. We learned a number of other frameworks during the program which have also been useful.

Cases provide a learning exercise where you put yourself in the shoes of a specific CEO and play out the results of various decisions in order to learn from them. Case studies help you learn how others have succeeded and help you build confidence in your problem-solving abilities.

Perhaps one of the most powerful benefits of the MBA program was being exposed to the raw ambition of my peers, who inspired me to work and think harder on a regular basis. I learned a lot from each of them.

2. Benefit from the collision of different disciplines and culture.

Being exposed to students who are learning about different disciplines is a very powerful ingredient for innovation that happens in business school. Breakthrough innovation often happens at the intersection of industries. The bio technology revolution that has fundamentally changed the world over the last few decades is a good example.

Outside thinking, perhaps from a related industry, brought into a new context can have a similar impact. A standard approach in one industry might affect real, positive change in another. Areas like self-driving cars, where software meets auto technology, are very exciting to me as a result. Earning an MBA provides a number of opportunities to apply new ideas or approaches from different areas to solve problems and drive innovation...Read more»

By: Pete Flint, LinkedIn