MBA programs do not create entrepreneurs, but many entrepreneurs do seek out MBAs…
Maybe for you, an MBA has always been on your to-do list. Or maybe you’re starting to feel like mompreneurship lends itself well to business school.
Either way, it’s important to ask: is an MBA worth it for the female entrepreneur?Is an MBA worth it for the mom entrepreneur? Click To Tweet
The answer (unfortunately): it’s complicated.
The Benefit of the MBA Network
The top cited reason for getting an MBA is the creation of an incredible network—and depending on the program, it can be incredible. Being surrounded by like-minded people can give you the inspiration and ambition you need to get started. The projects, conversations and connections you make at business school cannot be replicated elsewhere.
Additionally, the MBA network can make securing funds and gaining initial clients a lot easier. Classmates often become first customers and even after graduating, there are a special camaraderie and understanding that is long-lasting.
However, the same can be said for entrepreneurs—those of us who are willing to take risks together are also willing to support each other.
And in our day and age, it’s easier than ever to build a great network. Working at top-tier companies with talented people will create valuable connections. Online networking opportunities are endless as well. Engaging on social media, joining LinkedIn groups, contributing to industry publications, hosting and attending webinars—all of these platforms allow for valuable networking without the high cost of business school.
An Almost Risk-free Environment
Entrepreneurs are risk-takers at heart and business school does offer a unique environment for cultivating that drive. In the process of acquiring an MBA, many entrepreneurs test out their most ambitious ideas without too much cost. Business school provides a safe, even supportive environment for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship clubs, innovation labs and student projects can be a great way to test run that idea you’ve been sitting on. Many business schools provide free resources like on-call lawyers, connections to VC firms and more. Classmates, professors and advisors are patient with entrepreneurial road bumps and can provide empathy and advice—even after graduation. These kinds of helpful people and connections should not be discounted.
An MBA also provides social proof when the time comes to seek out funding, partnerships or jobs. Particularly if you attended one of the top ten schools, you enter every conversation with a positive brand association. However, this can also be obtained from working with great companies.
Some go as far as to argue that MBA programs produce narrow-mindedness and herd-like thinking. An environment focused on standardized tools and historical observation can be a barrier to creativity. Likely, the outcome depends most upon the learner.
We couldn’t speak to the benefits of an MBA without mentioning the education. In general, education builds better people and I would never argue against increasing your learning.
Like any program, your time in business school will teach you some miniscule details (like how to derive WACC) that you may not use in your future career. But it also teaches you the financial and operational frameworks that will help you analyze and scale your business. It can edify your worldview and help to build a global mindset that will be irreplaceable in your business strategy.
These kinds of ethical and practical lessons are a great asset to the entrepreneur, but can also be learned elsewhere. While an MBA can accelerate your learning, it is not the only way to become business savvy.
In fact, most of the lessons you learn as an entrepreneur, could not be taught in the classroom. Even in they were, the lessons wouldn’t sink in until you were living the problem and had to find your own solution. Being an entrepreneur requires skills that can only be learned by running a business.
And while that piece of paper may look impressive hanging on your wall or listed at the top of your resume, it says nothing about your entrepreneurial grit. The degree is valuable, but that spark inside of you—that’s priceless.
The Cost of Cost
Let’s move onto the biggest barrier: price.
The cost of business school is a serious deterrent for some people—as it should be. Business school is not cheap and many students will finish in debt (not great footing for starting a business).
Some say that the cost of tuition can be balanced out by the benefits of the network. In fact, one Harvard grad said that 60% of his seed capital was a direct result of being an MBA student. For me, my time in business school connected me with my current business partner at ZipBooks, a software we created to give more options than just Xero vs. Quickbooks.
Funding options and higher salaries can cancel out the high cost of tuition for some, but it is still worth doing your own calculations.
The MomBA student
As a woman, the choice to attend business school should merit extra consideration. Aside from the price, the cost of time is something that female entrepreneurs may not be willing to pay.
For some, time is a luxury that can not be sacrificed. Statistically, women are more likely to have career interruptions than men, so the two-year loss early on in your career may not be worth it. On the other hand, the two years at business school can be a much-needed break, a breath of fresh air, a time to refocus. It may be worth it to gift yourself this opportunity—it just depends on your timeframe.
Another consideration is the gender distribution of MBA students. The rates of women in business schools are rising, but women still do not make up the majority in more than a handful of MBA programs. For you, this could be a good or bad thing. As a woman, you will be a value to your program because you offer a different perspective. However, you may also feel increased isolation or fiercer competition for your place at the top.
We want to see more women in business school, but it’s important to note that you will face unique obstacles in your MBA journey.
There are real benefits and real costs to pursuing an MBA and in the end, the decision to pursue it is yours alone. Here are some final thoughts:
MBA’s can add the most value to those who did something completely different before entering the program. They can be a gateway to career advancement or career transition and offers the benefit of an instant network. MBA’s can provide a time to reflect and add fuel to the entrepreneurial fire.
MBA’s cannot, however, create the spark.
If you have a business idea, beta product, sufficient funding, an awesome team and a fire inside of you—skip the MBA. Or at least, put it on hold. Go get your hands dirty, trust your gut, read the books you would read in school, actively build your network and you’ll find a lot of the same benefits without the high cost.
Jaren Nichols is Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks, accounting software for small businesses. Jaren was previously a Product Manager at Google and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.