How Business Schools Are Responding To The Rising Tide of Entrepreneurship

Columbia Business School MBA candidates Nolan Walsh, left, and Connor Wilson.

On their Kickstarter video, Columbia Business School MBA candidates Connor Wilson and Nolan Walsh stand in a room where a group of male and female models cavorts around a pile of boots and shoes as they shower dollar bills upon it. “Welcome to the world of fast fashion,” Walsh says, “models, celebrities and huge advertising budgets, all designed to sell us inferior products that wear out quickly.”

The Kickstarter campaign set a record for sales in the first 24 hours, and Wilson and Walsh have now received more than $275,000 in orders for their $199 Thursday Boot Company boots. Production started about six weeks ago.

“I really like the idea of growing something small into something big,” says Wilson, a former investment analyst and portfolio manager for Thornburg Investment Management.

The two Columbia students embody a striking trend in business school education toward entrepreneurship. MBA program officials are seeing dramatic growth in student demand – including, for example, annual increases of 20 to 30 per cent at Harvard Business School – for entrepreneurship-related offerings. Increasingly, MBAs are rushing to apply their newly minted innovation skills to their own enterprises.

The Graduate Management Admission Council’s just-released 2014 Alumni Perspectives Report reveals a significant rise in the number of business school graduates launching themselves immediately into creating new businesses. From a survey of self-employed alumni who graduated from 1959 to 2013, GMAC has found that 45% of 2010-2013 grads started businesses directly after finishing b-school, while 80% of self-employed alumni from years past worked several years for an employer before embarking on entrepreneurial ventures.

Wilson says he and Walsh, both 29 and interested in “fashion broadly and boots specifically,” identified a market gap between “precious,” costly boots sold at a high markup and “cheap, low-quality fashion brands.” Also, they saw an opportunity to add work boots’ durability to a fashionable product, Wilson says.

Thursday Boots footwear from Columbia students Connor Wilson and Nolan Walsh.

Wilson went to business school to become an entrepreneur, and he chose Columbia because of the quality of education there, its focus on entrepreneurism – dean Glenn Hubbard has for more than a decade touted the school’s integration of entrepreneurial skills-building throughout the curriculum – and the location in New York City, now reported to be the nation’s second-largest startup ecosystem, behind Silicon Valley.