15 Questions For Every Startup MBA

entrepreneur11) Is the program characterized by silos?

Or do diverse interactions pervade? Does the MBA program isolate itself from the greater university — both graduate and undergraduate students — or are there courses and/or organizations and/or events that regularly enable students of all ages and disciplines to mingle and collaborate? Does it have programs or organizations which collaborate with entrepreneurial students at other schools?

12) What is the likelihood of receiving a merit scholarship?

How much will you likely be paying for school, tuition and cost of living combined?

NOTE: Startups rarely afford founders a comfortable salary in the early months or even years, even with funding, as investors put their money into lean teams with low burn rates. It is very hard to pursue a startup when one is expected to pay off significant student loan debts. As the much-respected VC Mark Suster observes, “It’s hard to start companies and take risks when you’re $150,000 in debt.” This is one reason that many first-year MBAs who are interested in startups end up bailing out of this mindset in their second years and taking “traditional” MBA jobs. Simply put, be wary of becoming an indentured corporate servant as a result of your MBA-related debts. Startup life is not for those with grandiose lifestyle expectations, especially in the early years.

13) What kinds of startup-related student organizations exist on campus?

Are they effective in legitimately inspiring and supporting students to launch new ventures, or do wantrapreneurs dominate and the clubs exist largely to give students “officer” roles for their resumes? Are there enough clubs to meet the needs of the campus community? Are there too many? Are they well funded? Are they well connected? Are the club events valuable, or just excuses to drink beer?

14) Which career paths dominate in the MBA program, as well as across campus?

Could the non-startup career choices of your peers (e.g., management consulting, corporate finance, brand management, etc.) be of value to you in your entrepreneurial pursuits?

15) What courses and concentrations are offered that are relevant to launching or investing in new ventures?

Are there pioneering courses offered, such as data mining courses and “programming 101” for non-engineers? Who is teaching the entrepreneurship and new venture courses? Are they full-time faculty or adjunct? Are they well connected?

NOTE: In many instances, non-PhD. and/or adjunct faculty members may be the most valuable mentors, as they likely have significant and relevant professional experience “in the field.” In my case, two of the best sources of both guidance and support in my student entrepreneur experience were administrators who did not actually teach any courses. Both individuals had worked for startups and were well-connected both locally and nationally to top entrepreneurs and investors.

At the end of the day, all of the opportunities (or lack thereof) at a given MBA program cannot make (or break) an entrepreneur. You get from the MBA experience what you put into it.

You may have noticed that I listed questions about classes last. Indeed, much of one’s startup education should occur outside of the classroom, and much of the value is in the networking opportunities that only students are privileged to experience. As Mark Suster, a Wharton MBA, notes:

I tell people that if you’re going to go to a top school then the people that you’ll be friends with there will be lifetime friends. And if you go to a top school then no doubt your peer group will all end up 15 years later as senior “captains of industry.” So for me the most compelling reason to go is the network of friendships you’ll form and the importance of this as part of your future network.

I also tell people that if they do go to make sure that they don’t spend all of their free time trying to graduate top of their class. I tell them not to be so entrenched in working on their startup ideas that they don’t build deep, meaningful relationships with their peer group. Don’t forget that long after you forget the CAPM pricing model, how to do regression analysis or how to calculate NPV without a spreadsheet — your network should endure.

Dan Driscoll is a co-founder of reQwip.com, an online marketplace for local buying and selling of cycling, triathlon, and outdoor adventure sports gear. Based in Austin, TX, reQwip was hatched at a 3 Day Startupprogram and incubated in The University of Texas’ Longhorn Startupprogram. Dan received MBA and MA in Communication degrees from The University of Texas in 2014.

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