Schools With The Happiest MBAs


Should MBAs Wait On Startups?

“Good things come to those who wait.”

You’d think MBAs would buy into that mantra. Let’s face it: They’re taking two years away from their careers to study. And that’s a lot of money to give up. If you’ve caught the entrepreneurial bug, you can’t wait. Every day you put off your venture is another missed opportunity. Instead of toiling away on some hollow group project, you could be driving sales or garnering VC capital. All the while, you think, “I’m the exception. I won’t make the same mistakes.”

And this mentality is reverberating across the business school landscape. On the plus side, launching a venture gives students an outlet to practice what they learn. Not to mention, it potentially offers gainful employment after graduation. The downside, of course, is that running a startup takes time away from study and network with peers. Of course, the temptation of becoming the next Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg could lead students away from campus – potentially costing business schools valuable second year tuition dollars.

Those may be some of the reasons why the Stanford Graduate School of Business – the citadel of entrepreneurship – has begun discouraging students from pursuing startup ventures during schools. In a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, outgoing Stanford Dean Garth Saloner scoffed at the trend of MBA students running straight into the arms of angels and clients, noting that Stanford is “not the graduate school of entrepreneurship.” And Dean Saloner isn’t alone, as the University Michigan’s Alison Davis-Blake – another outgoing dean at a startup crazy school – tells the Journal that the program has been working to “thin the herd” of student ventures.

Take risks? Follow your dreams? Get there first? Fail fast? They’re catchy mantras – but not necessarily ‘best for business.’ As entrepreneurial MBAs grapple with FOMO, schools are weighing how to mitigate the inherent perils of running a startup. For starters, it is a time-consuming and energy-sapping endeavor says Beth Altringer, who teaches at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “If you’re beholden to the pressure that comes with having accepted outside capital,” she tells the Journal, “it’s quite difficult to be part-time about it.”

Indeed, business schools have been investing heavily in startup education, according to the Journal, citing an explosion in courses, faculty, labs, and accelerators geared to students with big ideas and the stamina to match. And that doesn’t include the proliferation of business plan competitions where students can get feedback and even seed funding. And such initiatives do more than just simulate the preparation and hustle of startup life, says Davis-Blake. They also force students to really focus on the fundamentals and challenge their assumptions. “A lot of these ideas are not going to be ready for prime time,” she tells the Journal.

But those odds haven’t dissuaded students looking to make the pages of Fast Company and Inc. 2015 Stanford grad Joe Du Bey, who raised $1.2 million for his Eden startup during school, argues that students need to strike when they have a hot hand. “Nothing kills a startup like inertia,” he tells the Journal. At the same time, students may also fall prey to a muddled middle – a place where they neither crash nor skyrocket early on. Instead, they slog through setbacks and small victories, unsure whether to fight or fold. That was the experience of Tuck’s Nathan Sharp, who raised $2 million for his Nifti app during school. After a promising start, the venture hit the proverbial wall – and had to change its value proposition and customer base to survive, leaving him in a “trough of despair,” he confided to the Journal.

So business schools face a catch-22. Their programs are designed to provide entrepreneurs with free support and a soft landing spot in case they fail. But what happens when students come up with a truly groundbreaking idea beyond dating or travel apps? Perhaps entrepreneurs must be viewed like college athletes. Should they be encouraged to “go pro” when their ideas transcend the marketplace? Or, would they ultimately extend their careers and increase their lifetime earnings with additional coaching and seasoning?

Should MBAs stay in school? It’s a case-by-case decision – and one where the stakes couldn’t be higher and the margin between faith and folly is thin. “Should I go now?” Maybe – but only after truly pondering the why and how.

DON’T MISS: McKinsey? Goldman? Forget It: More MBAs Opt To Spend Summer at Startups

Source: Wall Street Journal

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