The MBA And The Startup: A Worthy And Viable Path Or A March To An Approaching Bubble?

"One of the dirty secrets is, entrepreneurship, to some extent, is a privilege or a luxury to those who have resources," says Karl Ulrich, vice dean of entrepreneurship and innovation at The Wharton School.

“One of the dirty secrets is, entrepreneurship, to some extent, is a privilege or a luxury to those who have resources,” says Karl Ulrich, vice dean of entrepreneurship and innovation at The Wharton School.

One-by-one, starting with Arum, the sisters quit their full-time jobs to develop a product. They all ended up in Soo’s New York City apartment before sinking a collective $40,000 to get the dating site and mobile app going. They launched both the online site and mobile app in New York City in 2012. Within a year they had generated an $87,000 profit. By the end of 2014, profits had risen to about $1 million in profits, with the site having more more than 160,000 unique visitors. They also created a ton of media interest when they said no without blinking to Mark Cuban’s $30 million offer to buy Coffee Meets Bagel on Shark Tank.

To be sure, the Kangs’ story is one of rarified success. Not everyone has a twin who can also get into an elite MBA program, start a dating app, raise over $11 million in venture capital, and grow a business from a few sisters in a small apartment to 26 employees in a 13th floor office in the middle of San Francisco. And many B-schools are doing their part to prepare their MBAs for that very reality.

THE ‘DIRTY SECRET’ OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP 

At the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Karl Ulrich says they have have been focusing on training students to enter the job market ready to step in at established early ventures like Coffee Meets Bagel. “Those are ventures past Seed A funding and have, maybe, 20 to 200 employees,” says Ulrich. He notes that Wharton is calling it “scale-readiness,” which he describes as a safe way to enter the entrepreneurship ecosystem. “They can step into roles in those organizations and contribute in a very meaningful way right out of school,” Ulrich adds.

Ulrich, who says he spends more time at Wharton’s San Francisco campus, takes a very realistic view on entrepreneurship and one that often gets neglected by media and sunshine pumpers. “One of the dirty secrets is, entrepreneurship, to some extent, is a privilege or a luxury to those who have resources,” Ulrich admits.

Despite “at least half” of Wharton students demonstrating an “entrepreneurial tendency,” Ulrich says it’s simply not possible for everyone to immediately see those tendencies through.

“There are a certain segment of students that have the resources, the wherewithal and the risk appetite to start something from scratch,” says Ulrich. “But the reality is, most of those people already have resources. They either have some money from their family or they’ve saved up some money and they’re in a position to take a few months or years without pay.”

At Columbia, Ponzo says an entrepreneurial win is both establishing a viable business that creates jobs and economic impact as well as helping students realize entrepreneurship may not be for them. “If people self-select out and decide to go work at a Goldman Sachs, that’s a win as well,” says Ponzo. “We’re doing our students a disservice if we pump up entrepreneurship and say, ‘yeah it’s easy, it’s great, anyone can do it, it’s blah, blah, blah.’ Because it’s hard as hell. And it’s definitely not for everybody.”

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