While schools like Wharton are renewing a commitment to entrepreneurship, the number of MBAs starting businesses soon after B-school is on a downward slide. After peaking at 59 founders in the Class of 2013, Wharton grads launching businesses within three months of graduation have dipped to 41 this year. Same goes for all schools that regularly populate Poets&Quants’ list of top MBA startups — besides Columbia Business School, which saw a rise from 18 founders in 2013 to 28 in the Class of 2017, and Chicago Booth, which inched from 17 founders in 2013 to 19 in 2017. Aside from Wharton, no other school has seen a more significant drop in startup numbers than MIT’s Sloan School of Management, which also decreased by 19 founders from 37 in 2013 to 19 in the Class of 2017.
Stanford’s Whitman says it’s simply tough to balance a full-time MBA program and launch a business. She says it’s a question of timing.
“The opportunity you have while you’re in business school to learn requires full-time completely focused effort,” Whitman begins. “And to start a business requires more than full-time completely focused effort. So, my sense is to do those two things at the same time is going to be challenging.
“My perspective is, you should start a business when you have an idea you feel so strongly about that you simply cannot not do it. If that happens to be right when you graduate from business school, more power to you. If it happens to be five, 10, or 20 years out, that’s fine, too.”
Leinweber sees it another way.
“I think the disadvantages are few. You have a two-year runway,” she says of starting a business while seeking an MBA. “Entrepreneurship is an exercise in learning and growing, just like earning a degree is.”
Plus, she adds, universities can provide some small early funding. “Universities are pretty good sources of small amounts of grant money to get something going.”
But it doesn’t come without a commitment. “To really launch straight out of the MBA program, you have to be single-minded,” Leinweber explains. “It means forgoing other club activities and co-curricular activities.”
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