19 Jan 2021 21:06 IST

Can an MBA degree help you dive into entrepreneurship?

College projects and internships can help one figure out nuances of business; it’s a safe place to test ideas

In these days, when dissing MBAs has become commonplace, it is a moot question whether an MBA degree can help an aspiring entrepreneur acquire the relevant knowledge and skill sets needed for success. As an MBA from IIMA who became an entrepreneur and subsequently investor, I believe that there is a certain utility to having some professional preparation to ensure that one understands the technicalities associated with becoming an entrepreneur. Why do I feel so? There are multiple reasons.

Curriculum

For one, take the multi-disciplinary curriculum, the nature of pedagogy and the rigour the course, not to mention the richness of the interaction with fellow students and peer learning. In a good institute, this teaches you a hell of a lot in the one or two years that you spend there. In addition, the incessant pressure to manage the workload and multiple demands, gives you practical lessons on time management, self-discipline, teamwork and stress management.

Focus on entrepreneurship education

That apart, entrepreneurship education is today a major focus for B-schools; quite a few have specialised courses available. A common criticism levied against B-schools is that they train students to be stewards, not creators and calculated risk takers. With the advent of such course, B-schools are also re-inventing themselves. For instance, I teach a course on entrepreneurship orientation at an IIM.

Scaling a business

An MBA course teaches you to run and grow a business not just start it. It shows you how you can go far beyond the idea to prototype stage to how to scale it by instituting appropriate systems and processes, building an organisation structure, collecting, using data to improve decision making and the vital importance of culture, the oft forgotten key element in business success.

Building a network

Success in corporate life is dependent on teamwork and entrepreneurial success is no exception. This means building and cultivating strong business relationships and a network of batchmates or seniors/ juniors who can help in different ways. That apart, having a rapport with faculty who can act as mentors, provide technical or business inputs, or connect you to the right people or a lasting pipeline of talent from your own B-school or elsewhere. Today, many IITs, for instance, also encourage professors to launch their own start-ups often in partnership with students. A batchmate of mine has our professor as a co-founder.

It is instructive to remember that often, more than what you know, it is who you know, or who knows you, that matters more.

Presence of incubators

Today, many B-schools have Incubators now to actively support students and other entrepreneurs. NSRCEL in IIM, Bangalore, IIM, Kozhikode Live, IIM, Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) are some examples of such incubators. Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship (XIME) also has a core course on entrepreneurship. Plus, there are several other activities and fora to cultivate and foster entrepreneurship. The B-school says that in the first 20 batches, at least 15 per cent of their students are owners of business enterprises.

The sad part is that few MBA students even today, compared to their engineering counterparts, tend to take advantage of what is available right on their campuses. These incubators have access to funders, mentors, possible grants, and more. This is a really useful way to better your understanding of what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Project choices to test ideas

There are a multitude of courses and many have individual or group projects as a key component. It would be a good idea to choose course projects well. Nothing can help you more than the practical application of concepts in real life. The type of projects you work on plus choice of internships can help figure out nuances of business and also give relevant experience that will be useful when you actually embark on your entrepreneurship journey.

A B-school is perhaps a safe place to test out some of your most creative, unusual or different ideas without worrying about the fear of failure or finding those ideas don't work. As the cliché goes, you often learn more from failure than success, because it gives you the chance to find out what went wrong and give you a better understanding of what it takes to succeed in the real world.

Institutes with benefits

An MBA from a well-recognised institute or B-school enriches your educational credentials and let me tell you, this can impress potential clients, employees, partners and investors; at the very least, it gets you in the door and establishes basic credibility.

Overall, a good MBA can aid substantially in your entrepreneurship journey, particularly in the initial days. Later on, it also depends how you play the cards you are dealt with. You can have professors and mentors from your alumni guiding you along the way. The course pedagogy, faculty facilitation and peer interaction ensure you'll see all sides of a particular situation which will help you navigate the entrepreneurial experience journey with more confidence and assurance.

(The writer, an alumnus of IIMA, is an investor and entrepreneur-advisor.)

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