Teaching entrepreneurship in an MBA program?

by Heath Dewey on November 29th, 2011

The MBA used to be the elevator to the senior ranks of corporate stardom. If you wanted to be CEO you needed a lot of guts, intelligence and a Harvard MBA. After the recession the MBA became even more popular as newly unemployed middle and lower managers sought to make themselves employable amongst all the competition.

It seems that amongst those MBA candidates are an ever-increasing group of aspiring entrepreneurs. A recent article in The Guardian by Lucy Tobin refers to The Tomorrow's MBA study, an annual report commissioned by the Association of Business Schools, which represents the UK's business schools and management college. The association reported on the new trend toward entrepreneurship for the first time this summer.

The research reported that over 30 percent of respondents reported that entrepreneurship was one of the most important aspects of the MBA program. The study involved a survey 476 potential MBAs in 79 countries. Entrepreneurship is now in the top 5 of requested areas of study. Interestingly, all the potential candidates were contacted for the study via social media, online advertising and banner adverts on each school’s website.

The Guardian article proposed that an increase in e-learning or online distance education could be partially attributed to an increase in entrepreneurial demand for an MBA education that is flexible and responsive enough to meet the needs of fast moving entrepreneurs. Tobin also points put that much of the online distance learners are students based in developing countries. These students tend to show a stronger demand for entrepreneurial education.

An article in US News by Stacy Blackman refers to the same report. Blackman highlights an element of the report that considers that many MBA students may be seeking entrepreneurial oriented courses because they realize that entrepreneurial skills are increasingly valuable in collaborative business environments. Perhaps students are responding to companies that are embracing team-oriented, collaborative approaches to project management.

Does it seem odd to you that an entrepreneur would take the time and spend the money to obtain an MBA only to turn around and start his or her own business? The US News article addressed this question nicely with a quote from the Harvard Business School’s point of view. A spokesperson at Harvard said, “At its best, a business school should act as an "incubator of ideas" and a place where students can test their business ideas in a risk-free environment.”

Harvard has therefore acknowledged that it cannot teach the drive and passion that makes entrepreneurs successful. According to author Joe Abraham there are several different types of entrepreneurs that are driven and motivated by different aspects of their businesses. His book, "Entrepreneurial DNA: The Breakthrough Discovery that Aligns Your Business to Your Unique Strengths", implies that there are theoretically many different personality types engaging as entrepreneurs. Teaching them would require very different approaches. Certain types of entrepreneurs such as, “The Innovator”, would probably never seek out a traditional MBA format, their passion lying not in the day-to-day but in the innovation. In their minds they wonder, “why go to college and learn how to manage my business when I can build a computer out of my garage and get down to the business of changing the world.” Imagine if Jobs and Wozniak had decided to finish school before pursuing their dreams. Can traditional higher learning institutions address the needs and desires of all of these types of entrepreneurs and truly increase their chances of success?

Paul Bauer and Shadi Farhangrazi in a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek proposed a new Rx for entrepreneurship education. Perhaps their prescription is the type of innovation that universities need to embrace in order to support the newly emerging base of entrepreneurs around the world.

The increased desire among MBA’s to focus on entrepreneurship in their studies implies that universities are going to have to reach hard for creative methods to address more than business planning and project management in their curriculum. Clearly they will at least have to acknowledge individual entrepreneurial “DNA” and the fast-paced needs of entrepreneurs. It will be interesting to watch to see which universities rise above as they adapt to a growing market of student/entrepreneurs.


Posted in Entrepreneurship, Education    Tagged with Entrepreneurship, MBA, Higher education


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