Should aspiring entrepreneurs get MBAs?

If there's one corner of the world where the What-is-Education-For debate is most germane, it could be this one. In the world of entrepreneurs, everything needs to pull its own weight. No time for navel-gazing.

In two separate articles, entrepreneur Chad Troutwine lists in the Wall Street Journal the reasons for and reasons against getting a master's in business administration (MBA).

(I'm assuming Troutwine has in mind undergrads who'll graduate with the basic knowledge necessary to run a business -- not always a given.)

Interestingly enough, this post comes amid news of a school for anti-MBAs and rumblings of how an anti-business backlash caused by the financial crisis has cut into the number of applications to Stanford University's MBA program.

Anyway, below are the condensed lists. Click on the links above for the full articles.

Before you keep reading ...

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The lessons are broad and multidisciplinary: Coursework in accounting, finance, marketing, operations management and business strategy offer immediately tangible benefits. Consequently, all of the top-ranked schools now offer multiple classes specifically designed for budding entrepreneurs.

Graduate business schools often have support for entrepreneurs: For example, the Yale School of Management teaches a yearlong course on writing a successful business plan and launching a sustainable venture. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business donates free campus office space to select graduates and features promising start-ups on the cover of its alumni magazine. And guest-speaker entrepreneurs are another valuable resource.

They offer an unrivaled professional network: A typical class includes former investment bankers and future venture capitalists (your source of capital), marketers (your brand guru), accountants (your CFO), management consultants (your chief strategist) and other types of industry insiders. Most business schools are also part of a larger university and alumni network, further expanding your business relationships.

They offer the ideal venue for entrepreneurial experimentation: Aspiring entrepreneurs can enter business school with a promising idea -- or exchange ideas with students and faculty until they get one -- and hone their business plan in the nurturing environment of business school.

M.B.A. students have unparalleled access to business-plan competitions: The discipline required to succeed in those competitions can improve the odds of launching a profitable venture. Also, competition judges can provide valuable feedback and mentorship. Moreover, competition winners often collect a sizable check and attract the attention of venture capitalists.

Earning an M.B.A. is a stamp of approval. Whether it is a prospective partner, potential investor, possible lender or probable employee, a formal business education improves your credibility, particularly if you studied at a top program.


Time Lost in School: You may decide that the requisite two years would be better spent devoted to launching a start-up idea. (My note: And who knows whether your million-dollar idea will still be timely when you graduate -- or so timely that someone has already executed it by the time you finish school?)

Price of Tuition: Annual tuition and fees exceed $50,000 at several top two-year programs, and the vast majority of incoming students will finance their education out-of-pocket or with loans. The prospect of being saddled with loans and launching a lean, bootstrap business is particularly daunting.

It’s the Wrong Graduate Program: Time might be better spent developing a deeper academic knowledge of the field you want to enter -- computer science or real-estate development, for example.

Security Is the Enemy of Drive: An aspiring entrepreneur attending business school could easily be seduced by an enticing but traditional job offer upon graduation. Having too many choices can kill your entrepreneurial drive, and student loans often suppress one’s appetite for the risk-taking requisite to entrepreneurship.

The Pervasive Cloud of Conventional Thinking: Successful entrepreneurs often pursue business opportunities that appear rash or foolhardy to everyone else. It takes an even stronger constitution to pursue start-up ambitions after being surrounded by peers and professors who, for two years, serve only as naysayers and dream killers.