Friday, July 23, 2004

Entrepreneurship and MBA

I heard something very strange today, which actually made me step back and think about my applications. My goal in going to b-school is to be an entrepreneur. I was talking with a friend about this and she asked if I had been an entrepreneur before - she thinks schools will most likely not accept you if you haven't but profess an inclination to do so in the future.

Is there any truth to this ? Does one have to have had entrepreneurial experience to demonstate that s/he can be one in the future ? Can someone enlighten me if this is a valid argument ?

I, for one, don't think this should be the case (if indeed it is). There are tons of non-consultants who want to be consultants, and non-bankers who want to be bankers. Why should entrepreneurs be any different ? Of course, the candidate should prove that they have the aptitude and the smarts for risk-taking, working in an unstructured environment, building an organization etc. But, I suppose aspects of these can be demonstrated from working in the biggest of corporations.

While on the subject, I am increasingly intrigued by Columbia. This is obviously not a school that one (I, to be specific) would associate with entrepreneurship at first glance, but they do seem to have one of the most solidly structured programs for it. Add to that the resources of the Lang Center, a b-plan contest (which every school seems to have), clubs, access to labs/research at the various schools at Columbia etc. Additionally, there are quirky extras like an outrageous b-plan contest, and the chance to actually put yourself in a VC's shoes and judge other b-plans. The school also funds promising ideas and takes an equity stake in the startup. I need to try and get in touch with students/alums to talk some more.

In thinking about C, another intriguing thought occured to me. If you had to go to b-school with a goal to starting your own shop in the future, what kind of network would you like to build ? I would argue that a network of like-minded free spirits is a great-to-have, but probably not that useful when compared to, say, a huge network of money wo/men. From my experience, there is a certain method to the madness that is starting a company. The people who start it are typically small groups that have worked together and know each other well. The company I work for, for instance, has had several employees leave and start on their own. The glue that holds them together is good chemistry and suitability for the initial roles of the venture. There are too many variable at play to expect one to get together with a bunch of classmates a few years out and start something. I would, of course, be remiss if I did not mention the mentorship/guidance that entrepreneurial alumni can provide. On the other hand, every venture needs two critical things to move forward - funding and customers for the product/s they are hawking. This is where I can see the networks come into play. Alumni/classmates in the financial world can be a great asset when it comes to raising capital. Am I off base here ?

For my money's worth (pardon the pun), traditionally strong finance schools with good entrepreneurship programs are a better choice than, say, Sloan. Wharton, LBS, and now Columbia, come to mind. Someone had a comment a while back about checking out Chicago. Their website is not the best to find info on e-ship, or maybe I'm not looking hard enough. I'll look harder.

2:56 AM. Another long day is coming to an end. Or should I say another long day has just begun. Either ways, sleep beckons.


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