By Mark Skoskiewicz
If you have a strong interest in entrepreneurship, pursuing an MBA can help you sort through options and build the skills necessary to be successful.
However, there are also pitfalls to consider when integrating business school into your plans for starting a company.
Here’s four things entrepreneurs should include in their MBA admissions essays:
1. Place a Primary Focus on Knowledge Acquisition
Starting a business is difficult. Often, the success of the business comes down to execution, not the quality of the idea. You must possess, or at least create a team which collectively possesses, a breadth of knowledge across multiple domains: marketing, finance, customer service, talent management, sales, operations planning.
Business school offers a range of classes which will introduce you to all the concepts you need to know. Your admissions essays should demonstrate that you see the value of building a well-rounded intellectual toolkit to help you build your business. If there are clearly particular skills or concepts you know you’ll need but which your background lacks, highlighting these specific gaps will create a powerful story.
2. Highlight Project-Based Learning Opportunities to Turn Knowledge into Skills
Business school is a great place to learn new things, but it’s also typically designed to help you put knowledge into practice and hone specific skills you’ll need to build a company.
I went to Kellogg way back in 2010, and in that MBA program, there is clearly a focus on creating opportunities for hands-on, real-world learning. In some classes, this means placing students in teams to flesh out real ideas and put together business plans. For example, I took one class that allowed me to flesh out a marketing plan for a tutoring company that I eventually built.
In other cases, this means partnering with actual local business to work on specific problems that they face, but with regular reports back to a professor along with class discussion on what you’re learning and doing. Most MBA programs encourage this type of learning, and you’ll be well served to highlight your interest in learning in this way as part of your rationale for wanting to get an MBA.
3. Talk about Testing Your Idea, Not the Specifics or Quality of Your Idea
I often tell the story of a boss I had when I worked in strategy consulting prior to attending business school. He was a few years older than me. He was a great consultant and remains a great friend. He was my boss, so he’d done everything I’d done professionally, but with more managerial experiences.
He had a significantly higher GMAT score. He’d gone to Northwestern University, a more selective and highly ranked school than Indiana University, which is where I’d attended. He’d done more community service. On paper, he was simply a more powerful candidate. But he did not get into Kellogg, while I was admitted.
Why? Well, it’s impossible to know for sure. Admissions rates are not high and there are many qualified applicants at the top ten schools. But I do know that he talked a lot about one very bold entrepreneurial idea in his admissions essays. I think that hurt his application.
Business school can be a powerful platform for articulating ideas to others and getting feedback. So, I think talking about the actual ideas you have and about how you’ll test them in school is a great strategy. But spending too much time talking about a specific idea becomes dangerous.
Admissions committees are interested in understanding how an MBA fits into your career plans and what you’ll bring to the community. You shouldn’t waste too much time describing details of specific ideas. This takes space away from describing the ways in which MBA school will help you pursue the idea.
4. A Focus on Building Teams Can’t Hurt
Launching a company typically requires a strong team. You may need investors, or a partner to help you manage specific parts of the business. Business school is certainly a good place to network with people who share an interest in building companies. Talking about networking and team-building as a rationale for wanting to pursue entrepreneurship while in an MBA program makes sense.
In conclusion, in my opinion, there are very strong reasons for earning an MBA to pursue an entrepreneurial vision. However, be careful to position and write about this carefully in your admissions essays so that the committee can see clearly that you understand why and how an MBA can help you.
Mark Skoskiewicz holds a BS in Finance from Indiana University and an MBA from Kellogg. He founded MyGuru, a test prep company, in 2010 and helped found TRC Advisory, a strategy consulting firm, in 2014.