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EMBA Programs Evolve To Turn Corporate Chiefs Into Entrepreneurs

Executive students sick with enterprise fever

Wed Dec 2 2015

Oscar Zeballos doesn’t care about cash. A broadcaster with a dazzling media career, Oscar quit to found a podcast technology start-up, Free App Company. What makes his risk even more outlandish is that he is scaling up while forking out for an Executive MBA that costs $117,900.

“The EMBA experience at Smith — and especially the experience through the entrepreneurial Action Learning Projects — really opened my eyes,” says Oscar, at the US’ Robert H. Smith School of Business.

It widened his gaze to not just the administrative side of company launch, but how to create efficiencies. “I was making money but… I realized I could have been even more successful in the early stages,” says Oscar. He is one of a swelling number of executive students who are prepared to quit potential corporate stardom for the travails of start-up life.   

“As seasoned executives, these EMBA students have exposure to a variety of opportunities and problems in the market to come up with really viable business ideas,” says Elana Fine, managing director of Smith’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.

While the frothy market for entrepreneurial education has exploded through master’s and online courses, the EMBA, once the preserve of the corporate elite, is tucking in.

“Enterprise fever is catching on among our EMBAs,” says Silvia McCallister-Castillo, program director for London Business School’s EMBA-Global. As more execs get the start-up bug, they form an ecosystem of entrepreneurs launching, joining, and investing in each other’s companies. “It’s infectious,” Silvia says.

London, where StartUp Britain says nearly 200,000 start-ups were launched last year, is a top backdrop for students to explore their new-fangled entrepreneurial ambition. But the trend for EMBAs to jump on the start-up bandwagon is global, from Paris and California to Berlin and Shanghai.

london tech

At CEIBS in China, as many as 40% of EMBA students are already entrepreneurs, with even more eyeing the founder title. “There is a growing interest in entrepreneurship,” says Professor Charles Chen, director of CEIBS’ Mandarin language EMBA.

Business schools the world over are scrambling to offer executives a platform to launch. Many are incubating promising ideas, providing seed and venture capital, upping entrepreneurship modules, and others like CEIBS are even prepping students to return to companies as “intraptrenepeurs” to drive innovation from within. “Some have set up joint ventures with their employers,” Charles says.

One reason for the increased appetite for risk among EMBAs is that many are no longer bound by company sponsorships. More than 40% of students received no funding from their employer this year, according to figures from the Executive MBA Council.

The trend also mirrors a surge in interest in start-ups across business education portfolios. The percentage of MBA students founding companies at Stanford GSB and Babson College, two top US schools for example, is around 40%. Alison Davis-Blake, dean of Michigan Ross School of Business, says: “Interest in entrepreneurship grows at a rapid pace.”

At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the EMBA curriculum has evolved to suit the changing needs of students. Fuqua has offered an increasing number of elective courses, a post-graduate certification in entrepreneurship, and a customizable application project.

“An increasing number of students have opted to explore entrepreneurship — sometimes as entrepreneurs, sometimes as investors, and at other times through the lens of ‘intrepreneurship’,” says John Gallagher, associate dean of EMBA programs.

As a part of the learning journey at IMD, a top Swiss business school, each EMBA class will spend a week in California’s Silicon Valley. “Our students put themselves in the shoes of entrepreneurs,” says EMBA director Stefan Michel, to understand how to create ventures from scratch, how to convince venture capitalists to back them, and how to scale up to reach global markets.

IMD’s program has since 1999 supported 200 local Swiss start-ups. Current cohorts are working with FaceShift, ScanTrust and SmartCardia — all ranked among Switzerland’s most promising ventures.  

Entrepreneurial opportunities are often shaped by regional trends. EMBA programs have become increasingly international: many of the top-ranked are offered jointly by institutions across continents. For LBS, whose program is spread across London, New York and Hong Kong, local incubators have strong ties to the school. “Without the right community, being an entrepreneur can be a lonely business,” Silvia says.

But this presents challenges too, alongside having to squeeze entrepreneurship classes into already packed schedules and striking the right balance between practise and theory.

“Business schools have long been faced with the challenge of providing knowledge that is relevant and current,” says CEIBS’ Charles. “This is especially challenging in China, where the pace is extremely fast.”

For Talia Geberovich, Cass Business School’s EMBA electives in new venture creation and innovation tempted her away from her corporate roots. They helped Talia launch Do It For Mummy, a digital platform for childcare services.

“The Executive MBA has been instrumental in my quest to start this venture,” says Talia, who prior to the EMBA worked as marketing manager at Dow Jones, the media group.

In addition to the courses she benefited from a mentor, Professor Vangelis Souitaris, who helped her assess the business plan. “Some of my classmates have started their own ventures as well, and that really encouraged me,” she says.

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society