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Educating Entrepreneurs: B-schools Spur Innovation As MBAs Launch Ventures

Long shunned by entrepreneurs, education is emerging as a sector of start-up innovation. More students are launching ventures and schools are pivoting their teaching strategies.

Mon Jun 22 2015

The entrepreneurial revolution is booming, spurred by entrepreneurs deploying new business models capable of rivalling established firms.

Legions of ventures have emerged since the global financial crisis, given a head of steam by the rock star founders behind the likes of Lyft and Lending Club, and the sky high valuations of start-ups such as Airbnb and Uber.

An unlikely cluster of this innovation is the education sector, long shunned by entrepreneurs who argue formal learning is a ghastly way to become a business founder.

But top institutions such as Stanford, MIT and Wharton want to challenge this notion with new courses and support for the rapidly growing number of student led start-ups.

Simon Stockley, senior teaching faculty in entrepreneurship at Cambridge Judge Business School, says: “People can be taught how to create or spot opportunities and how to build a business model to create, deliver and capture value from those opportunities.”

But he compares the practise to the medical profession. “You can teach the subject but if there is no passion and drive, you’ll end up with a lousy doctor,” he says.

The drive to educate entrepreneurs has enabled many start-ups to join the “unicorn” club — those that have achieved a valuation of $1 billion.

Cambridge University has produced at least 14 companies valued at $1 billion, including ARM, the listed semiconductor business which powers 95% of the world’s mobile phones. Many of these ventures have come from research but start-ups have benefitted from funding, mentorship and education globally.

William Peregoy, founder of DineMob, an app that helps restaurants fill during off-peak hours, says: “An MBA is what you make of it.” The Dallas based entrepreneur graduated from Hult International Business School in 2012 and launched DineMob this year. “The big picture for DineMob is already laid out in my head and my confidence for handling all the future steps and growing this company is through the roof — because I can draw on the experience,” William says.

Bethany Coates, assistant dean at Stanford Graduate School of Business, is stunned by the insatiable appetite for entrepreneurship. “The demand for entrepreneurial education has grown significantly, but also interest in entrepreneurship as a career path has been embraced in a way like never before,” she says.

However, sceptics are everywhere. Brent Hoberman, chairman of Founders Forum, and, argues crafting an academic program for entrepreneurs is “virtually impossible”. “Some of the most important qualities in an entrepreneur are tenacity, determination and an ability to embrace uncertainty and risk. Business schools can’t teach that,” he writes.  

The problem, according to Silicon Valley’s Steve Blank, creator of the “lean start-up” model, is that business schools treat entrepreneurship as a technical subject, rather than a creative one — practical experiences are key

“Entrepreneurship is both technical and creative,” says Jeff Skinner, executive director at the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London Business School.

“There are great, evidence based methodologies for creating an enterprise... These methodologies work well in increasing the odds of success, pointing students at what is important and helping them to avoid obvious mistakes,” he says. But, “creativity is equally a key ingredient”.

Academic institutions see a value in employing established entrepreneurs to teach the subject to nascent founders.

Nick Badman, chairman of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at London’s Cass Business School, says: “Entrepreneurship is an intensely practical pursuit and so help from those who have either done it, parts of it, or observed it very closely tends to be of most value.”

Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan School of Management, talks of the “positive feedback loop” that can be fostered on campus.

“People see role models and they think, “Yes, I can do it”, and they go about trying to do it with great conviction,” he says. If they’re more successful, they become idols for the next class of students.

In some cases, schools are recruiting successful founders to mentor up-starts on campus like venture capitalists, such as Darrin Disley, the chief executive of London listed biotech group Horizon Discovery, who is an “entrepreneur in residence” at Cambridge Judge.

“Some of these coaches are serial entrepreneurs and CEOs of relatively big organizations. They don’t only coach the students, but also bring them in contact with potentially valuable investors,” says Justin Jansen, professor of corporate entrepreneurship at Rotterdam School of Management.

A benefit that many start-ups are enjoying, compared with immediately after the financial crisis, is that it has become easier to access financing.

Diane Morgan, associate dean of programs at Imperial College Business School, says the barriers to starting a business are lower than they used to be.

“There are more and more opportunities to enter incubator or accelerator programs and gain access to funding…Many of these are increasingly targeting students,” she says.

Cambridge Judge’s Simon highlights the SEIS and EIS UK government tax relief schemes for SME investors. But he adds: “The real issue is growth capital. We are worried about this.” “The start-up movement in the UK is not as developed as that of Silicon Valley,” notes Maria Nikolou, senior program manager at the Entrepreneurship Centre of Oxford Saïd Business School. “[But] many of the important pillars are now in place,” she says.

The burning issue many business schools have so far failed to address is how to cater to entrepreneurs who see committing themselves to months or years of full-time study as anathema.

“There is increasing interest in blended learning and weekend events,” says Dr Shailendra Vyakarnam, director of the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cranfield School of Management. “Technology adoption, especially the internet, is the key and, to be honest, we have not seen anything of the power of that as yet in education,” he says.

University for entrepreneurs has its doubters, but for a growing number of founders, an investment in education is paying dividends.

Alexander Afanasyev, co-founder of digital talent solutions business bhive, says the value of an MBA as a start-up founder is the ability to adapt quickly to change. “Being an entrepreneur not only means being flexible, but also being capable of facing challenges and pivoting your business model,” says the IE Business School graduate.

Many, however, see entrepreneurship as a skill best acquired by doing. After all, the likes of Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg are infamously college drop outs. 

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