By observing the plethora of tech startups at TechDay London—the UK’s largest gathering of startups, entrepreneurs, accelerators, and investors—one thing was apparent.
A lot of tech startups are being launched by scientists, engineers, and creatives without a formal business education background.
Do you need business school education to become a tech entrepreneur?
Urvesh Vasani, the CEO of Heartface, a social video platform for online shoppers, doesn’t think so. He’s been an entrepreneur since the age of 13.
“Hands-on experience trumps education,” he said, speaking at the TechDay London event. “You need that curiosity to explore what you’re doing.
“I see it so often in India. Kids are forced to go to uni, graduate, get a nice job—that doesn’t work if you’re not passionate about what you do.”
Another entrepreneur speaking at TechDay London, Iris Steinebrunner, co-founder of BioTech firm Anvajo, agreed.
“You need to be driven and believe in your product,” she said. “You learn the business issues along the way, it’s more important for us to be able to train our employees on a technical level—if you don’t understand the product, then how can you sell it, how can you convince other people that what you’re doing is important?”
For many, it seems, innovation is the lovechild of passion and curiosity, not education and theory. However, on the other side of the coin lie the MBA business heads.
Iris’ colleague and current CEO of Anvajo, Stefan Fraedrich, is aware of the dangers of complacency when it comes to growing a company. The ideas may be there, but taking your company forward requires a different kind of mind.
“The idea has to come from an engineer or scientist when you’re trying to start a company in this field,” explained Stefan. “But, for me as an engineer, I have no idea about the business stuff so it was important to get a guy who knew that stuff as a co-founder too.”
The vast maze of accounting, marketing, and sales can prove tricky to maneuver. So, getting an MBA grad on board, someone who is schooled in cajoling clients and building relationships with partners, is the key to progressing towards the center of the maze—the catalyst for growth. Stefan himself admitted it’s rare for a company to be successful with only scientists and engineers.
And professor of practice of entrepreneurship and innovation at Warwick Business School, John Lyon, shares his sentiments—investors value a well-rounded company when considering where to put their money.
“You can get your company off the ground without a formal business education background, but to take your firm forward I think it is definitely a benefit,” he says, “it gives you that extra tick.”
John acknowledges that passion and curiosity are key to startup success—often the founders are the only ones who believe in their product—which is why at Warwick Business School, he says, they teach their students how to deal with business issues when things go wrong.
The UK school is not alone in developing the next generation of entrepreneurs. Spain’s IE Business School runs a Venture Lab Accelerator each year—taking students through each stage of the startup journey—which offers workshops and specialized mentoring from startup entrepreneurs, angel investors, and venture capitalists.
Cass Business School in London helps its entrepreneurs through the school's startup fund—part of the Peter Cullum Center for Entrepreneurship launched with an initial donation of £10 million by the high-profile alum.
John explains that all of this helps weave together an entrepreneurial mindset—after all, it’s useless to have a wealth of innovation if you fall at the first hurdle.
“The more education you have in entrepreneurship, I think the better placed you are to succeed,” he says.