A stone’s throw away from Times Square in New York City, Stirling Cox stepped into his United States offices. The entrepreneur had just launched a new North American branch of AlphaSights, the leading information services company he entered after graduating from Harvard Business School three years ago.
His venture paints the picture of a start-up maverick, but his background is rather more mundane. He is an ex-JPMorgan analyst and Bain & Co consultant who changed tracks during an MBA program.
Business schools praise their entrepreneurialism and are quick to promote incubators and links to start-up scenes. As economies are on the rebound and emerging markets continue to forecast fast growth, the entrepreneurial spirit flows strongly around the world.
Thanks to an ease of access to capital and more alumni support, MBA entrepreneurship is on a roll – if at least in theory. Although recent surveys have suggested a slump in the trend, overall about one in 10 business school graduates are self-employed.
Yet that is deceptive; at some schools in the U.S, nearly 20 per cent of their cohort last year shunned traditional MBA jobs to pursue their own ventures. And entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily defined by owning their own companies.
The potential financial rewards of business education are becoming greater. Entrepreneurs are more likely to secure investment and an MBA gives them credibility post-graduation. A bevvy of start-up incubators have appeared on the scene, attempting to capture the non-traditional MBA student.
Now, surveys confirm that it can matter which school you attend as an entrepreneur. And even traditional MBA employers are beginning to value an entrepreneurial mind-set.
The top MBA ranking business schools produce the best entrepreneurs, according to 4,000 MBA employers surveyed by QS, the business school research company. Their global survey of international recruiters who actively hire MBAs reveals the top 200 schools, based on employers’ opinions.
But the top five for entrepreneurship are dominated by big-name brands: Harvard; Stanford University Graduate School of Business; The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; IE Business School; INSEAD - France.
“Could I have done this while going to another school? Probably. But would I recommend it? No. It’s a huge amount of money to spend,” said Stirling, who launched his company's North America arm in 2010.
The same schools also comprise the top ten list for entrepreneurship as in 2012. And the global top 50 are dominated by U.S schools, which form 50 per cent of the table, followed by India and the UK, which have four schools each.
Stirling says that he loved studying an MBA, but added that it didn’t teach him how to actually run a business. “There is a value. If you’re going to do an MBA, do it for the right reasons: for the network, for the brand, and go there to learn as much as you can,” he said.
The four highest ranked schools from the Asia-Pacific region are all Indian: IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta and the Indian School of Business.
Babson College, considered seventh-best for entrepreneurship, is one of the few schools which exceeded its overall reputation; it was ranked 95 out of 100 global MBA schools in the Financial Times’ 2014 ranking.
“St. Gallen is so unique; it's an almost boutique-like environment which exposes you to the in-depth entrepreneurial outlay of a business,” said Evgeniya Neobutova, an MBA student at St. Gallen and fashion entrepreneur.
She ran Eva Evanovich, her family's design house that traded under Amaka Showroom in London, before beginning an MBA. Evgeniya added that her degree was about personal development, not corporate careers.
The rewards for entrepreneurs can be enormous, not least because of higher average MBA salaries in the West and better access to start-up funding in Europe.
Paradoxically, MBA employers are placing an increasing emphasis on entrepreneurial talents for their new hires. Companies value graduates who can develop new sources of revenue in the aftermath of the financial crisis, while graduates themselves have the security of testing ventures with their employers' financial backing.
“The role made sense for me; it was entrepreneurship with guidance and structure,” added Stirling.
Large employers were once reluctant to hire entrepreneurial MBAs, but the tide is changing, agrees Dr Brian S Anderson, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the Richard Ivey School of Business.
“As large firms come to recognize that pursuing innovation and entrepreneurial-centric strategies pays off in terms of better performance… those firms are seeing more value in MBAs that have experience with entrepreneurship topics,” said Dr Brian.
More schools are now offering entrepreneurship tracks and events. Cranfield School of Management, for example, holds an annual VentureDay, a networking event for entrepreneurs and investors, which is attended by its MBA students.
“We give them support to set up and grow their own organisations through activities such as business plan and venture capital competitions, modules on new venture creation and entrepreneurial finance,” said Anthea Milnes, Head of Marketing, Graduate Programmes at the school.
But when it comes to entrepreneurship, top MBA ranking schools look like the safest bet. Cranfield is renowned for its entrepreneurial focus and sits in the top 50 of the FT's 2014 global MBA rankings.
Wharton, which is considered one of the world's best programs and is also consistently rated highly for entrepreneurship, was one of the first to develop a fully integrated curriculum of entrepreneurial studies.
Emily Gohn Cieri, managing director of Wharton’s entrepreneurial programs, says the school continues to emphasize entrepreneurship across all its disciplines.
“We teach students how to acquire an entrepreneurial mind-set so they learn to adapt rapidly, throughout the venturing process, to new situations while avoiding fatal flaws and traps.”
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