Failing Your Way into a Top-Tier MBA Program

What if you failed at something, and yet that failure opened doors you had previously only dreamed of walking through?  Seems counterintuitive, right?  However, some top-tier MBA programs admit these “failures” in growing numbers.  And what exactly are these students failing at?  They fail at starting their own businesses.

Fortune reported last week that an increasing number of top-tier MBA programs are admitting entrepreneurs, and often it’s not important whether the business they created succeeded or failed.  Changing attitudes and trends towards entrepreneurship have opened more universities to the idea of accepting these students.  Greater numbers of universities are adding entrepreneurship degrees and concentrations to their program offerings.  Additionally, studies have shown Generation Y is extremely entrepreneurial.  A May USA Today article cited a 2012 report by the Kauffman Foundation which said 29.4% of entrepreneurs are 20-34 years old.  These trends highlight why greater numbers of entrepreneurs are likely applying to MBA programs, but the skills they bring demonstrate why programs are eager to accept them.

Universities view entrepreneurs positively for a variety of reasons, whether they succeeded in their endeavor or not.  There are a few key qualities entrepreneurs tend to exhibit that MBA programs find especially valuable:

  • Long-term, strategic view.  Successful entrepreneurs must develop a business plan and execute it. Often, this means they need to view things from strategic perspectives other people might not consider.  Entrepreneurs are often either ahead of curve when it comes to developing a new product, or they find ways to fill market needs others have overlooked.  This strategic view is heavily emphasized in MBA programs – students are being taught to become future managers and executives, and universities find this skill set translates extremely well from start-ups to corporate leadership.
  • Ability to sell.  Entrepreneurs, in order to be successful, need to successfully sell their product or service.  And all corporations are in the business of selling – Google sells ads, Wal-Mart sells consumer goods, and Amazon sells everything.  So selling skills are important both for individuals creating a start-up and those working corporate jobs.  Entrepreneurs who already possess selling skills would be more well-developed business school candidates, and thus more attractive to top-tier MBA programs.
  • Soft skills.  Communicating effectively, solving disputes, managing and motivating employees – these are all important soft skills for any business leader.  And sadly, these skills are not often explicitly taught and practiced in MBA programs.  Entrepreneurs often have (successfully or unsuccessfully) put these skills to work in their businesses, and have a leg-up on their fellow classmates who may not yet have been exposed to these vital skills.
  • Network.  Businesses are run through relationships.  Owners need excellent relationships with their suppliers, employees, financial backers, and even their customers.  Thus, entrepreneurs tend to develop valuable networking skills while running their businesses and schools find this skill valuable.  These entrepreneurs can develop relationships with their fellow classmates which could potentially lead to even greater endeavors and business successes in the future.

There are several prominent business schools working to attract entrepreneurs to their programs, most notably Harvard and Stanford.  Other MBA programs across the country are getting in on the act, too.  UC Davis just invested $5 million in an innovation and entrepreneurship institute, and CSUF just completed the school’s first annual business plan competition.  Start-ups are obviously an important element of the economy, and business schools are realizing how attractive entrepreneurs can be as MBA candidates.   So if you’ve wanted to earn your degree but were concerned about that start-up you founded after graduation that didn’t succeed, don’t worry – you could potentially be a very attractive candidate for today’s business schools.

Have you ever started your own business?  How did it go?  Was it a success?  If not, what lessons did you learn from the experience?  Share your story in the comments section below.

Here’s an article I read this week that I found interesting:

“Foxconn Working Conditions Slammed by Workers Rights Group”I wrote a post several months ago about Apple’s Foxconn factory in China, highlighting potential conflicts between shareholders’ interests and employees’ well-being.  This article showed that the issues at Apple’s Foxconn factory still haven’t been resolved and why it’s important to consider employees’ well-being when running a business.

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1 Response to “Failing Your Way into a Top-Tier MBA Program”


  1. 1 timakin June 10, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Great blog! Just to clarify, UC Davis did not invest $5 million in state funding for our new Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The $5 million came from a generous gift from alumni Mike and Renee Childs. Mike is a senior advisor in the Silicon Valley office of TA Associates, one of the world’s oldest and largest private equity firms.


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