Can MBA Programs Teach Entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship is a hot buzz word right now.  The idea of working for oneself and creating a successful enterprise from scratch has been a dream of individuals around the world.  In fact, America was founded by frontiersmen and adventurers who embodied the entrepreneurial ideals of creating something out of nothing and building it into a success.  It should be no surprise then that modern-day Americans have brought those same qualities to the business world in the form of successful start-ups and small businesses.

It’s hard to talk about entrepreneurs without thinking of giant tech firms like Google and Facebook.  These companies were once only ideas that their founders grew into gigantic, multinational firms.  But I am more concerned about how entrepreneurship relates to an MBA degree.  Specifically, what are the challenges in teaching entrepreneurship?  What schools have successful conveyed the important start-up lessons to their students?  And how does CSUF’s MBA program stack up with other universities’ when it comes to teaching entrepreneurship?  These questions are important, because students are still going to business schools and earning MBA’s and entrepreneurship is on the rise.  Therefore, it’s worth exploring the challenges is teaching business school students entrepreneurship, and how successful programs have circumvented these challenges.

Managing Start-Ups

The major issue MBA programs face when teaching students about entrepreneurship is the perspective these programs take.  What that means is that an MBA is typically a “corporate” degree.  MBA graduates often aspire to work for Fortune 500 firms, and are taught corresponding lessons like how to calculate weighted average cost of capital (WACC) or develop a marketing plan.  The issues an established multinational corporation must tackle differ greatly from those a start-up faces, and this leads to challenges when trying to teach entrepreneurship to MBA students.

Right of the bat, start-up and established businesses approach success from different perspectives.  New ventures are often more concerned with survival than anything else; established firms worry about their next quarterly earnings report.  These factors require dramatically different skills from leaders from these organizations.  Instead of needing to calculate WACC entrepreneurs must learn how to attract investors and raise start-up capital.  Instead of knowing how to manage employees’ workflow, entrepreneurs often must learn how to constantly pivot their ideas and recalibrate them until they achieve a working product or service.  And instead of developing a new product marketing plan for international customers, entrepreneurs must learn to create buzz around their product and obtain their first few, important customers.  These challenges aren’t always addressed in MBA programs, but some US business schools are doing more than others to help MBA’s become successful entrepreneurs.

The Best Entrepreneurship Program – It’s Not Who You Think

Different schools take different approaches to teaching entrepreneurship.  Some emphasize contests, like Rice University’s annual Business Plan Competition.  Other’s emphasize hands-on experience.  I mentioned in a previous post that Harvard recently revamped its curriculum to emphasize entrepreneurship.  The school went so far as to require students to create a new business and even provided seed funding for the start-ups.

But Forbes recently declared Babson College the reigning king of entrepreneurship programs.  This small school in Massachusetts provides seed funding to students to start their own businesses, requires students to donate any profits they earn to charity, and then forces students to liquidate their firms at the end of each year.  The school wants students to experience entrepreneurship through its entire life-cycle in order for them to gain greater insight into the needs and struggles that go into starting one’s own business.  This program, and others like it that encourage and foster entrepreneurship, have gone a long way towards making some of the school’s graduates extremely successful entrepreneurs.  And the school tried something few business schools do in order to help this program succeed – it split its general business degree from the entrepreneurship degree, so faculty and resources can be devoted to this very different way of thinking about and approaching business.  These steps appear to demonstrate the entrepreneurship and a standard MBA curriculum should be taught using different strategies and techniques.  Perhaps more schools will begin adopting the Babson model in an effort to attract aspiring entrepreneurs.

CSUF and Entrepreneurship

So how does CSUF’s MBA program stack-up with other programs, from an entrepreneurship perspective?  The school offers several entrepreneurship programs, including this year’s first annual business plan contest and its Center for Entrepreneurship.  The course offerings include some entrepreneurship classes as well, including New Venture Leadership and Management which I will be taking this fall.  I was originally concerned CSUF’s entrepreneurship courses would be focused on textbook reading, and I hoped I might get lucky  and the class would involve some case study work.  I feel entrepreneurship learning should be hands-on, and was excited to find out I might get my wish this fall.  The New Venture Leadership and Management course description states the class includes case studies and hands-on work with local businesses.  If this ends up being true, CSUF may have found a way to incorporate some effective entrepreneurship lessons into its MBA program!  I’ll report back later in the fall with my personal opinion on how well the school presents entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship will continue to be an important part of MBA programs and the American economy, especially if jobs continue to be scarce and unemployment remains high.  MBA programs may have had difficulty in the past teaching a subject like entrepreneurship, which requires hands-on learning and a different perspective for creating and developing a business.  But several schools have made tremendous strides in developing exciting entrepreneurship programs, and I hope CSUF continues to make progress in order to position itself as a leader in West Coast (or at least Southern California) entrepreneurship.


2 Responses to “Can MBA Programs Teach Entrepreneurs?”

  1. 1 Travis August 3, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    I have completed the MBA program with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from CSUF and there is a lot of hands on work. Each student in the program has to complete three Student Consulting Projects in order to graduate. Each Student Consulting Project requires MBA candidates to form teams and complete a semester long consulting project for a local business. Basically, what this boils down to is the student teams applying what they have learned in the classroom and from life in general to the company they are doing the consulting work for. At the end of the semester teams present their findings to the client and submit a comprehensive report.

    In fact, over the years many of our teams have won awards for their Student Consulting Projects in the National Small Business Institute Competition (

    There is also a course that requires teams of students to develop a business plan during a semester and then, the next semester, launch that business. It’s an interesting experience and some teams are able to turn their businesses into successes. But, really, it’s just like all other endeavors: you will get from the program what you put into it.

    If you want to talk about the program more you can always drop by my office in the Center for Entrepreneurship in SGMH (Mihaylo Hall) 3280.

    • 2 orangecountymba August 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm


      Thanks for the in-depth description about CSUF’s entrepreneurship programs! It’s really encouraging to know about all the things Mihaylo has to offer, and I’m extremely excited for the fall semester to start. Your response also makes me excited about the courses I have coming up in August, and I can’t wait to get some hands-on entrepreneurship experience.

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