If you’re an MBA student considering a business start-up while still in school, you’re not alone. Entrepreneurs with MBAs are wildly successful. Why can’t you do both? You can—with a thoughtful, thorough cost-benefit analysis. Decide for yourself as we guide you through some pros and cons to starting a business as an MBA student.
Your gut instinct may tell you that starting a business while getting your MBA is not a good idea, but business school may be one of the safest places to try. Here’s why: you have nothing to lose. You’re in school. You’re already working hard, learning the skills that you’ll use to… well… start and maintain a business. You’ll improve your skill set, make connections you wouldn’t necessarily have made, and have an opportunity to see if your business can take off. If it works—great. If it doesn’t—you’ll still graduate, get a job, and put your attempted start-up on your resume—or not. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Why not try one of your 10,000 ways in business school, where you have a soft place to land?
Flip that stereotype of stuffy, lackluster, corporate type who lacks vision on its head, where it belongs. MBA students who try start-ups in B-school are anything but. In fact, many elite business schools, like Harvard Business School, offer apprenticeships to entrepreneurial-minded students. Other schools, like the University of Osijek offer programs that focus on taking responsibility and seizing business opportunities. For those students who want to start a business—and want the skill set of an accomplished MBA—starting a business as a student will give you the edge you want and need. Just take a look at some companies that got their start when their founders were still in B-school: Warby Parker, Rent the Runway, Yelp, Zynga, OKCupid, GrubHub, BirchBox, and StitchFix, to name a few.
3. Instant Network
Connections. Successful entrepreneurs know this: networks are crucial. One benefit of a start-up as a student? You’ll have an instant network and access to mentors just by showing up to class. Your peers and professors can offer immediate feedback on your ideas—and will often know someone who can help you translate your idea into a reality. Don’t take this one too lightly. Once you graduate, you’re on your own. At a minimum, it’s worth including professors and innovators in your network now—so you know whom to contact later.
The average MBA student graduates with a debt of at least $100,000. Add that to initial start-up costs that will have most of us reaching into our savings, or asking for a loan from a wealthy family member or friend. If you don’t have those resources? You’re looking at start-up loans with high interest rates, not to mention steep legal fees for copywriting, incorporating, and trademarking. Is it worth it? Maybe. Maybe not. Your takeaway: unless you have access to lots of cash with minimal loan payback, plan on doubling your debt to start a business while still in B-school.
2. Stress and Uncertainty
Face it: competition is tough. The second you started your journey in B-school, you began preparing to interact with recruiters, attending networking events, creating a perfect interview, applying for top-notch apprenticeships, and positioning yourself to secure the best position possible doing what you love. For some, adding the stress of starting a business might be too much—and it might not pay off either. There’s no guarantee that your start-up will take off, and in that case, you’ve lost money, time—and the potential to land the best job post-graduation.
B-school is a lot of work. Starting a business is a lot of work. Both at the same time? Possible, but a lonely path. Plan on having friends? Going out? Socializing? Taking a break? Think again. In addition to focusing on B-school activities, you’ll also be working with your co-founder (if you have one), lenders, lawyers, and you’ll probably be traveling a bit. That leaves time to hang out with exactly no one—except your classmates in class and those associated with your business.
Earning your MBA is a balancing act. So is starting a business. The decision to do both at the same time can yield rewarding results—or end in a stressed out, lonely MBA graduate. You don’t know unless you try, though, do you? Take some heart: if you want to give it a try in business school, there’s nothing stopping you from exiting the process whenever you want—with little to no consequence. Focus on what’s important to you—it’s worth a good think to define your goals and follow through to the best of your ability. You’re an MBA student; you know how to do that.
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