It’s an oft-asked question in the business world: is entrepreneurship innate, or can it be taught? Well, the jury is in and -- contrary to what many people assume -- it is possible to learn entrepreneurialism. Here’s a closer look at what experts have to say on the subject, along with one MBA program designed to cultivate and support the traits and talents associated with entrepreneurship.
Visionary Leaders Aren’t Born, They’re Made
While some people may be more naturally imbued with characteristics that lend themselves to entrepreneurship, no one springs forth from the womb ready, willing, and able to lead.
CoFoundersLabs' Patrick Larsen explains, “Everything is taught. Entrepreneurship is taught. So is art, music, sports, soft skills….Some people are autodidacts -- they learn from doing and they learn early so it appears that they were ‘born’ with it but if you took three-year-old Steve Jobs and put him on a desert island, he wouldn't have become the greatest pitch man of all time.”
And while it’s possible (and necessary, too) to learn in the field by doing, MBA programs provide a formal setting in which to acquire, practice and apply new skills.
Key Entrepreneurial Skills -- And How Business School Supports Them
All of which begs the questions: what skills are essential for entrepreneurship? And how can these skills help?
Entrepreneur, marketer, and Web Profits co-founder Sujan Patel argues that 17 skills are required for entrepreneurial success. These are the ability to manage money; the ability to raise money; the ability to relieve stress; the ability to be productive; the ability to make entrepreneur friends; the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses; the ability to hire effective people; the ability to train new staff; the ability to manage staff; the ability to conduct basic SEO; the ability to A/B split test; the ability to connect via social networking; the ability to focus on your customers; the ability to close a sale; the ability to spot new trends; the ability to deal with failure; and the desire to improve your world.
Many, if not all of these, are covered in business school curricula. Take Ciara Kennedy, for example, who founded her own biotech company after graduating from The University of California, San Diego’s Rady School of Management in 2006. “I had my science education and my career but I didn’t have the analytical skills with a scientific background to allow me to access opportunities [and] finance them,” she says.
Or take 2014 Rady grad Suman Kanuganti, whose startup Aira helps blind and partially sighted people get digital and physical information. Describing how business school helped him achieve his entrepreneurial goals, he said, “Good entrepreneurship first means leadership in setting the vision for the company and assembling the necessary team and resources to carry out that mission in reaching the company’s goals, in addition to the ability to think in creative, innovative ways.”
And then there’s that whole learning-to-deal-with-failure piece. There’s no denying that there will be stops and starts on the journey to entrepreneurial success; learning not only to manage these but to leverage them into better outcomes is invaluable to the entrepreneurial mindset. Current Rady MBA student and startup owner Theodore Constantouros says, “I think a good entrepreneur doesn’t want to give up. He’s willing to listen to criticism and not be upset by it; he puts it into action. A lot of times you’re faced with ‘no’s, and you have to think of something else, and if you’re not ok with that, you’re not going to be a good entrepreneur. You can be stubborn in your work and on the fact you don’t want to give up but you really need to accept criticism and evolve based on either how you’re performing or on the feedback that you get.”
And what better place to try and try again than during business school -- a setting in which the imperative to learn transcends all else.
That’s not to undersell the practical aspects of business school. Kennedy adds, “Just learning to use a program like Excel in ways that are much more efficient than most people know, or how to come up with a ten-slide presentation, to be able to explain what you’re doing and how to get the money. […] Those are skills I still use all the time.”
Larsen concludes, “An MBA allows you to raise money. It earns people's trust. It gives you rigorous, critical thinking skills and the ability to plan.”
Choosing the Right Business School
Of course, all business schools aren’t created equal. If an entrepreneurial career is your aim, choosing the right one can make all the difference. Rady School of Management, which offers both full- and part-time MBA options, is all about developing entrepreneurial leaders with the power to change the world through knowledge, innovation, and collaboration.
What differentiates Rady from the rest? For starters, there’s its adaptability. Kennedy explains, “As we were learning about marketing, accounting and other business disciplines, we were discussing it in the context of our industry. There was one class in particular which was about biotechnology. We put ourselves in the seat of a biotech executive and reenacted a tri-party negotiation. This case study not only taught the process of thinking about a negotiation from your company’s perspective, but also the value in thinking about it from the other company’s perspective. This was transformational in terms of how I think about negotiation and approaching companies and opportunities.”
While the Rady curriculum is suitable for any student aspiring to land a job with a top company, MBAs with the specific goal of starting their own companies have their choice of additional programs. “For instance they have a start-up accelerator, which is an incubator for good ideas. So if you apply and you’re accepted, Rady provides you with legal advice, and sponsors and mentorship on developing your idea. It is right on campus, you can be there all the time, talk with other people on the program,” explains Constantouros.
Aira co-founder and CEO Kanuganti says, “After coming to Rady as an engineer with an interest in the business world, I was able to gain the innovative and entrepreneurial skills I needed to establish the vision to launch my company. Rady´s Lab to Market, in particular, was a major asset to Aira’s success. This program gave me a foundational understanding of what it would take for me and my team to transform an idea into a company.”
Another factor in the school’s success is its faculty and staff. Constantouros explains, “There’s the faculty which is incredible; they love innovation and entrepreneurship, a lot of them have this background. When they say their door is open and you can come to talk to them, it’s true. That’s where I had the best experiences; being able to talk to people who are some of the most respected people in their field about my project. It’s amazing. This one-on-one interaction -- I really love it.”
This ethos carries over to alumni, as well. “It’s a small world and certainly the network that opens up through Rady - it’s phenomenal. It’s probably the most valuable asset in terms of trajectory of my career, and it’s fun to see all those people,” enthuses Kennedy.
Sure, some people make their way as entrepreneurs in the intensely competitive and dynamic marketplace without going to business school, but there’s no better way to launch a career in business or as an entrepreneur than with an MBA from Rady -- and all of the benefits that go along with it -- hanging on your wall.