Entrepreneurship â€" Book-Smarts or Gut Instinct?

Last Updated Jan 26, 2009 1:39 PM EST

In my role as President of Stacy Blackman Consulting, advising on the MBA admissions process, I speak daily to clients trying to articulate their goals. Turns out, "entrepreneurship" is a very popular career path. When I hear this as a goal, I ask key questions: "What do you want to do?", "What problems will you solve?", "What will you do better than an existing company?" Most of these prospective students don't know. Often, they just want to be entrepreneurs because it sounds--cool. I remind them that entrepreneurs have to empty their own wastebaskets and set up their own computers â€" if you are not passionate about what you are doing, it can get old pretty fast. All of this brings me to ponder the question: "Can entrepreneurship be taught?" I wanted to share some of my thoughts in this blog. Today I will write about my personal experience as an entrepreneur and an MBA, and will follow up over the next couple of weeks with additional thoughts. I would love to hear your opinions as we contemplate this question.

The Beginning Ten years ago, as a second year MBA student at Kellogg, I started my first company. It was an online gift registry called Webwisher.com, and since then has been acquired, merged and acquired again, ending up as part of the www.theknot.com. My partners and I had spent our MBA summers in traditional jobs at big companies such as Goldman Sachs and Ford, and none of us had planned to start a company straight out of business school, if at all. We joined together inspired by the web's ability to solve what we felt was a problem for many â€"gift giving. At first, before the idea really gained momentum, we just had fun gathering together with bagels on Sunday mornings and drafting our plan. While business school was a relatively safe place to take a leap and work on our business plan, it still took some amount of courage and a willingness to assume risk to turn down that full time offer from McKinsey, as one of my partners did, or to consider graduating without a formal job offer to help pay back sky high business school loans. In retrospect, flying to New York, Austin and San Francisco to ask people for millions of dollars, was (if I do say so myself--) gutsy. When I think about what contributed most to our success during that time, it was not knowledge of marketing, finance or operations. It was our passion, our genuine excitement over our idea and our moxie.

B-School's Role Surely, my partners and I leveraged a lot of our business school classes and resources to launch WebWisher.com. We took a business plan class that allowed us to work on our business and earn a course credit. We also met with professors of finance, marketing and strategy to help us refine our plan. We met with classmates and alumni who made valuable introductions and advised us in many important ways. At relevant times we dove into our textbooks and class notes, so that we could implement best practices when it came to tasks such as running financial models and structuring market research. Business school was incredibly helpful when I started my first company, and still is, now that I am running an entirely different company. It's safe to say I am a full-fledged entrepreneur, and I would recommend business school to anyone who aspires to start a new company. The network, the resources, the coursework--all of it has been invaluable. But interestingly, I never took a class called "How to be an Entrepreneur". In my next post, I'll dig deeper to answer the question that I face every time I speak with someone new looking for the best school for someone like them, someone who wants to be a free-spirited, high-flying entrepreneur. Can, and for that matter, should, entrepreneurship be taught?

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.