More on Entrepreneurship - Book-Smarts or Gut Instinct?

Last Updated Feb 9, 2009 1:03 PM EST

I'm back and ready to break off and chew more of my latest area of interest in business school education. Can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur? Or is it something you're born with, like a talent for playing piano or playing basketball? Last I wrote about my personal experience as an entrepreneur, and today I will explore this topic more broadly.

Leveraging B-School to Run a "Start Up" For kicks, and because I'm a stickler for accuracy, I looked up the textbook definition of entrepreneur, "somebody who sets up and finances new commercial enterprises to make a profit." You can absolutely teach people how to be aware of profits and losses, and set goals. But at the heart of "entrepreneurism"-if there is such a word-is a great idea and the passion and drive to realize it. And those last two are instinctive, not academic. As I mentioned in my last post, those qualities were key to my personal experiences and I am sure that we can all think of examples of highly successful, entrepreneurs who do not have a college degree, let alone an MBA. (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney to name a few--)

Many of my clients now want to attend schools with strong entrepreneurship programs, and courses and professors, who can teach them how to run a "start up". This puzzles me. Isn't a really successful entrepreneur someone whose start up becomes the next Microsoft? Doesn't an entrepreneur need to know the same basic business skills as someone running a more established company? Didn't every company start out as a startup, launched by an entrepreneur? I don't think that the finance, marketing and strategy I use now is really any different than what I used working at Charles Schwab and Pillsbury. If anything, you just need to know all of the basics as opposed to specializing in one area. In a brand new company, you need to wear many different hats. My advice would be to pay better attention in ALL of your classes--even on the topics you will be sure to outsource as soon as you have the budget.
Entrepreneurship Programs and Rankings It seems that Entrepreneurship is a hot area, and one that has not been fully fleshed out by the business schools. It would be difficult for an up and coming school to win the title of "best finance school", but entrepreneurial curriculum is still open. So far, Babson has been ranked the number one entrepreneurship program by both BusinessWeek and US News.

I took a closer look at Babson's Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship to try to understand how the leading school in entrepreneurship teaches this topic.

Of interest, their courses fall into three topics:
1) Foundation classes which teach fundamental entrepreneurship skills
2) Specialty classes which teach specific disciplines within entrepreneurship
3) Support classes which teach deep knowledge in one specific area

My question is whether the set of skills or disciplines referred to above are any different from what Kellogg is teaching in their core of Accounting, Management, Marketing, Statistics, etc-- And if they are different, should they be?

I also looked at some schools that I know to be very strong but not ranked as one of the top schools in entrepreneurship. For example, as one of their selling points, on their homepage, Univeristy of Chicago's Booth School of Business lists the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. Taking a closer look at their academics, it says, "Entrepreneurship courses at Chicago Booth integrate all business disciplines including marketing, finance, operations, and strategy." Those disciplines sound strangely familiar. My point â€" it's the very same set of skills.

At this point, all of the top schools are catering to the desires of students who want to be entrepreneurs â€" there are all kinds of business plan contests, courses, case studies and programs to help students who set that goal. Which is great â€" business school is a terrific time to learn and focus on a new venture. I would argue however, that a different set of business knowledge is not really required â€" it is much of the same â€" just applied to a new situation. What is different is that a successful entrepreneur cannot be risk averse, which many MBAs are, and they need to have courage and passion to take the plunge and the resilience to keep pushing. Courage, passion and resilience are qualities of a person's character, which in my experience, is pretty well formed by the time someone is pursuing a degree at the graduate level. Maybe the real entrepreneurial class should be called, "What turns you on and how to fight to create it".

  • 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.