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Is Your Business School Missing the Entrepreneurial Boat?

Without the entrepreneurship education I received, I would very likely not have started my own company and therefore would not have become financially independent and surely not have become a professor for entrepreneurship myself.”

This inspiring quote from GMAC’s 2014 Alumni Perspectives Survey Report caught my eye.  What lessons should business schools take from this kind of powerful, changed-my-life kind of testimonial?  Everyone should be an entrepreneur?

Eduvantis is increasingly asked by business schools these days: How much “entrepreneurship” is enough in our curriculum and culture and can it really be a differentiator for our school, given that literally everyone is on the entrepreneurship bandwagon?

Our analysis suggests that the vast array of entrepreneurship programs across the business school landscape generally fall into one or more of the following categories — although each comes in many flavors:

* Centers for innovation and entrepreneurship

* Entrepreneurship coursework

* Structured engagement with successful entrepreneurs

* Incubator programs and incentives

* Business plan competitions

I recall an article from Poets & Quants (April 25, 2012) headlined: Top 20 Schools Handing Out $1.6 Million A Year in Business Plan Contests.  The story went on to list 20 business schools, from Harvard, Stanford and Chicago Booth to Duke, Cornell, Yale and UCLA, all of which had a diverse array contests and titles — from the “Michigan Business Challenge” and Stern’s “Technology Venture Competition” to Duke’s “Startup Challenge” and Sloan’s “MIT $100K Entrepreneur Competition.”  I’m pretty confident, the prize money has gone up since 2012.

So what are schools trying to accomplish and how can they do “entrepreneurship” differently than their competitors?  Certainly one thing they are trying to accomplish is to satisfy growing student demand for entrepreneurial education, driven by fundamental shifts in the economy and the opportunities created by technology.

The GMAC alumni report says this about demand:

“The vast majority of self-employed alumni surveyed in 2013 (80%) reported that they worked for an employer a number of years after graduation before pursuing their entrepreneurial ambitions.  This stands in sharp contrast to the 45 percent of self-employed alumni from the most recent class of 2010-2013 who launched their own business directly after graduation.  Only 24 percent of self-employed alumni from the classes of 2000-2009 (and even fewer in prior years) launched entrepreneurial careers straight out of graduate business school.”

A recent article in Business Insider says one-fifth of MBAs from North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School graduated with an entrepreneurial concentration, while a full 40% of the Class of 2015 are studying entrepreneurship, this according to Ted Zoller, director of the school’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.  The same article reported that a study by the University of Pennsylvania found that more than 7% of Wharton’s b-school graduates started their own companies right after school–five times as many as in 2007.

In today’s “startup culture,” which shows no sign of abating, demand may not be the issue, but differentiating their particular offer when competing to attract embryonic entrepreneurs is a real challenge for many business schools.  Some institutions such as Babson have long staked a singular claim around entrepreneurship education–even if entrepreneurship, per se, is now what we would call a category attribute or “table stake”–a core competency for all business schools.

Certainly, building an entire institutional niche around entrepreneurship is not a realistic strategic option for most schools at this point in the market’s evolution.  Most schools will need to continue to find distinctions for their flavor of entrepreneurship education around the particular local entrepreneurial markets they serve, their particular institutional culture, their own successful entrepreneur alumni base and other factors if they want to compete effectively on this dimension.  This, then, needs to get properly balanced and mixed with the many other competencies most business schools must create.

A good example of this is Columbia Business School, which has made a big commitment to engaging the NYC startup community with its Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center.  This, of course, aligns nicely with the school’s overall brand strategy to be at the center of all things business in its global home city.

MBA Discussion

Columbia is connecting with the New York City start-up community.

The school recently hosted #CBSstartups Week, a series of lunch-time and evening events, panels and workshops, designed to showcase the unique stories and lessons learned from various Columbia entrepreneurs, while creating a platform for engaging and networking with the NYC startup community.

Vincent Ponzo, director of the Lang Center, says the goal of the school’s strategy is to position itself as the preeminent force in the NYC startup scene by providing potential startups with the knowledge, resources, and connections they need to take their businesses to the next level.

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