MBA Programs Tout Entrepreneurship

Issue 05-15-17   |   Reviewer:   Bob Cohen, MBA


University of Virginia Darden School of Business is among a handful of the U.S.'s top business schools, along with MIT's Sloan School of Management and Stanford Graduate School of Business, that are trying to attract students by offering entrepreneur-focused programs. Showcasing a "hands-on" learning approach that often features labs, studios, accelerators, venture capital workshops, and hackathons, these schools are hoping they can lure students with a startup mind-set to spend thousands of dollars to learn how to run their own business. The rationale behind this push is driven by demand in the marketplace and by incoming students who grew up in a culture that idolizes self-starters.

Still, most MBA graduates go to work for big companies in consulting, finance, technology, and consumer products. Out of 118 international and U.S. MBA programs ranked by Bloomberg in 2016, the median school had only 3 percent of its graduates starting businesses. The reality is that the entrepreneurial qualities valued by startups carries a stigma of being less well-defined, says Michelle Hardy, director of MBA employer and alumni engagement at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business. Attributes that typify a great entrepreneur can make for a lousy hire, says Derick Kurdy, who works for Johnson & Johnson's procurement team. "It's a really costly way to go start a business," says Kurdy.

For students planning to pursue a more traditional career with a bank or consulting firm, such entrepreneur-focused programs aren't much of a selling point. Recruiters say the skills they emphasize are the least desired by bigger, established employers. Big and even midsize companies want to hire graduates who demonstrate qualities like leadership and strategic thinking, recruiters say.

Given the actual percentage of students who go into their own business after B-school, the value of heavily investing in entrepreneur-focused programs is still somewhat of a question mark. And, assuming that the continued volatility of the economy may make more students risk-adverse, it's possible that the B-schools featuring such programs may remain in the minority.

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