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Is an MBA Worth the Cash?

In a thriving startup culture, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether you should skip the academics and learn it on the job. Twelve entrepreneurs weigh in.
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Entrepreneurs who have been there (and those who deliberately have not) share their thoughts on the whether an MBA is worth the time and money for the startup set.

1. Learning Comes From Doing

Many students in business school emerge with an idealized version of how business works. That idea is often outdated and unrealistic. No business school can truly teach you how to launch a successful business. You might learn some good tips and accrue some useful knowledge in class, but you'll learn the fastest by diving in and starting something in the real world.
--Patrick Conley, Automation Heroes

2. There Are Better Alternatives

Traditional business school wouldn't be worth it for my personal needs, so I enrolled in Josh Kaufman's Personal MBA program online. I hire coaches and take online courses from other entrepreneurs all the time. For the time and money, I find this approach to be much more tailored to my personal needs than enrolling in a standard business school program.
--Allie Siarto, Loudpixel

3. An MBA Is Worth It

An MBA gives you three things: an education that gives you high-level knowledge in leadership, incentives, sales, and operations; a network of experts you can tap and who want you to succeed; and credibility with investors and employees. I highly recommend an MBA. Just make sure you go to a school that focuses on entrepreneurship. --Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects

4. An MBA Is Useful but Unnecessary

Having the knowledge that comes with an MBA or business classes would be useful. However, receiving advice from those who have been there before, utilizing alumni resources to learn more, and actually doing the grunt work are what you truly need to learn the most about running a business. That said, some classes (accounting, business law) may be far more useful than trying to research those topics yourself. --Bryan Silverman, Star Toilet Paper

5. Connections Are Important

In business school, you can pick up specific skills, such as understanding financial documents. That said, most skills are in fact rather easy to pick up on your own. The best reason for entrepreneurs to go to business school is to make as many connections with people in the business world as possible. The connections will help when you're ready to start a company.
--Nick Soman, LikeBright

6. Taking School Seriously Has Benefits

Entrepreneurs who treat business or another graduate school as a job will find enormous benefits from earning an MBA. The classwork can inform all aspects of your business. Classmates can be co-founders and investors. Professors can serve as advisers. And a university setting can prove a fertile testing ground for any idea.
--Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

7. Real Lessons Come From Work

Entrepreneurship is something that's very difficult to teach in a classroom. If you don't have real-life scenarios to which you can apply the learning, then classroom lessons are meaningless. If you've been in business for a few years, however, classroom learning does become valuable because it gives you a chance to reflect and think about ways that you can actually implement what you're learning. --Raoul Davis, Ascendent Group

8. It Depends

B-school was great, but it didn't teach me how to figure out the missing pieces and fill them in--that skill just isn't something you'd necessarily learn in a classroom. And that's what entrepreneurs are really adept at doing. However, B-school did give me an amazing global network that I can leverage for knowledge and support when attempting to solve problems, build my company, and ultimately realize the overall vision of what I'm trying to achieve.
--Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, AirPR

9. Network Opportunities Make It Valuable

The best part about getting your MBA is having the chance to build your network. You have professors, faculty, classmates, and alumni to call on whenever you need them--for the rest of your life. That's an extremely valuable asset for any entrepreneur.
--Adam Lieb, Duxter

10. Conferences Are More Valuable

Instead of taking an extra business class, go to conferences, such as an Inc. 500 | 5000, Underground, or Big Omaha. You can also go on trips organized for relationship-building, such as Under30Experiences. Entrepreneurial conferences and trips can give you significantly more value because of the relationships you create, versus the lessons you learn in a classroom.
--John Hall, Influence & Co.

11. Experience Trumps Education

Real-world experience trumps traditional education in almost every way. I took years of business courses at Stern at New York University, and I rarely tapped into that knowledge base when starting my company. You can't take case study knowledge and simply apply it to the real world. Working for a startup for three months will teach you more about how to start a company than a year at a university. --Rameet Chawla, Fueled

12. School Shouldn't Be Required

School is useful, but it's just not required. Entrepreneurship is both a learned discipline and an instinct. Without both, you will hit a plateau. --Panos Panay, Sonicbids

Last updated: Sep 26, 2013




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