You may be energetic, ambitious, smart and innovative, but no matter how gifted, almost all youthful entrepreneurs have a lot to learn. Because of a handful of high profile, baby-faced billionaires, there may be a perception that the very young are best positioned to be founders, but research shows the average age of successful entrepreneurs is actually about 40 and getting older. Why? Running a business well takes a broad range of skills that, for the vast majority of us, take years to master.

The obvious takeaway for aspiring young business owners is to get learning, but how? Trying and failing at starter businesses is one way, so is going back to school for an expensive degree, but now there's another lower-cost option to learn useful stuff, courtesy of MIT. The world-class science and tech school just launched a certificate program that lets members of the public get a piece of an MIT education online for next to nothing.

The program, dubbed MITx, will launch in the spring of 2012, and will enable those looking to learn on the cheap to access a portfolio of MIT classes through an online interactive learning platform that lets users learn at their own pace. Initially, there will be only a limited number of classes available but the offerings are expected to expand over time. Several other universities, including Yale, also provide free online versions of their classes, but MITx will be the first to offer online students a formal certification of mastery. Using the courseware will be free but receiving a certification will involve a small charge.

"There are many people who would love to augment their education by having access to M.I.T. content, people who are very capable to earn a certificate from M.I.T.," Reif continued.

Are you one of those people? What do you think is necessary to learn before you start a company?

Published on: Dec 23, 2011