Limor Elbaz, founder of cybersecurity networking site Peerlyst, began her cybersecurity training in the Israeli army. Elbaz participated in an eight-month computer-science bootcamp, and was among the fewer than 20 percent of students who were able to complete it. After serving in the army for five years, she worked for an Israeli security startup, eventually moving to the U.S. to open a New York office. Then she got both her MBA and a law degree.

She laughs about that last part now. "Like I needed another certificate to tell me I'm good?" she says. "For me, coming to this country as an immigrant, and coming from a family of people who were not educated, and as a woman, I felt like I needed those certificates much more than a man would. To fit in. To get the opportunities."

She's not the only one. According to a recent survey jointly conducted by Inc. and Fast Company, female entrepreneurs tend to have significantly higher levels of education than male founders. Twenty-one percent of the 279 female founders who responded to the survey have an MBA, compared with 15 percent of Inc. 5000 founders (a group that's 88 percent male). Thirty percent of female founders have other advanced degrees, compared with 20 percent of Inc. 5000 founders. 

Women tend to start their companies six to 12 years later than men do, potentially allowing them more time to go to graduate school. But there's another factor that helps account for the gender gap in education among founders, says Amy Millman, president of Springboard Enterprises, an organization that aids women entrepreneurs: "Women think they need more credentials than they do." (That may be true of non-business owners, too. Women's educational levels have been gaining on men's for years; as of 2015, women were earning 60 percent of all graduate degrees.?)

Felena Hanson, founder of Hera Hub, a female-focused co-working space with six locations around the world, got an MBA because she thought it would give her a better understanding of areas such as HR and finance. But, she says, "An advanced degree isn't designed for entrepreneurship. It's designed to manage people." Founders don't start with anyone to manage, she says, and the finances of a startup are really simple. "I talk to so many women who say I'm going to get my master's and then start my business," she says. "No! Just go do it!"

The one place where those degrees might really be useful? Dealing with investors. "When investors think I don't really know what I'm talking about, I'll mention I have an MBA and they'll start listening a little bit more," says Bec Chapin, the co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Node, a company that is developing a faster, easier way to assemble houses. Even though she is the one who answers the hard financial questions during pitches, those questions still routinely get addressed to her male co-founder. "I built the financial model and he doesn't even like looking at the spreadsheets," she says.

The investors most in need of a reminder that Chapin actually does know what she's talking about are "old white men," she says. "The older they are, the more likely they are only to talk to Don [her co-founder]. Women never just talk to Don."

Millman agrees that while women might be perfectly capable of starting and building their companies without advanced degrees, investors still like to see them, especially if the degree is from an elite school. "It's pedigree," she says. "It helps you get over this hurdle of 'You don't look like a CEO.' Well, neither did Mark Zuckerberg. That didn't faze him."