While there may be a lot of successful entrepreneurs with impressive letters after their names, there's no rule that says you have to study business to be a success in business. Drive, creativity, and determination are crucial to success when you’re running your own company--and those are not qualities you can pick up in school. Some entrepreneurs, including the likes of Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, gave higher ed a shot, but then left it behind when they realized that they could be just as successful without it. Other entrepreneurs have drawn on lessons from an education completely unrelated to business, turning unconventional experiences into entrepreneurial successes.
1. Jack Dorsey
The founder of Twitter and Square never finished his undergraduate degree.He studied at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, transferred to New York University, and then dropped out. He was already a seasoned programmer when he left college: he’d learned to code in high school, when he started writing programs to coordinate taxicab dispatching, some which are still being used today. It was that programming knowledge that he drew on when he founded Twitter and Square. Many successful founders have followed a path similar to Dorsey’s: excited to get into the startup game, they developed the skills that they needed and chose not to stick around to finish their degrees.
2. Steve Jobs
Today’s famously successful college dropouts--from Jack Dorsey to Mark Zuckerberg--have some tough acts to follow. Apple’s Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College before finishing his degree, in part because the high tuition was just too much for his parents to cover. However, the culture that he was exposed to at Reed influenced his later approach at Apple. Jobs said that the humanities classes he took there helped him with everything that he’s ever done. Being a starving student taught him ingenuity and empathy. And his most important class? Calligraphy, which introduced him to the design principals that he built into Apple’s computers. Jobs may have technically been a college dropout, but he continued to live and learn at Reed, and while he may not have been studying business, everything that he learned contributed to his success.
3. Jane Wurwand
Jane Wurwand never studied business, but today she’s a multimillionaire who invests in women’s entrepreneurial ventures. Wurwand came to the United States from England, armed only with her beauty school certificate, and established the International Dermal Institute, a school of skin care with a game-changing mission: a focus on health, not beauty. Her work as teacher was her springboard to success: her company, Dermalogica, is now one of the most successful skin care businesses in the world. Wurwand took what she’d learned studying skincare, and used that knowledge to identify unmet needs--and then revolutionized the beauty industry. It just goes to show that you can always draw on what you know when you’re looking to find a successful business idea.
4. Walter Driver
Who would have thought that a creative writing degree would provide the fuel it took to make it to the number nine spot on Inc.com’s list of the fastest growing companies in America? That’s exactly what it did for Walter Driver. The co-founder of the California-based gaming network Scopeley studied literature and creative writing at Brown University. And he credits that education with giving him the skills to succeed. "How to create a narrative was the most valuable thing I learned in school," Driver says, "it's how humans make sense of the world."
5. John Knific
Up-and-coming Cleveland entrepreneur Knific founded DecisionDesk, which provides a platform that streamlines admissions and applications processes for universities and similar institutions. But Knific didn’t go to school for business, he studied music at Case Western Reserve. DecisionDesk started out as CitizenGroove, a platform intended to streamline the audition process for music schools by enabling applicants to upload digital audition recordings. DecisionDesk now partners over 100 institutions. It may have been born of a problem specific to Knific’s field, but he used that experience to transform it into something bigger.
Take it from these success stories--as an entrepreneur, the skills you need to make it big can come from just about anywhere.