Stanford, Stanford, Stanford.
Stanford seems to be the only name on anyone’s mind when the topic turns to entrepreneurship. Sure, the school has a long-standing culture of entrepreneurship, dozens of courses on innovation, its “Startup Garage” class and Venture Studio, and a stacked roster of famed practitioners as professors! But guess what? A lot of other top MBA programs also focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, and do so with great results.
Some 85% of MBA students say they want to be entrepreneurs. Of course, entrepreneurship has many flavors, from creating that tech company of the future to founding a decidedly low-tech company, to buying an established business, but no matter which route you are considering, business schools are ready to help you get started.
The way each MBA program provides future entrepreneurs with the tools they need can be quite different, though. Entrepreneurship can be studied in a host of ways, including in the classroom, on campus, and in the broader community.
Some places start with coursework, seeing it as the “foundation” of entrepreneurship. Harvard Business School, for example, begins with the core course “The Entrepreneurial Manager” and continues with some hugely popular electives, such as “Entrepreneurial Finance.” At Harvard, the curriculum will drive a lot of your study of start-ups.
Other schools systematize this process even more by offering majors or concentrations focused specifically on building new businesses. This generally includes a series of courses, combined with an internship at a local start-up, that tightly focuses on entrepreneurship. For example, at Duke Fuqua, you can pursue an Entrepreneurship & Innovation concentration, allowing you to do a deeper dive in the classroom.
On campuses where every other person seems to be walking around with a business plan in their pocket, the MBA program works to integrate its students with the broader university community. Some schools have programs specifically designed to get math majors in the same room as engineering PhDs and business students. Stanford, for instance, offers its Lean LaunchPad program, which brings together students from every part of the university. Its results have been almost legendary, producing such well-known ventures as DoorDash and Impact Food.
Some business schools accomplish the same thing through campus-wide business plan competitions, in which student teams compete for seed funding to get their company going. One of the earliest and most well-known is the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition at MIT Sloan, which awards $100,000 to a range of start-ups. Past winners include Akamai Technologies and HubSpot.
One campus is not always enough to provide the entrepreneurship curriculum that students demand. For example, in addition to Wharton’s Philadelphia campus, where its entrepreneurship mother ship Tangen Hall is located, the program has a San Francisco campus committed to producing the next Silicon Valley success. Classroom teaching is still front and center, however, and being in San Francisco gives Wharton the ability to find professors and lecturers who have their own entrepreneurial roots in the region. Students get out of the classroom by engaging with founders and participating in local events. Beyond this, approximately one-third of the program’s students do an internship at a San Francisco–based start-up or a growing company in Silicon Valley.
As for in-semester internships, the leader in this space is Columbia Business School. Columbia gives its students Fridays off to allow them to get out of the classroom and into the local economy. The companies involved frequently include start-ups, particularly those in Silicon Alley, New York’s smaller, but growing, version of Silicon Valley.
Chicago Booth achieves the same effect of students being part of a start-up but follows a different formula. Booth students can spend the summer before they begin their studies finding out what being an entrepreneur is like. The school’s Startup Summer is a seven-week program in which Booth first years can intern at a start-up in any one of ten countries or eight U.S. cities (not just Chicago). Participants even receive a stipend. And all this before classes even start!
Chicago also has some unique things happening with respect to the other flavors of entrepreneurship, such as the Booth-Kellogg Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition Conference. Although many people think about entrepreneurship as some tech business being built out of someone’s garage, another way to do a start-up is by buying a venture that already exists. Following this well-trodden path, a would-be entrepreneur purchases an already established business with an eye toward making it run better, cheaper, or faster. With their unique joint conference, Booth and Kellogg bring students, entrepreneurs, funders, and others in the entrepreneurship space together to explore possible opportunities to buy a business rather than found one from scratch. As part of this process, students learn how to create their own “search fund”—a special financial vehicle used just to buy companies—and even find funders.
For some industries, such as investment banking and consulting, attending a top-tier business school is critical to getting the job you want, but entrepreneurship is somewhat of a different animal. Great ideas have turned into big companies on practically every business school campus. With this in mind, I want to call out a couple of other schools.
For their capstone projects, second-year students at UCLA Anderson can build their own business via the Business Creation Project pathway. When most people think about entrepreneurship in California, Silicon Valley comes to mind, but if they look 400 miles south, they will realize that Los Angeles has become quite the entrepreneurial hub, as well.
Talking about entrepreneurial cities, one of the most significant that frequently flies under the radar is Pittsburgh. Meta, Amazon, Duolingo, and other tech giants have a presence in Pittsburgh, anchoring a start-up universe that includes Carnegie Mellon Tepper. Pittsburgh is a city teaming with entrepreneurial life, and Tepper helps entrepreneurs plug right into that ecosystem.
Voted number one for entrepreneurship year after year by U.S. News & World Report is the Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College. Though small and somewhat removed from a big city, it nevertheless has transformed into a true entrepreneurial power. It has built a comprehensive pathway for taking a business from seed to IPO. Babson lives and breathes entrepreneurship and is fully integrated into the entrepreneurial world of the Northeast.
Go across the country, and you get to Boise State University, which has very deliberately tried to instill entrepreneurship into every element of its DNA. Driving this thinking is that Boise is now the new Boulder, which was once the new Seattle, which was once the new San Francisco. As each city became too expensive, tech remained one step ahead and has now landed in Idaho—not a bad place to be if you love the outdoors, mountains, and skiing.
Business students want to learn entrepreneurship, and business schools are ready to teach it—in the classroom, on campus, and in the community, and frequently with great success. Billions of dollars of value are created each year, as ideas go from PowerPoint slides to start-ups to mature companies, catalyzed by the learnings each MBA gains. The nice thing is that you can elect to follow this pathway at any number of business schools, across the country and around the world.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, now might be the time to start diving deeply into this topic. Become the entrepreneur you want to be at a business school that fits you best.
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