Can you study to be an entrepreneur?

Thinking of setting up on your own? An MBA could be the answer.

by Management Today Staff
Last Updated: 10 Dec 2018
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Food for thought

MBAs are changing. Traditionally they were filled with men from industrially developed countries, who aimed to work their way up in a business and one day become the CEO. But for Halinka Panzera, an MBA was a route out of a corporate career and into entrepreneurship.

Panzera, who studied for her MBA at Australia’s Victoria University, says, "It was part of my launch strategy, and I’ve never looked back. Now I’m running a global corporation with offices located all around the world." She started her own market research company, BDC Market Intelligence, and is also a sought-after keynote speaker.

Technology, globalisation and a decline in ‘jobs for life’ have led to a shift in the kind of people who are considering an MBA. The courses are attracting more women, international applicants and people who’ve already set up their own businesses.

It’s also possible to study remotely and access a rich variety of resources – video lectures, Skype tutorials and online networking. Gone are the days of the lonely correspondence course; an online MBA is truly interactive.

More MBAs, including those at Victoria University, are now offering Entrepreneurship as a topic or even an entire specialism. And online courses may particularly appeal to people who are already running a business – they can be completed part-time over two years or longer, and students learn in a way that suits their schedule.

But can entrepreneurship – and indeed innovation – be taught? There’s a popular belief that you either have innate entrepreneurial genius (think Steve Jobs or Richard Branson), or you don’t.

While some people may find that creativity comes easier to them, it is possible to learn innovation skills, according to Hal Gregersen, Jeff Dyer and Clayton M Christensen (a Harvard MBA professor), authors of The Innovator’s DNA. They claim there are five skills that distinguish disruptive innovators from regular managers: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking and Experimenting.

These are all skills that can be taught in a MBA. Tutors encourage students to question the status quo, identify new ways of doing business, experiment with ideas and network with all kinds of people to gain different perspectives. All in addition to the ‘bread and butter’ MBA subjects of finance, sales and marketing.

Panzera says one of the key things she learned from her MBA was that "change isn’t something to be scared of". The programme also broadened Halinka’s network, connecting her with like-minded local and international peers.

She enjoyed the fact that her MBA fostered diversity in ideas and creativity.

"I wasn’t expecting to meet people from across the globe, but it was a pleasant surprise to make friends with students from the Middle East, Asia, America and Canada," she says. "We would share knowledge and problem-solve together and I think that really helped set me up to run a global corporation."

Considering the failure rate of start-ups (in the UK, nearly half fail within the first three years), there’s a strong argument for would-be entrepreneurs to consider an MBA. Students gain confidence by learning from successful managers, and get feedback on their business ideas. They also benefit from a real insight into how businesses work, developing resilience, an ability to spot talent and, of course, excellent management skills. 

The Online MBA at Victoria University is delivered by the internationally renowned Victoria Graduate School of Business. It’s designed to be studied entirely online and is taught by highly qualified, student-focused academics, many of whom come from corporate backgrounds. Across 12 units of study – from The Art and Practice of Leadership to Managing Innovation and Entrepreneurship – students develop the strategic, analytical and financial skills demanded of today’s senior business leader. Students also network with a community of peers online.

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