Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.

These days, it seems as though every college or university is offering continuing education aimed at professionals and entrepreneurs. “Earn your MBA while you work!” they advertise. For those considering launching a new business, it can seem a tempting idea – but do you really need an MBA to run a business?

An MBA can be a useful tool for aspiring entrepreneurs, though it certainly isn’t a necessity. Read on for my thoughts on how earning an MBA may help you to succeed in business, as well as some resources for those without a business education or who aren’t planning to pursue a business degree.

For Whom is an MBA Truly Appropriate?

An MBA is likely to be a good fit for someone who knows what they want to do with the degree and who is either unable to independently acquire the information necessary for success or to get ahead in their current position. An MBA can also be useful for those seeking to change course, professionally – and who possess both the time and money to pursue a formal MBA program.

If you’re trying to determine whether an MBA is a good option for you, it’s wise to peruse a range of available curricula and to speak with alumni of various programs about their experiences. You should be certain that what you hope to gain from B-school aligns with what B-school aims to teach its students.

Most MBA programs feature a core curriculum supplemented with electives in a student’s area of interest. For example, students may be required to take coursework in management, marketing, statistics, operations, finance, ethics, and communications. Additionally, they may also choose to take courses in accounting, marketing, finance, or another area of interest so as to more optimally align their studies with their career goals. For a sample of a real-world B-school curriculum, here’s a recent version from Wharton.

What Can an MBA Teach You?

Students and graduates of MBA programs agree that an MBA can help you to learn:

  • How to work better as part of a team
  • Networking skills
  • Broad business knowledge
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Leadership
  • Accounting, marketing, finance, etc., depending on specialty

You may notice that “how to be an entrepreneur” is not on the list. While more business schools are creating an “entrepreneurship” focus or track, if you have an idea and are intent on starting a business, taking two years off to earn an MBA doesn’t make much sense. Consider the degree to which the market is likely to change over that period.

For those individuals looking toward becoming entrepreneurs in the future, it’s important to note that an MBA won’t teach you how to be creative. It can’t teach you how to be entrepreneurial, only how to effectively run a business. By this, I mean to say that an MBA won’t imbue you with personality characteristics; it won’t teach you to be a risk taker or how to generate worthwhile business ideas. It will, however, teach you how to read financial statements, how to test ideas, and how to work effectively with a team, among many other skills. It won’t put in what nature has left out, but will teach you how to better apply your native skills to practical problems.

Who Shouldn’t Enroll in an MBA Program?

If you’re already engaged in a startup environment, you probably don’t have the time to dedicate to earning an MBA. Rather, you may need to learn as you go (trial by fire, as it were). Many entrepreneurs have learned this way, relying on their networks for more information, hiring experienced staff to help grow their companies, and investigating available resources to fill the gaps in their knowledge.

Similarly, individuals who don’t have the ability to enroll in a program because of lack of time or finances may find that they can acquire the knowledge they seek from online resources. Many schools today provide free online courses, including business schools. You can learn from Wharton, Harvard, and MIT professors, all from the comfort of your home office.

Online Resources

These resources will help to fill in any knowledge gaps you might have, from accounting to marketing and more:

Coursera

Wharton Classes: https://www.coursera.org/courses?languages=en&query=wharton
Business Classes: https://www.coursera.org/browse/business?languages=en
Entrepreneurship: https://www.coursera.org/browse/business/entrepreneurship?languages=en

KHAN Academy

Accounting and Financial Statements: https://www.khanacademy.org/economics-finance-domain/core-finance/accounting-and-financial-stateme

EdX

Business Classes: https://www.edx.org/course/subject/business-management
Entrepreneurship: https://www.edx.org/course/subject/business-management/innovation-entrepreneurship
MIT Business Classes: https://www.edx.org/course/?search_query=mit&subject=Business%20%26%20Management
Harvard Business Classes: https://www.edx.org/course/?search_query=harvard&subject=Business%20%26%20Management

Udemy (Some require payment)

Business: https://www.udemy.com/courses/business/
Entrepreneurship: https://www.udemy.com/courses/business/entrepreneurship/

SCORE

SCORE Workshops: https://www.score.org/take-workshop
SCORE Templates and Guides: https://www.score.org/content/browse-library

SBA

SBA courses: https://www.sba.gov/tools/sba-learning-center/search/training

Saylor Academy

Business Classes: https://learn.saylor.org/course/index.php?categoryid=6
Local Offices: https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance

FAMEE

Free online marketing classes for entrepreneurs: http://www.famee.org/

An MBA can be a useful tool for those interested in furthering their careers or in learning more about how businesses work. The MBA is not a required degree, such as an MD or a JD. You can still be an entrepreneur without an MBA. If you have the opportunity to further your education and enroll in an MBA program, carefully consider the ways in which the degree may help your career, the differences between specific programs, and whether you have the time and money to commit to a formal course of study.

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If you have a burning business idea, choosing to devote the time necessary to earn an MBA may not be your best option. Consider whether you can begin your company while working on an MBA or, indeed, whether you truly require the degree in order to further your goals. Investigate online courses to see whether you might be able to acquire the knowledge you need without committing to a two-year program.

About the Author

Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).

Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.

Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.