Why Most MBA Programs Don't Teach You How to Actually Start a Business

Business school teaches you how to work in a business not start one. Why? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Bernie Klinder, Serial Entrepreneur, Investor, Consultant, on Quora:

Formal business schools and the first MBA programs started at the turn of the 20th Century as industrialization enabled businesses to grow beyond the small local/regional operations to complex national and international enterprises. Until then, most “business schools” were vocational schools that consisted of a handful of accounting classes. The concepts of marketing, leadership, finance, and strategy were just starting to be developed and studied by academics, and the idea of “management as a science” was starting to gain acceptance. In 1900, the Tuck School of Business offered the first graduate degree in business (actually a Master of Science in Commerce). When Harvard launched the first MBA program in 1908, the curriculum was based on Fredrick Taylor’s scientific management studies.

Advances in transportation and communication accelerated the pace of business, and the need for professionally trained management with a broader set of skills required to run these large businesses became clear. The number of programs increased, and by the 1950’s, statistical and financial analysis for forecasting were added to many MBA programs. (This was also in response to the view that management wasn’t a “science” and that business schools were looked down upon by other academic departments as a vocational program.)

For many MBA programs, the curriculum hasn't changed much since then. The MBA was designed with the needs of large established industrial age companies in mind, and hasn't had a reason to change with the exception of adding ethics classes after the Enron and MCI scandals. While some firms had their own in-house management training programs , many encouraged aspiring managers to pursue the MBA and often paid for the tuition, provided time off for classes, and assigned executive mentors.

Through all of this, a few Universities offered Entrepreneurship programs (the first was the University of Michigan in 1927), but it really wasn’t until the mid 90’s (and the rise of the Internet and Silicon Valley startups) that academic institutions even started paying attention to entrepreneurship. A few recognized that starting a new company from scratch is really a different skill set than running a large established company. Some programs responded by tweaking the curriculum and offering entrepreneurship electives, but sadly most of the core classes are still the same curriculum from 1950 which is focused on creating a stable and predictable large scale operation.

As anyone who has been to college can appreciate, Universities are slow, lumbering organizations that worry a lot about accreditation. To revamp the MBA completely around the startup experience would require an agreement among several dozen leading Universities (and their accreditation bodies) about what would be taught, as well as who would be qualified to teach it - and here lies the problem: A lifelong academic with a PhD isn't an ideal business teacher and knows even less about starting a company. A successful entrepreneur isn’t likely to have a PhD in a business field, or have any interest in jumping through the hoops of being a professor.

In addition, the “startup skills” you’ll need as an entrepreneur will smack right up against the skills you’ll need to run a complex business very quickly if you are successful. For example: it may take your venture a few months to launch, and another year or so to scale, but before you turn around you have several hundred employees and a multi-million (or even billion) dollar business that really needs an MBA (or several of them) to run.

So rather than revamping the MBA, it makes more sense to teach entrepreneurship (launch) skills as a extended summer workshop or as part of an incubator program than spending 2 years studying it. After all, entrepreneurs are doers at heart who want to build things and not sit around studying how to build things from people who have never built a company. And your start up idea isn’t likely going to be viable if you wait 2 years to finish your MBA either.

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