Is College Necessary for Entrepreneurs?

What follows is a post from Dr. Atul Teckchandani, one of the great professors teaching Entrepreneurship at CSUF.

While most of the people who come to my office are college students, I recently had an individual come who had just graduated high school. He came to see me because he wanted to be an entrepreneur and then he posed the following question: “If I want to be an entrepreneur, why do I need to go to college?” He went on to say that many of his peers who went to college graduate with thousands of dollars of student loans, and paying off these loans often means deferring their dreams. That same money could also be used to start a business.

I believe that he raises a valid concern. College is not for everyone and not every career path requires a college degree. The key issue here is whether college offers value to budding entrepreneurs. If someone knows that he or she wants to be an entrepreneur, what type of business they want to start, and has the funds to do it, why wait for four (or more) years?

After considerable thought, I believe that college does offer significant benefits to people interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Specifically,

1. College helps you acquire the skills needed to launch and grow a business

In college, you learn about the various functional areas of a business (e.g., finance, marketing, management, operations) as well as any other skills relevant to your future business. If you are interested in starting technology firms, you can take classes in the computer science or engineering departments. If you are interested in starting an editing business, you can take classes in the English department. If you are interested in starting a firm in the medical industry, you can take some classes in the hard sciences. The learning potential is endless.

Moreover, universities that have an entrepreneurship program (such as the one where I work) help you learn skills that are directly relevant to being successful as an entrepreneur, provide opportunities to work directly with local entrepreneurs and small businesses, and offer resources to support your entrepreneurial success (e.g., business plan competitions, incubators, etc.). While an entrepreneur does not need to be an expert in everything related to their business, you should know enough about any functional area so that if the person(s) you are supervising are not competent or try to do something illegal or unethical, you will be able to catch it before it does considerable harm to your firm.

2. College helps young entrepreneurs assemble a well-rounded team.

We all know one of the most important benefits of college is social. Many of us met our best friends in college. College is a great place to meet co-founders and expand your network. Nowhere else will you be able to meet so many different people from different backgrounds so easily and so often.

3. College gives you credibility.A college degree gives you a basic level of credibility and facilitates your ability to get experience in the industry in which you want to start their firm.

Interestingly, for those who want to be entrepreneurs, there are some new educational alternatives¬† to the traditional business-school experience that are worth examining. Note that most of these programs require interested students to already be enrolled in the sponsoring university and most are for graduate students. So the idea of receiving training to become an entrepreneur while avoiding universities altogether still does not seem like a good idea.Setting you up to gain experience in the industry in which your business will operate and helping you expand your social networks are important resources that can influence the likelihood of success for your future entrepreneurial endeavors. Of course, this requires a significant commitment of both time and financial resources. As Andrew Carnegie said, “anything in life worth having is worth working for.”

[Image: 401(K) 2012 | flickr]

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