Or, are business school credentials nice-to-have rather than relevant?

In nearly every sector, the start-ups that do well are fronted by those with some academic and significant practical exposure to specific industries and experience of handling customer demands.

But, then, some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs do not possess business school credentials.

In a generation that increasingly favours mobile- and Web-based businesses, what matters is quick decision-making processes that enable agility within structure, discerning where risks can be taken, excellent offline and online customer interfaces, besides that sometimes underestimated or often hyped up trait of ‘confidence’.

Many in the Indian start-up community believe a business school education matters for specific reasons.

Equally, so many entrepreneurs I’ve interacted with see value in the MBA, but cannot afford the time to pursue a full-fledged post-graduate programme in business administration.

It helps, therefore, to see the MBA from as many angles as possible.

Ashish Aggarwal is responsible for business development in the US market for YourStory, a platform that has enjoyed a successful stint of over five years in India as a hub and connector for entrepreneurs.

His exposure to diverse points of view and the knowledge of the variety of ways a start-up can operate come from the time he spent at Kellogg School of Management, US.

“One great advantage of business school is the time available to plan a business venture, carry out market research, be mentored, get the practical exposure and connect with others like you. Some graduates are nearly ready to launch their businesses by the time they leave management school,” says Ashish.

IMPORTANT NETWORK

Deepak Jeevan Kumar graduated from Yale School of Management and is now Principal at General Capital Partners in San Francisco.

He believes a business school education teaches ‘multi-tasking’, a key trait for an entrepreneur to be successful.

He says that while a large percentage of entrepreneurs do not have business school credentials, “the networks you create in management school are invaluable.

“You’re actually already interacting with people who will be in various key roles in the start-up community tomorrow. You’ve got the future VC, accelerators, and other potential partners right there”.

PERCEPTION MATTERS TOO

Ankur Saxena, Analyst with Helion Advisors, will enrol himself for a two-year MBA programme in the US next fall.

“While VCs carry out fundamental checks on the entrepreneur’s background, they are not always looking for the MBA qualification. But apart from diverse perspectives he may have gathered, an MBA graduate comes across as a ‘smarter’ person simply because of his ability to visualise where he will take his business idea and present plans effectively to investors.

“A degree from a good school helps with how you’re perceived as an entrepreneur and purely from a branding point of view,” he explains.

Alternatives to the MBA

A home-maker for 10 years followed by a stint in the US as a network engineer exposed her to alternative spaces like sustainable energy. While California has been long a hot-bed for renewable energy ventures, especially solar, the market in India has taken a while to take a shine to these areas.

Revanta Energy kicked off in Tamil Nadu in 2012 focusing on solar energy solutions; installations began in March 2013. Founder and CEO Nachammai Ramasamy is now pursuing a short management programme at IIM-B, spread over nine months.

She says, “Concepts like product positioning and pricing would not have occurred to a technologist like me. Exposure to accounting, while being trained to assess risks is an advantage. Professors and mentors interact with businesses from day-to-day and therefore bring in practical knowledge. It makes an immense difference to your confidence levels.”

Incubation programmes

His brief experience with large corporations and time spent in the US with various start-ups took Hrishikesh Kulkarni from building technology products to starting TurtleYogi. His start-up idea was picked by NSRCEL for incubation at IIM-B in September 2012.

Just a year later, TurtleYogi’s aggressive approach has won it four-five clients, a good number of customer trials besides investors from India and elsewhere. Now looking at hiring the right talent for the US market so that the product can make an entry there by the end of 2013, Hrishikesh Kulkarni, Founder and CEO, says, “The curated set-up, the excellent physical infrastructure (no worrying about the internet being down or even about where to grab a cup of coffee) and the ecosystem that is part of the incubation programme mean I won’t opt for an MBA just for the sake of a qualification”.

Bottom-line: If relevance matters more than a qualification, entrepreneurs would do well to choose the former.

This is where certifications or short courses as well as incubation programmes help.

(The author is an independent journalist.)

(This article was published on September 8, 2013)
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