Do entrepreneurs really need a University degree or an MBA?

Technically, no, although, it’s fair to argue that the chances of success will increase with one or both under your belt.

There is no blueprint for entrepreneurship that can be taught at university or during an MBA (although there are courses around the subject). Instead, entrepreneurship is founded with a combination of character, experience, intuition, and maybe even a bit of luck!

What higher learning does give you though is a degree of critical thinking and, more importantly, the interpersonal skills that are crucial when setting up a business.

I have a university degree, a post-graduate diploma in law and an MBA. There was no one thing that I was taught that made me an entrepreneur. It was the combination of these subjects, and career in and around law, that lead to the first version of Apperio being developed a few years back.

Nicholas d’Adhemar – Founder & CEO, Apperio

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I can only talk about my own personal experience in this regard. I went to university and studied a joint degree in business and economics. I’ve subsequently started 4 companies; One successful exit; one failed and the two biggest I continue to grow of which Adthena is on track as a large exciting global opportunity. I once entertained doing an MBA at MIT and interviewed people who had done top tier MBAs. I discovered that the majority had ambitions of banking and consulting, very few people were planning on starting companies. This was circa 2001 so things might have changed but I doubt it.

The things that have helped me be successful are curiosity and extreme persistence. Rather than an MBA one of the things I felt I really missed out on in my early career was a solid mentor, I never had a great boss (in the same country as me) who I could learn a diversity of management skills from. I took bits and pieces from different leaders I ran into but never someone actively coaching me. This has meant I’ve had to learn most soft skills the hard way. If I had my time over I’d be more aggressive at seeking out a great mentor for my formative business years.

Ian O’Rourke – Founder & CEO, Adthena

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Absolutely not!

You’re either an entrepreneur or you’re not – the academic experience is irrelevant. The best companies develop naturally out of the entrepreneurs lives, usually out a desire to improve the world. Having school, university or MBA experience doesn’t indicate likely success as an entrepreneur – many successful entrepreneurs exhibit non-conformist traits which could be considered counterproductive within an academic setting.

I’d say the most important trait for an entrepreneur is relentless determination. When you’re facing a stream of “hard to pre-empt” obstacles with no predefined structure, it’s the entrepreneurs resilience and resourcefulness that will get them through it, not their academic accolades.

Phoebe Hugh – CEO & Founder, Brolly

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The data shows that you don’t need a degree to become a successful entrepreneur. Many ultra-successful entrepreneurs such as Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs decided to pursue entrepreneurship, rather than education.

With the growing popularity of apprenticeship schemes and companies like WhiteHat providing access to high-tier young talent, I believe the trend of successful entrepreneurs without degrees will continue to rise.

Chris Abbass -Founder & Co-CEO, Talentful

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You absolutely don’t need higher education to be an entrepreneur. Coca Cola, Dell, Dropbox, Ford, Virgin, Apple, WordPress, Tumblr, Spotify… They were all founded by people without degrees. Where education might be an advantage, though, is when it comes to securing investment. VCs want reassurance, but I think that’s got more to do with age and maturity: would you rather give £1 million to an 18-year-old or a 22-year-old with a degree?

James Jenkins-Yates – Founder and CEO, Airsorted

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If I went looking for a correlation between successful startups and degree or MBA educated people, I’d be surprised to find one.

For businesses in highly technical fields  (such as MedTech or Improbable) specific qualifications may, of course, be required; but in the most part I believe that the great qualities of successful entrepreneurs are drive and passion – you can’t gain them through a degree.

Anna Roe – Global Head of People, Airsorted

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