Entrepreneurship Gains Momentum at Business Schools

More M.B.A. programs feel a responsibility to nurture student entrepreneurs.

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With Global Entrepreneurship Week underway, the debate over whether entrepreneurship can really be taught—after all, some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs didn't even go to business school—seems to have died down a bit.

In fact, more and more M.B.A. programs have ramped up the number of contests and classes designed to help students learn how to transform a good idea into a good business. According to a 2011 survey of 476 prospective M.B.A.'s in 79 countries by CarringtonCrisp, a market research firm, entrepreneurship is now among the top five most sought-after areas of course content.

Granted, the best programs acknowledge that they don't actually create entrepreneurs—they merely nurture innate ability.

[See the Best Business Schools for entrepreneurship.]

In a recent blog post, Freek Vermeulen, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School, wrote, "I have yet to meet a successful entrepreneur who did go to business school who proclaims his/her education was not a great help in becoming a success." Invariably, he adds, entrepreneurs claim their education helped them a lot.

As someone who has started more than one successful business, I leveraged a lot of my M.B.A. classes and resources into my business ventures and can attest to the truth in Vermeulen's statement.

[Learn why grads may find more jobs at entrepreneurial firms.]

Every top school devotes considerable resources to its center of entrepreneurship, but here's a glimpse at the latest breakouts in this area. Just last week, University of Michigan's highly ranked Ross School of Business announced the launch of a master's degree in entrepreneurship, offered jointly with the College of Engineering and slated to begin in fall 2012.

The initiative is unique, the school says, because most b-schools focus on the skill set required in larger, more mature organizations, and most engineering programs don't include market assessment and commercialization skills. "Our new program brings these two cultures together in a novel synthesis that is greater than the sum of its parts," says Bill Lovejoy, a professor at the Ross School and codirector of the new program.

Meanwhile, over at Harvard Business School, the school's brand new Innovation Lab hosted a Startup Weekend Scramble November 11 to 13 to kick off its launch week. More than 100 student "creatives, doers, visionaries, and builders" from both Harvard and MIT participated in this intense, 54-hour event to promote innovation, teamwork, and entrepreneurship.

While Startup Weekend is a global event designed to let aspiring entrepreneurs discover if their startup ideas are viable, this hands-on experience took things a step further by mixing in the "scramble" aspect. StartUp Scrambles are two-day intensives offered only to colleges and universities that scramble the lines between real-world experience and classroom education with the help of mentors and professionals.

[Read about social entrepreneurship and the M.B.A.]

As the banking and finance sectors face continued instability, it comes as no surprise that many of tomorrow's M.B.A.'s want to take control of their own careers and avoid the unemployment lines their own parents might be facing.

"Entrepreneurs are our best shot at pulling the current economy from the doldrums, as the excitement and massive participation in this week's Global Entrepreneurship Week clearly reflects," says Rhett Weiss, executive director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Earlier this month, the Johnson School hosted the 3-Day Startup Cornell (3DS), where the goal is for participants to start a technology company over the course of three days. Sponsored in part by Facebook, this year's program recruited more than 40 students, selected from almost 150, who were charged with devising the best idea for a software startup over the course of a weekend. Six ideas with real potential to create businesses were pitched by teams in the final session.

[Learn how to start your own business in college.]

"We in the higher education space have a responsibility to commit to the growth and training of tomorrow's entrepreneurs for both their own prospects and the global economy's prospects," says Weiss. "Every day, I'm talking with and helping at least one student entrepreneur, founder team, or other member of this incredibly energized ecosystem."

Whether you fall into the camp of nature or nurture as it relates to entrepreneurship, I think most people would agree that an entrepreneur needs to know the same basic skills as someone running a more established company. After all, every company began as a startup, launched by an entrepreneur.

If anything, you need to know all of the basics as opposed to specializing in one area. My advice to current and prospective M.B.A. students interested in entrepreneurship is to pay close attention in all of your classes—even in the areas you plan to outsource as soon as you have the budget.