Entrepreneur to MBA – 7 Tips for Success

If you are running or working in a start-up you may often wonder if business school is right for you. While no one knows exactly what is going to fit into your life, here are a few things to think about as you consider whether or not to apply to business school.
1. Why do you want an MBA?

Please don’t say, “To be an entrepreneur.” You already ARE an entrepreneur. Instead, explain what skills you have NOT learned from the startup world that you need to learn to be more effective at your job. It can be hard skills, like accounting or operations, or softer skills, like leadership or teamwork. Maybe your company is looking to expand abroad, so you need to develop deeper global awareness. Remember business schools exist to teach you. What do YOU need to learn?

2. Why now?

If your company is as great as you say, then why would you leave NOW when the IPO is only months away? Actually, it can make more sense to say you want an MBA because your company is a bust. In fact, the answer might be you have failed. While that may be a bad thing in life; failure can be a good thing for a business school application as long as you…

3. Embrace failure. It’s OK to have failed.

In fact, this may be exactly WHY you need an MBA. Be specific about what you didn’t realize you didn’t know until your idea and company were turned upside down. Having a year or two to reflect on what didn’t go right for a company – putting your weaknesses on full display to all — can have powerful results that make your next company (and there always is a next one) more likely to succeed.

4. How can you leave?

If you’ve made clear on your resume or application that you are integral to the operations of the company, you must address how you can step away for two years for business school. Communicate the plan for your absence. Maybe your co-founder could take over while you’re gone, or you have trained your own replacement. No matter what, you must mention something, otherwise you undermine your own position in the organization.

5. What are you leaving?

Are you really AT a startup or are you really doing other things? Admissions committees will see right through a website you have thrown up as a ‘start-up’ which is really a front for you to have left your well-paying job to study for the GMAT and prepare your business school applications. If you start camouflaging your time as “working for a startup,” it comes off as disingenuous. Rest assured, be it in the application itself or during an interview you WILL be called upon to explain exactly what you have been doing for the last few months. And you better have an authentic answer.

6. Consider flexible MBAs.

You don’t need to leave your start-up to get an MBA from a top program. Many schools offer part-time or flexible format programs that allow you to balance work and your involvement with your company. While juggling the two may present challenges, the opportunity to test your classroom learning in real-time and ask peers for insights on the problems your business is facing is priceless.

7. Share your story.

If you are working at a startup or you have taken some entrepreneurial adventure then by all means let business schools know. Not only for the admissions process but for your classmates. Entrepreneurship is the hot topic in business schools right now. Explain how sharing your real-life experiences and wisdom can add value to your peers who are looking to take the plunge. Being such a resource in business school is something the admissions committee wants to hear all about.

Business school can be a great choice for entrepreneurs or entrepreneur wannabes. But just make sure that you understand you are going from working to school, so you better have some good reasons as to why it makes sense for you now. Or try to envision what a career looks like with business school and without business school. If you prefer the former over the latter better, get started on your MBA applications.