Do Entrepreneurs Need an MBA?

“Do entrepreneurs need education?”

If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, considering an MBA, you have heard this question a million times. I know I have. The debate dives into the age-old question: Are entrepreneurs born or made? Examples of successful semi-educated entrepreneurs are brought up: the Gates, the Jobs and the Zuckerbergs of the world. You start doubting your choice of taking a year out to learn in an actual classroom. You now consider just starting and failing quickly. Hold on. Failing?!

As a wannabe entrepreneur and a big fan of analytics, I spent countless number of hours online trying to find decent statistics on probability of failure without education. I could not find any. I found, however, a number of successful companies founded and led by MBAs (or equivalent). The list seemed to be much longer than the list of ventures started by hustlers without formal business education. Case in point: Gerry Ford, founder and CEO of the very successful coffee shop chain Caffè Nero. Ford graduated from INSEAD in 1984 and subsequently started a private equity firm in the UK before diving into the coffee hospitality industry. Today, the company operates more than 600 stores and turns over nearly EUR 316 million per year.

And this is just the beginning: in my research through INSEAD’s entrepreneurial impact, I came across a number of inspiring trend-setters: from disruptive technology, through bespoke apparel, to fine bakery. As my research continued, I contacted several of these alumni entrepreneurs to get their side of the story. None of them had any doubts that the MBA played an instrumental role in their success.

This sealed the deal for me: MBA it is. But was INSEAD the best choice?


Choosing an MBA that works

I am actually quite lucky when it comes to MBA-shopping: I had access to first-hand information and advice and knew what I was looking for.

In my previous job, I worked for EFER, a foundation, which trains university academics to teach entrepreneurship. Started more than 25 years ago by a group of MBA graduates-turned-entrepreneurs, it has allowed me to explore a number of different MBA programmes and compare their approaches, impact and networks.

Furthermore, I have started a few ventures of my own and was able to identify my gaps in knowledge and skills. Learning from failure should never be underestimated!

So, what are the most important MBA features for an entrepreneur?


Networks. Networks. Networks.

Strong MBA programmes attract some of the finest talent in the world. You will be exposed to a sea of creativity, leadership, knowledge and diversity. Your MBA peers might make great co-founders, trusted advisors and drivers of innovation inside your company. Some of them will become investors; others will work in complementary industries. Regardless of their journey, your classmates will grow to be impactful leaders, with whom you share that one intimate secret—the MBA journey.

If you doubt any of the above, just take a look at the school’s alumni network. In INSEAD’s case, the sample list of entrepreneurs is already very inspiring. The beauty of alumni networks is that you belong to a special circle of trust—with shared traditions, experiences and emotions. Alumni are always willing to connect. They come back to show appreciation for the MBA experience. Just the other day, INSEAD opened the academic year with a talk by Ben Keswick (MBA ‘02D), a Fortune 500 CEO and driving force behind the growth of his family businesses Jardine Matheson. Later in the week, we met Hemant Aneja (MBA ‘06D), who as an intrapreneur leads Google’s activities in education.

Finally, the close collaboration between companies and business schools will always keep you disciplined about staying up-to-date with the market. Our MBA class is about to meet the leading consulting firms during week one of the programme. Week two gives way to the technology leaders. Week three welcomes banks and financing institutions. And so on, and so forth. Never a dull day—starting with your free copy of the Financial Times in the morning and ending with late-night industry research and networking.


Supporting Framework

The purpose of the MBA programmes is to provide well-rounded general management education. The academic scope could not be more relevant: as entrepreneurs, we always face the challenge of achieving customer satisfaction, while creating a sustainable organisation with productive employees and healthy numbers. As an MBA student, you will be required to master the basics of finance, operations, team management, negotiation, marketing and strategic business development.

INSEAD has built additional support for entrepreneurs through a wide selection of electives, which would help shape your academic experience. Many of these courses involve hands-on work, networking and close collaboration with entrepreneurs and investors. The school has attracted some of the leading scholars in entrepreneurship: many of the academics have and/or still run their own ventures.

The student-run Entrepreneurship Club, as well as the schools’ own Entrepreneurship Centre provide many additional opportunities to develop skills and experience: including study treks, bootcamps, networking and workshops. My favourite element is the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence programme, where INSEAD alumni entrepreneurs mentor students in their preferred industry.


Credibility of Your Skills

Starting your own company means being in the spotlight: customers, investors and partners will judge your decisions every step of the way. Your credibility will be constantly questioned: Are you too young, too inexperienced, taking too much risk? Do you really know what you’re doing?

In a way, the MBA diploma provides a form of such credibility. Joining a leading school means that you have successfully gone through a rigorous selection. Then, you somehow survived the jungle of alpha-males and females, while acquiring practical knowledge. Investors are reassured that you have the technical skills to run a company and they do not have to hire a CEO. Partners are signalled about your professionalism. The times when the business community would doubt about practicality of education is long gone: the best business schools have proven that they can keep up with the ever-changing world of commerce.

Last, but not least, an MBA degree manages to showcase one very “un-certifiable” skill: your ability to deal with and manage diversity. My INSEAD class of July 2016 brings together ambitious young people from 72 countries. Each of us speaks at least three languages and has lived and worked abroad at some point in life. In our current reality, when growth opportunities are strongly dependent on our ability to manage global operations and international teams, such diversity plays a vital role.


Some final inspiration

Through their extensive research over the years, Kauffman Foundation has continuously proven that new jobs are not created by big conglomerates, but by businesses younger than five years of age. I hope that you and I will one day contribute to this impactful trend!

If as an entrepreneur, you still doubt whether an MBA is for you, I would urge you to step away from mainstream media and look into some of the companies whose job-creation impact and innovation capacity you truly admire. The media love an underdog—the college drop-out in a small garage—but there are many more examples where success comes with education.

During my research of entrepreneurial INSEAD alumni in my preferred field of innovation and technology, one name came up several times—that of Wolfgang Marguerre (MBA ‘72J). Mr Marguerre is the Chairman of Octapharma Group, a pharmaceutical company which he founded together with another INSEAD alum, Robert Taub (MBA ‘83J). Today, Octapharma employs more than 5,500 leading medical experts to conduct ground-breaking research and develop new products. An accomplished entrepreneur and now a billionaire, Marguerre is one of those committed INSEAD alumni who give back to the school and support its entrepreneurial spirit. I was lucky and honoured to receive the Marguerre Endowed Scholarship for Entrepreneurial Talent to support my education. This is one of the many funding options, which are available for entrepreneurs at the school.

And if you think I am too INSEAD-biased, I will bring up another very recent case in point: one Mr. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba (yes, the same e-commerce giant, which went public in late 2014 at over EUR 205 billion market value). Mr. Ma is not only a graduate from one of China’s leading business schools, but also an academic. Now, that’s an inspiring breed!

Down The Rabbit Hole

Tick tock, tick tock. You are late! It was tough getting in, but no time for bruises. You must hurry!

There are folks inside. Some of them seem to know each other. A few have brought along a special someone with them. Others seem to have ventured alone. You feel out of place. But they are all getting ready for something.

You come as you are mostly. Part of you that’s lazy wants to stay in the comfort of home. There is a side of you that’s definitely playing the devil—to be or not to be—here?  Of course you didn’t just rush in, you followed someone’s lead. Someone who is fast, looks like a cloud, knows almost everything. You just need to know what to ask him and he has all the answers, but you can’t seem to get all the answers. He is elusive.

And no one can tell you how it will end. But that’s part of the thrill, isn’t it ? You love the adventure.

And psst, I know your life wasn’t happening anyway. I saw you reading a book in a garden and almost dozing off. Tut, tut. Not to worry. That’s about to change.

You are here because you want to be led on. You want to surrender. You want to discover; figure it out for yourself.

You settle down in the castle by the forest. Cosy, huh? You make friends. There is some hostility, too. But you get in the thick of things. It’s a marathon; you have to immerse yourself to see it through. You have to fight your battles, remember? It’s worthwhile to do so with the others. There is a lot for the mind to go on—too many questions, too few answers. Soon, you realize that you are losing yourself in there. You laugh and cry with the others. You forget home. You belong.

But like all good things come to an end, you have to return at the end of your journey. When you make it back to reality, you will feel richer. Perhaps not literally, but it will change you—for the better. And you will have some answers!

What?! You won’t come back? You want to go on living down there? But darling, they won’t keep you after it’s over! Even mad hatter stays virtually in a cloud somewhere.

Don’t make me drag you back up. darn it! All right, stay, but you are not allowed to tell anyone our secret. The “rabbit hole” is what we call it. To the outside world it’s INSEAD.

Because Money Matters!

On the afternoon of 23rd November 2014, when the phone rang with a +33 code, I rushed to pick it up, knowing fully well that life as I knew it could be different at the end of this call. As I heard the golden word “Congratulations”, I was already two feet above the ground, jumping with joy at the anticipation of what lay ahead—a sea of endless possibilities, where I get to see a different side of the world, learn from people so unimaginably diverse, and explore my potential to a degree that was beyond my own realm of thinking.

The big picture

Once done with the call and as I rushed to disclose the news to all my dear ones, it suddenly dawned on me how much was needed to be done before I could get started with the course. To start with, I needed to figure out my finances. Finances would include the tuition fee of course, plus the living expenses during the 10-month period. Add to that my plan to explore Europe and we were looking at an additional 5,000 to 7,000 euros for the course period, even as a backpacker. I had saved over the years for this dream of mine, which meant my living expenses would be covered by my savings. The rest was to be covered by educational loans. The first thing I did was to check on the next deadline for scholarships, because a good scholarship would mean I would be able to reduce my education loan liability


INSEAD suggests that the number of scholarship applications be restricted to no more than five; so I started by shortlisting what those five applications should be. I decided to restrict myself to four, and try and do a thorough job in those. I picked up the ones which gave me a chance to demonstrate my differentiation through elements of my past work, or through relevant ideas that I could bring to the table. I was shortlisted for two scholarships, and finally awarded the L’Oreal Scholarship of 20,000 Euros, which gave my financial planning a big boost.


In parallel, I was pursuing my loan application with Prodigy, where an early start ensured that I had my loan approvals well in place to avoid any last-minute financing anxiety. With the scholarship results, I requested for a reduction in the loan amount, and finished the process several months before the start of the program.

Hidden costs

When you reach town for your MBA, you discover costs that you would have never budgeted for. For example, if you come along with your partner, you spend approximately 300 Euros on the residence permit for France. You may want a bike even if you live close to campus, because going to the bank or a bigger supermarket may need some form of transport. I had accounted for a portion of these,  but I later realized that it would always be good to have a small separate budget parked for the unforeseen.

Financing is a very important part of the MBA program, and in my case, it really helped to have the calculations and procedures worked out well in time. As the time for the start of the course approached, and there were a million other things to sort out, I was glad financing wasn’t one of them!

The First Mile

HELLO FOLKS! My name is Anshul Bansal. I am Indian by nationality, and I was raised in the Middle East for a bit. Your typical run-of-the-mill engineer, I spent the last four years working for the consumer goods behemoth Procter & Gamble across India and China in various capacities. Today, I am here to share my thoughts with you as part of the 16J MBA class at INSEAD starting this fall.

These days whenever I talk to people—friends, family, colleagues—questions invariably range around three central themes:

  • Question 1: How did you get through? What did you do?
  • Question 2: How’s the course? How’s life at INSEAD? How are things going?
  • Question 3: What’s next?

Three very important, valid questions which would take another three blog posts to answer. What I want to share with you all today though is the journey from then to now; the first mile so to speak. The first mile, as I am sure, has different origins and connotations for each one of my fellow INSEADers. For me, the origin was the moment I got my acceptance call from the Admissions Committee representative—turning one simple afternoon into one of the best of my life. From that day till today, I have gone through quite a few emotions, or as I like to call it, “phases” ranging from sheer ecstasy to anxiety, fear, excitement and finally, pride.

Joy – Anxiety

The joy and ecstasy of being accepted to such an elite institution was quickly subdued by a sense of anxiety. There were just too many things to do. Making the final decision, securing the seat, informing friends, family, and colleagues. The urgency extended to Facebook invites, Whatsapp groups, meet-ups, drinks and dinners with fellow INSEADers. The fear of missing out (FOMO) had started to play its part after all and I was as much affected by it as the next person!

Anxiety  Humility

The next phase I experienced was this overwhelming wave of humility. The whole admissions process up till that point had been about me—whether I was a good fit for INSEAD, whether I possessed the qualities that INSEAD looks for and how would I fare in their setup. It was only after my acceptance that I got to know about my fellow INSEADers—my batch mates, their backgrounds, their experiences, even their hopes and aspirations. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t both awestruck and intimidated at the same time. For every quality and experience that I prided myself in, there was someone who had done it all. And then there were some who had dared to do things that I had never even dreamt of. Truly awe-inspiring and humbling!

Humility  Pride

The last few weeks since have been just super exciting, emotionally draining and hectic—saying goodbyes, packing, moving twice across countries (China – India – France), exploring this beautiful town, meeting new people and old faces, the parties and of course, getting to see the INSEAD campus. It was in the middle of one such season-opening party that I looked around and saw a kaleidoscope of diverse and differing viewpoints yet sharing a camaraderie and bond hard to match elsewhere. And it struck me that I too was part of this family, comprised not just of INSEADers but their partners who had their own stories to tell. All these amazing people were there to welcome me into their lives and make me feel right at home. In pursuit of my dreams, like many others, I may have left my family behind BUT have gained another one here—equally loving and supporting and vastly bigger. I am immensely proud of being part of this family proving yet again why INSEAD is a cut above the rest.

And so as we begin this journey together, I am supremely confident that this will be a journey I shall always cherish with fondness, delight and pride. It will have its ups and downs, trials and tribulations, but if the first mile is anything to go by, it will be a heck of an adventure. One that we shall be on together.

Selecting an MBA Program Using Big Data and Data Visualization

Many MBA programs strive for international diversity and publish statistics portraying the demographics of their classes. Aside from numbers alone, it is often useful to visualize the data to gain additional insights.

INSEAD, with campuses in Fontainebleau (France), Singapore, and Abu Dhabi, is where I made the decision to study. Since I was first contacted by admissions with the good news of my acceptance as a Round 1 candidate, it was truly incredible to see a strong community form. Social media groups were abuzz with introductions, meet-ups were planned in all corners of the earth, and classmates helped each other figure out the logistics of finding accommodation, acquiring visas, and getting ready to (in many cases) move abroad to embark on an incredible year of learning, professional development (and fun).

I had the fortune of choosing between multiple offers of admission for my MBA program. Data visualization (through the creation and use of “infographics”) along with big data, were both tools I used to look beyond the schools’ brochures and truly understand the particular demographics of each program. All my choices were excellent from an educational standpoint, having good reputations, seasoned professors, and a high number of academic publications. What was not evidently clear, in neither marketing materials nor public rankings, was what many alumni recognize as the greatest benefit of a graduate business education – the strength of the network you develop with your fellow students and alumni.

LinkedIn has delved into this very space by helping prospective students make decision boards to aid them in navigating the admissions process. By mapping out the network of alumni from schools all over the world, it is now possible to see which schools specific employers target for recruitment, which sectors alumni work in upon graduation, and where alumni call home.

While many universities tout the international diversity of their students, and many universities list over 100 nationalities forming their class and alumni demographic, one aspect quickly differentiated INSEAD from the competition: the distribution of alumni across different nationalities. Many of the top-ranked schools have a great diversity of students and alumni, but they typically have a disproportionately high amount of students from their home country and many scattered minorities. At INSEAD, everyone is a minority because historically, no more than 15% of the alumni network represents any single nationality. The result is a much more even distribution of alumni across the world and a far more resilient international network. What is true in the aggregate, is also true for each and every MBA graduating class as evidenced in the (unofficial) demographics for the class of July 2016.

From its humble beginnings in 1957, INSEAD has remained true to its founding principles in creating an environment of diversity, in which everyone has equal claim to raise questions, and where everyone learns to cooperate with each other regardless of race, religion, or gender. It is therefore no surprise that INSEAD has been touted “The Business School for the World”.

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