Can You Learn to Start a Business?

The Winds of Change

It seems, then, that straight theory-based training is not all the rage at business schools these days. James A. Goodrich, associate dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine, suggests that MBA students today are learning mainly how to deal with change in their prospective business ventures. "It's certainly different from when I was in school," says Goodrich. "Now I think there's more of an assumption that you're going to have to do this [in your business]."

Goodrich also notes that while there is still an emphasis on the basics of business-building, like financing and accounting, there is a growing trend toward the strategic side of business-with an emphasis on going global. "There is less of a focus on the mechanics," he says. "[For example,] students think about studying abroad-they're looking outward more."

As far as learning by doing, the Pepperdine MBA program seems to combine the best of both worlds-sound business training with a combined emphasis on the practical (i.e., inviting serial entrepreneurs and real-life business owners into the classroom to teach). As Goodrich puts it, "the school of hard knocks."

So is learning by doing the way to go? Not necessarily, according to Goodrich. "I'm of two minds about that," he says. "Bill Gates doesn't have an MBA, but he hires MBAs. I suspect that in reality, more people will continue to [sign up for MBA programs]."

Final Exam

The truth about entrepreneurship is that it's ever-changing and constantly growing. If you choose to get an MBA or you'd rather learn at your own pace from a special mentor, there's one thing that all great entrepreneurs (and great people) know: No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn.

e-Biz Education After the Fall

The rise and fall of the dotcoms: good idea.go public...millionaires...dreams come loss...layoffs...dreams dashed. OK, perhaps that's a bit of a simplification of a very complex economic process. But whatever the case, now that the get-rich-quick dotcom bubble has burst, entrepreneurial education is left with a question: How do you teach e-business after the fallout? Many top-notch business schools that reported booms in e-business classes in the late '90s are reporting a decreasing interest in such classes now. Does that mean e-business classes are a thing of the past?

Not quite, according to Jeff Shuman, director of entrepreneurial studies at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. "The e-biz designator has gone away from business essentially," he says. "If you're going to teach business today, you have to teach technology. It's an integral component. It's fundamentally changing how companies operate."

Concerning the e-biz boom and the rise in interest in all things Web-related, Shuman is clear: "For a lot of folks, there was a suspension of reality when it came to what it really takes to run and build a successful business. I'm of the view that a lot of people who got interested in it was guaranteed wealth creation, they've gone away. My attitude is, 'Great, they never belonged here in the first place,' because they weren't interested in building a successful business-they were only interested in getting rich quick."

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This article was originally published in the December 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Can You Learn to Start a Business?.

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