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School's In--Online

Get an entrepreneurial education without setting foot in a classroom.
September 18, 2008
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197070

If you take online classes, there may be no lunching in the quad, but you can come away with a great education in entrepreneurship. Thanks to advances in communication technology and greater bandwidth, online video lectures and interactive classes make a college education in entrepreneurship only a mouse click away.

The distance-learning program at Boston University, for instance, provides a four-course certificate in entrepreneurship. The classes cover the same concepts taught at BU's School of Management, but on students' own timetables. Though work and family obligations can make it nearly impossible to enroll in full-time study, this is a flexible option for people who "can afford a couple hours to participate from their homes," says Jonathan Rosen, executive director of the Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Students with existing businesses can learn about finance, sales, marketing, organization and leadership, and those considering entrepreneurship can learn whether it's the best path for them, says Rosen.

The ability to fit online schooling into your schedule is a great benefit. These programs "can also be effective in terms of selective learning," says Cathy Ashmore, executive director of the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education. You can choose just the classes you need to build your business.

Online programs also give you the opportunity to study with an accredited university, no matter where you live, says Adrian Marrullier, executive vice president of sales and marketing at University Alliance, a provider of online degree programs from schools such as Tulane University, The University of South Florida and Villanova University.

On the downside, it may not be as easy to share and network with classmates online as it is in person, notes Ashmore. You should also be aware of any dangers that may come with sharing business ideas online. "Whoever's organizing the online training needs to be responsible for who's involved and what's being shared," she says. "And each participant needs to consider the trust factor."

From online MBAs to entrepreneurship certificate programs, prospective students have many options. But don't mistake these comprehensive courses for a weekend seminar. "Be ready to study. This is real work," says Marrullier. "There's real coursework here; you do have homework assignments." And while you must be self-motivated, most programs allow you to not only interact with the professor, but also with other students, giving you even more learning opportunities.

Miami business owner Esteban Reyes, 28, says that taking online courses through Boston University helped him learn growth strategies and the importance of a business plan at every stage. "After taking the course, gaining all this insight and getting back to the basics helped [the business] get on track to where it should be going," says Reyes of Verification Bureau Inc., a fraud prevention software development company. This year, Reyes' sales grew 30 percent to a projected $4 million.

Meanwhile, at Benedictine University, business how-to instruction on social responsibility and ecological awareness is the focus of its online MBA program. "The online instruction seems to be well-appreciated," says Elieen Kolich, dean of Benedictine's Moser College of Adult and Professional Studies. "We're attracting a lot of people who need this particular delivery mode."