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Innovation Happens Outside Of The Classroom: Three Things Entrepreneurs Can Teach MBAs Across the Middle East and beyond, today's young entrepreneurs are opting out of expensive business school degrees and choosing careers in startups.

By Sean McKeon

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Across the Middle East and beyond, today's young entrepreneurs are opting out of expensive business school degrees and choosing careers in startups. For many considering the two options, the advantages of a traditional MBA are clear: the brand of a university, higher average salaries, and access to a network of future corporate leaders. You might ask then, where's the problem? In my opinion, the benefits of business school are not immediately useful to an entrepreneur working to get his or her business off the ground. Instead of molding startups to fit corporate jargon, entrepreneurs must be flexible, resourceful, and decisive each and every day.

With this in mind, here are three things entrepreneurs can teach MBAs:

1. Innovation Happens Outside The Classroom

Startup ecosystems, both inside and outside of the Middle East, are formed by creative entrepreneurs, investors and innovators. For startups, meetings and idea exchanges often happen spontaneously through personal connections and shared interests. Course curriculums and reading lists may be valuable for academics, but these resources do little to attract customers and grow revenues. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg famously went so far as to drop out university and pursue their ideas full time, but we should not forget that Microsoft and Facebook are exceptions. Universities play a role in creating successful startup hubs- look no further than San Francisco where Stanford and Berkeley provide extensive support for rising entrepreneurs. But college campuses are merely one part in the larger ecosystem that brings together innovators from all backgrounds. We must remember that disruptive products and services are created far from the formalities of university lecture halls.

2. Formulas And Frameworks Do Not Apply To Startups

The corporate world is full of pre-determined hierarchies, often created to manage the sheer size of many companies. Roles are clearly defined and newly-minted MBAs are thrown into jobs that perfectly match business school formulas and frameworks. For startup founders and employees, daily challenges are less predictable and not as easily delegated. Instead, entrepreneurs are forced to be Jacks and Jills of all trades. This growing reality is even changing the way many business schools teach future graduates. As one example, the University of Oxford has incorporated a mandatory Entrepreneurship Project into its MBA course, giving students a brief taste of startup life. Oxford, like many business schools, is recognizing the need for new graduates who can walk the entrepreneur walk instead of just talking the corporate talk. As larger numbers of MBA graduates choose startups and technology careers after business school, an entrepreneurial mindset is quickly becoming an essential factor for success.

3. Resilliency Is The Key To Success

Research from Wamda shows MENA entrepreneurs often lack necessary skills for strategic planning, financial literacy, and business development. This gap in fundamentals is typically filled through trusted relationships with investors and advisors in the local ecosystem- but even this mentorship is not enough to create a successful business. Many startups fail despite relationships with successful VCs or angel investors, often leaving founders to ask: why? To answer this question, Angela Lee Duckworth, in her popular TED Talk, identified the importance of grit. At a basic level, she defines grit as the ability to sustain interest and effort toward very long-term goals. For entrepreneurs this concept isn't anything new- one's daily life as a founder requires immediate sacrifice with the hope of future success. Fortunately for many MBAs, the corporate world provides a protective barrier from the all-too-real fear of failure faced by startups. However, this same protection creates a challenge for business graduates who become first-time founders. Business school degree or not, entrepreneurs who possess high levels of determination will succeed despite the daily challenges of startup life.

This is not to say that business school can't provide a valuable foundation for would-be entrepreneurs. Several startup unicorns, including Warby Parker and Cloudfare, have MBA founders calling the shots. It's no secret that graduates of top business schools often find investors and advisors in their school's alumni base. But a deeper look at successful startups proves that true learning comes through doing and persisting despite unexpected challenges. Business school can't teach you about the struggles of bootstrapping a business; it can't prepare you for the sleepless nights and the pressure to be successful. For examples of resilience in practice, look no further than Cairo, Amman, and Dubai, where entrepreneurs overcome extreme challenges each day. In the future, MBA graduates will be looking more and more towards entrepreneurs in these cities for an education in starting a successful business.

Sean McKeon is an investment advisor based in London and a passionate supporter of entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Talk to him on Twitter @fseanmckeon.

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