Is an academic degree needed to become a successful entrepreneur? Will it help your startup or be a competitive advantage for you? I advice you read on to find out.

“If I had learned education, I would not have had time to learn anything else.” – Cornelius Vanderbilt

Most people will argue in the positive that attending business school, or at least possessing a college degree helps in building a successful business. They base their stand on the fact that attending college or business school give entrepreneurs an edge, a strong business sense and a good start in business. They also argue that it will give you connections and make you a better networker.

In all honesty, I can attest to the fact that they have a strong point there. In fact, they are very correct. But instead of taking sides; let me share with you my own point of view. Now i want to re-emphasize the fact that I am not trying to buy anybody over or convince you to accept my point of view. Please note that I am entitled to my own opinion and I will stand strongly by them. You are entitled to yours too.

Is an Academic Degree Needed to Become a Successful Entrepreneur?

a. Most successful entrepreneurs have openly stated that possessing a college degree or attending business school has nothing to do with building a business. None of these entrepreneurs have openly accredited their success in business to lessons learned while in college because they see no relationship between entrepreneurship and an academic degree.

I strongly agree with this fact because I have seen academic punks, geeks or students who couldn’t survive in school; grow up to become entrepreneurial giants. And then their classmates or course mates who came out of school with flying colors often begin to wonder “how did the geek of yesterday become so rich.” If a college degree guarantees success, then these super academic geniuses should have maintained their lead in life.

“I have nothing against education. But at times, education gives people false confidence. It makes people relax, trusting in the power of their certificates rather than in working hard.” – Rasaq Okoya

b.  Entrepreneurship is an active game and you don’t learn the ropes by reading books or solving mathematics.

You learn by doing; you learn by taking real life test where the consequences and effects of your actions are real. Schools don’t encourage such type of learning. This is why most the successful, famous and celebrated entrepreneurs of today are drop outs. Example of such people are: Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, Larry Ellison,etc.

c. The academic processes that an individual undergoes, just to obtain a degree abhors mistakes. In college or business school, you are driven by the fear of failing, fear of making mistakes and fear of coming out with poor grades. When you make a mistake in school, you are suspended, forced to repeat or reprimanded. So you strive to avoid being cajoled by avoid making mistakes.

In retrospect, the entrepreneurial process thrives on mistakes. In the business world, mistakes are part of the learning process. Without making business mistakes; there’s no progress. This is why school does not provide the needed preparation for the challenges of the business world.

“Success is a poor teacher. We learn the most about ourselves when we fail, so don’t be afraid of failing. Failing is part of the process of success. You cannot have success without failure.” – Rich Dad

“The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior. But simple behavior is more effective.” – Warren Buffett

d. I believe school limits our entrepreneurial abilities; abilities such as delayed gratification, risk taking, self belief, creativity and instinct. This is why college degree holders or business school graduates lack the entrepreneurial skills to survive in the business world.

Entrepreneurship thrives on creativity, innovation and uncertainty while the academic process that produces the college degree holders thrives on boring routine and certainty. In business school, you are taught to play by the rules and only make a move after thorough analysis.

e. Attending business school makes you conservative and conservatives don’t make good entrepreneurs. Business school molds you into being a good corporate manager; not an entrepreneur and that’s why business school graduates end up managing people’s companies.

f. In school, you are forced to take test and exams on your own in return for a degree but business is a team sport. You don’t take test alone; you don’t play alone. If you must win in business, you have got to form teams and co-operate with the big boys. If you must win in school and receive a degree, you have to play and take test alone. If you co-operate in school, it’s called cheating.

“When employees unite, they form a union but when business owners unite, they form a team.” – Robert Kiyosaki

g. How can school make you a better entrepreneur, when the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship, business and financial intelligence are not taught? What is being taught more in business school is analytical intelligence.

Secondly, a major flaw in business school is that most of lecturers and professors teaching entrepreneurship and business management are not business men and have no real life experience on how to run a business. They only teach what they read in books.

“Business and financial intelligence are not picked up within the four walls of school. You pick them up on the streets. In school, you are taught how to manage other people’s money. On the streets, you are taught how to make money.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

The best way to learn the ropes of building a business is never in school. You can never learn to build a business by listening to boring lecturers and solving boring subjects. You learn how to build a business is on the street. You learn how to build a business by actively engaging in the business process; you learn by being mentored on the field by a savvy entrepreneur. You learn by apprenticeship and you learn by trial and error.

“I have been within the four walls of school and I have been on the street. I can confidently tell you that the street is tougher, challenging, daring, exciting and more rewarding. In school; you play alone. But on the street, you play with the big boys.” – Ajaero Tony Martins

  • Thomas Edison was called a Dumb by his teachers; yet he started from scratch and built General Electric, one of the most powerful companies in the world.
  • Henry Ford was called an ignorant man by some academic intellects, yet he built the Ford Motor Company and became one of the richest men in history.
  • Larry Ellison dropped out of college twice and was told he will never amount to anything. Yet, he went on to build Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s largest software companies.

In conclusion, I want you to bear this fact in mind that business school does not make you a better entrepreneur; neither does it prepare you for the challenges of building a business from scratch. Rather, business school prepares you to climb the corporate ladder; as an employee or manager of someone else business.

Ajaero Tony Martins