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Why Aspiring Entrepreneurs Should Put Their Education First

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By William Arruda | 11 February 2018

There is a growing misconception that higher education is not needed for — and may even inhibit — entrepreneurial success.

Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates have shown that you do not need a diploma to succeed in your business, but they are well-known outliers in a sea of college-educated founders. A Kauffman Foundation study revealed that over 90 percent of American tech company founders hold a bachelor’s degree, and those with MBAs are able to start and build their companies faster.

Even for those who maintain that a college education isn’t essential to successful entrepreneurship, alternative educational programs are well worth considering. Such programs are able to teach skills and provide resources to both experienced and new entrepreneurs that cannot be accessed when working all by yourself.

Beyond networking with other passionate people, educational programs offer a great place to start learning practical skills that can reduce the learning curve for running your company. Consider these three ways continued education remains a crucial opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs:

1. By Providing Access to Valuable Relationships

Many universities and educational institutions are contributing to their local startup ecosystem through incubator and accelerator programs. These programs connect young entrepreneurs to real startup resources that are harder to come by when you are starting out on your own — in some cases, leading to job opportunities and access to funding for student-led projects.

Ameren Accelerator, a program powered by the University of Missouri System, UMSL Accelerate, and Capital Innovators, is intentional about its approach to this collaboration. The accelerator focuses on energy technology startups and allows entrepreneurs to glean valuable industry knowledge from mentor partners at the university level. UMSL students selected as interns learn in an experiential setting as they participate in the program alongside the startup founders, benefiting from this access to mentorship and, in some instances, gaining job offers with the companies they intern for.

International programs offer similar resources. The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) incubator in Africa provides training, seed investment, and mentorship opportunities in an intensive 12-month program for outstanding students from across the continent. Finding mentors and other leaders who can assist you with specific issues is key to entrepreneurial success, and programs like these are designed to help you find those people faster.

2. By Growing Your Ability to Work With People of Various Backgrounds

To be successful as a business leader, you will need to be able to work with a wide range of people. Employees come with all different personalities, and the more diverse the set, the better at problem-solving they are. Educational programs offer the opportunity to both work with different personalities on projects and interact with individuals from different cultures. Learning how to manage groups of people who don’t always agree will be key to creating a positive work environment in your company.

And what better way to understand the international business landscape than to go visit other countries? Study abroad programs allow you to observe local practices firsthand, while foreign language classes can give you a leg up in the increasingly global business environment. Classes in international business or foreign affairs can help you identify and overcome obstacles to international business transactions.

Taking advantage of these opportunities in college or through programs such as IES Abroad will make you a better business manager and provide more growth options in the future.

3. By Teaching Leadership Skills Critical to Success

Half of all businesses fail by their fifth year, and only 80 percent make it past the first. You will need sharp leadership and management skills to avoid becoming one of these statistics.

The good news? Business majors are required to take introductory management courses that teach skills like leading others in a business setting. Most programs also offer courses in problem-solving, how to establish SMART goals, and how to build quality relationships with your employees and clients.

Programs such as Operation JumpStart or LaunchU — which often partner with colleges and universities — allow you to work with a certified facilitator to develop your business plan. This will help you determine whether the plan will be feasible before you put any money into the business. Half of leading is knowing where you are going and communicating that clearly to those working with you.

Entrepreneurs are good at identifying ways to make the most of opportunities, and continued education is no exception. With their concentration of resources and growing emphasis on providing entrepreneurial experiences, colleges, universities, and other educational programs are primed with possibilities just waiting for you to exploit for success.


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