Going Back to School Might be the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Startup

By the SMU Social Media Team 

Already a founder of a pretty sustainable start-up? While taking a break to study a new major, or pursuing a part-time postgrad course might sound counterintuitive, furthering your studies might just provide the know-how you need to take your business to the next level.

According to research conducted by US venture capitalist Jeff Bussgang and then-Harvard Business School student Juan Leung, 82 per cent of unicorns (start-up companies valued at over US$1 billion) have at least one founding member or current executive team member with an MBA (Master of Business Administration). In other words, while not every startup is founded by someone with a Master’s degree (or even a Bachelor’s), the highly profitable ones are headed by folks with that coveted MBA.

Here are 4 top reasons why entrepreneurs should consider going back to school, whether or not achieving unicorn status is part of your master game plan:


1. Educational institutions have become more pro-entrepreneurship 

We bet you’ve heard all the stories of grey-T-shirt-wearing college dropouts who have made their first billion before they hit the age of 25; or that traditional education systems of yore are known to stifle rising entrepreneurs, rather than breed risk-embracing, innovative business owners.

However, an increasing number of universities boast dynamic entrepreneurship bodies to help students incubate a business, even at school. The SMU Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, for example, has successfully helped launch student startups. The Institute runs events, competitions, workshops and networking sessions revolving around innovation and entrepreneurship. There are also training programmes, study missions, internships for entrepreneurs and budding entrepreneurs, and a full-fledged incubation programme.

“IIE has become like a home for my startup,” says Robin Lim, the co-founder of health food subscription service, Made Real.

“I have received valuable guidance, mentorship, resources and training that has made me a better founder. However, above all, it has given me access to a community of people who have given me tremendous support throughout my time here.”



2. University programmes have evolved 

The opposite of classic lecture-based study, SMU is known for its experiential learning and interactive teaching methodology, designed to help shape you into a versatile and dynamic leader. Through its seminar-style pedagogy, your ‘hard’ critical and analytical skills are sharpened and your ‘soft’ articulation, presentation and leadership skills are honed. Meanwhile, an emphasis on your ‘heart’ skills also nurtures you to be a socially responsible leader.

And rather than spending your days holed up in the library or lecture theatre, SMU’s programmes involve plenty of exposure with the real world. Think overseas Business Study Missions with immersion trips in the MBA programme, interacting with renowned communication leaders in Southeast Asia’s first Master of Science in Communication Management, or completing an international residency in the Masters of Science in Innovation programme—designed to groom Asia’s next innovation leader. Through a programme suited for your business needs, you could have new insights into marketing, finance or management, filling gaps you may not even know you lacked.


3. Unparalleled Networking

You might think you have an impressive list of contacts from building your business on your own from scratch. But being surrounded by equally driven individuals from diverse, international backgrounds (65 per cent of SMU’s MBA students are international)—within an intensive study programme, to boot—might open plenty more doors to elevate your startup.

A plethora of businesses have been formed among course mates, while other times, a fellow uni mate studying a different discipline could offer another area of expertise that can take your business to a whole new level.

Networking opportunities don’t just end after you’ve completed your studies, too. SMU’s Office of Alumni Relations frequently organises networking events for alumni and has also launched the SMUPreneurs directory to help connect alumni founders with one another.



4. It’s never too late 

If you’ve halted your studies previously to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams, it’s never too late to go back to school. Even at the undergraduate level, there are many opportunities available to hone your entrepreneurship skills.

For example, the Entrepreneurship Major offered to SMU undergraduates provides a host of targeted electives, entrepreneurship study missions to places such as Silicon Valley and other entrepreneurial locations, and the entrepreneurship practicum.

These modules give students the tools, techniques, theories, and practices that enable them to identify, refine, incubate and grow new business ideas. The school’s multi-disciplinary programmes also help to build up a diverse range of skillsets that perfectly suits your needs as a business founder.