How much importance do Degrees (study) hold in becoming an Entrepreneur?


6

I have a Masters degree in Computer Science. I always thought that when I was small I was more innovative and more risk taking than I am today. From childhood, I have a dream of doing my own venture, of course the type of venture changed from time to time (from opening a milk dairy, to street side hawker, to my own business, to my own tech business). After my Masters, I got a pretty good job. Now, I am unable to devote much time to my dream and leaving my good salary is becoming more and more difficult.

So, my question is,

Is a degree really needed for Entrepreneurship? Or is it an hindrance in the way of Entrepreneurship because you will get used to the comfort it will provide to you.

Business Education

asked Jan 4 '12 at 03:14
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Gagandeep Singh
136 points

9 Answers


7

There is much to be said for the old cliché that the clever and educated end up working for those who aren't.

I don't know if it's the additional few years actually doing it (this seems unlikely), or they're picking up better life or selling skills, or those with a surfeit of clever are too busy defending the things they "know". So often success comes to those who didn't know it was impossible, so did it anyway.

Entrepreneurial success comes, in big part, from an ability to deal with the unknown - which is difficult to train. Education on the other hand tends to give us bigger and wider "knowns". From that I suspect there is more fear of the unknown and therefore doubt in those who get education - I can certainly see some of that in myself. In contrast those who came up the hard way are figuring out economics, trade, selling, networking by just doing it - sometimes not even recognising the terms as skills they've gained.

There's nothing to stop you, of course, retaining the day job and testing the waters with some web based service done in your evenings and weekends. It won't make you the next youtube, it may crash and burn entirely unnoticed, but it will start you moving and it might just make you some reasonable secondary income. You'll learn as much doing that and reading the various freelance, startup and entrepreneurial bloggers as you will going to do another 3 years gaining another degree and avoiding the real issue. Which I submit is:

"...leaving my good salary is becoming more and more difficult" Salary, security and stability and entrepreneurship are mutually exclusive. Necessarily you will be taking a risk - either to gain untold wealth later on, or more usually because you want to make a difference. But remember, you can do both - be that iPhone apps, or a part-time web service - many have successfully trod that path before; also you could save 2 years of money from your good salary to permit you to just go do it for 2 years. It's unlikely that at the end of the failed attempt you would find yourself completely unemployable after all.

answered Jan 5 '12 at 20:10
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Matt
2,552 points
  • +1 for the "ability to deal with the unknown" – Jclozano 5 years ago
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6

I think that generally speaking, anything past a Bachelor's Degree is a waste of time for an entrepreneur, especially in the technical fields.

I have a Masters Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from a well respected university, and it has been of no use to me in my startup endeavours. When it comes to business there is no substitute for experience and actually doing it for yourself. All the energy that I spent on getting my degree would have been better spent on actually working on my startup.

The real benefit to a post-graduate degree is the network you are able to build. You might meet a future co-founder, or become friends with someone who may know someone who may be of great help to you in the future. However, I don't think the actual academics part (the courses) are of much help in building a successful startup.

I think a post-graduate degree can be a hindrance to an entrepreneur. Not because it affords additional comforts (my life didn't change in any way after I completed my degree), but because it prevents you from spending time on your startup. And time is a precious commodity.

answered Jan 5 '12 at 17:34
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Zuly Gonzalez
9,184 points
  • Very untrue for biotech industry and other cutting edge stuff dealing with hardware or chemical processes. For software-based companies - you are correct. – Tim J 5 years ago
  • @Tim Agreed. There are exceptions to everything, that's why I said "generally speaking". I was answering the question within the context of the OP's situation - he stated he has a CS degree. – Zuly Gonzalez 5 years ago
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5

Entrepreneurship has almost nothing to do with academic degrees. It's all about being passionate about your field, being risky enough to venture into a quest for something unknown, and having an open mind to new discoveries that may change your views on things. (Yes, it does sound like a profile of an explorer from 15th-16th century but they were the greatest entrepreneurs in this world.)

Academic degrees come into the game when they close the mind to the gut feeling, the advice from peers & mentors, and the data collected that contradict the academic learning.

Although it may seem that a degree may provide additional knowledge, nowadays all knowledge can be freely acquired by those who seek it regardless of the academic environment. Thus, in general, degrees don't have an advantage but, in individual cases, they may be (when an entrepreneur is relying only on the field data & past learning without actively developing the professional self).

answered Jan 4 '12 at 03:45
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Dnbrv
1,963 points

3

Is a degree really needed for Entrepreneurship? No.
Is it an hindrance? Depends on the person. But 99% of the time it's a hindrance.
Useful for contacts? Can be

I'm an entrepreneur - I don't have a degree.

There is no substitute for "just doing it". There are no other rules than your own.

answered Jan 5 '12 at 15:20
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Sunil
1,072 points

2

A very hard 'no'. I've been an entrepreneur the last 10 years and repetitively burnt myself out because an Engineering degree gave me the ability to learn any skill required and do it myself.

The perfectionism that often plagues Engineers and Scientists made me unhappy with the contributions of partners and work of contractors.

So did everything myself. Software development, sys admin, web-design, 2d and 3d graphics, marketing, the accounts, LLC compliance, e-commerce, customer support... I'm happy with the results, but it takes 2-3 times as long! By the time I'm ready to release a product, the market has changed.

I've been surviving (just) but I'd hate to think of my measly hourly rate compared to my first 10 years in the workforce. It does tempt me back sometimes.

The high-school leaver has no option but to chuck himself in the deep-end, to hire people and not think, "I can do better than that, why the hell am I paying for this."

I guess a degree may be a good fallback, but entrepreneurship tends to make one a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, so re-entering the workforce could be tricky given how specialized many industries have become.

I don't regret going to University because I would have been too stubborn to believe back then what 9 years has taught me. 4 years studying is a long time, I'd rather be out making mistakes, learning real people skills and have to release product regardless of how imperfect it is so I can eat, rather than having the luxury of taking my time.

answered Jan 5 '12 at 21:43
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Jontyc
121 points

2

It has become stylish to say that higher education is a hindrance to entrepreneurship. Many people will say that it is always better to start a company earlier when you have a higher risk appetite. Spending time on education is therefore a waste of time. They will say that education means you get a fatter salary after graduation, thus making you not want to take even a temporary risk in starting on your own. The educated end up working for the less educated almost always.

However, we have to consider for ourselves about "the truth" and make a decision for ourselves instead of seeking the opinion of other people. If we merely go by the "majority vote" usually we are likely to become a victim of Gresham's Law because most people will recommend taking the quicker approach.

Remember that most of the entrepreneurs are less likely to be have a PhD degree simply because lesser people that the longer approach. So they are not in a position to make a judgement about the benefits of having the experience of a PhD.

A degree does not intrinsically make you risk-averse. However, you may be able to choose whether you want a top job in a large company or start of your own. More options is not necessarily a bad thing.

Certainly not every PhD holder opens or wants to open a company, but many PhD holders do. And even if they do not open a company, many of them might make more than many of the sugar-water entrepreneurs. There are several instances of PhD holders building successful companies, e.g., Qualcomm.

Finally, it is important to judge for yourself how much you consider academic knowledge, academic camaraderie and scientific decision-making skills as important; or "get rich quick, build customer relationships early and learn for yourself along the way" is the approach you want to pursue.

answered Jan 6 '12 at 14:22
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Phaedrus
183 points
  • +1 - finally a good answer – Tim J 5 years ago
  • I have an MSc from a good Uni, and I *do* feel it's been a hindrance to my entrepreneurial ventures, which is not by any means the same as saying it was a waste of time. – Matt 5 years ago
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1

When it comes to startups, I believe its not the education but the talent or potential people have. If you could get into Harvard on academic merit, chances are you have the IQ and latent ability to learn whatever you have to and be successful in your start-up. You will take the initiative to learn what has to be learned and go the extra mile. Someone with a sharp mind could goto the library (or today online) and get PHD level course material, and learn it on their own. The actual classroom experience is optional.

Sure, Bill Gates dropped out, but he also had a near perfect SAT score. Paul Graham wrote in one of his essays that many founders come out of MIT, Stanford, etc. He went on to say that even if they were to sing campfire songs in the classrooms, they would still be extremely successful.

answered Jan 8 '12 at 13:23
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Len
376 points

0

Very interesting question indeed. Degree is a real enabler for Entrepreneurship, no doubt about it.

It does provide some comfort but most of the comfort comes from your hard labour during your study as well as while working. You can always take on entrepreneurship after you have earned some money and ready to take risk.

The kind of business you have doing in the childhood (I also use to work in our family business, before doing CA) is not much remunerative theses days for various reasons including scale of business now is much more large.

So you should stick to your job till you are economical secure and ready to take some risks.

answered Jan 4 '12 at 03:40
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Natwar Lath
294 points
  • -1 for obvious brainwashed opinion. Entrepeneurship has nothing to do with a degree. – Net Tecture 5 years ago
  • The longer you leave it, chances are the less willing you are to take that risk at all. You've taken on additional lifestyle and commitments, and are quite likely not to want to give that up - no matter how short term. – Matt 5 years ago
  • JOB: Just Over Broke; a job will never get you economically secure because when you stop working, money stops incoming. – Jclozano 5 years ago
  • I wonder if it is okay to give negative votes simply because you disagree with the answer. The vote is about a "good answer" or a "bad answer", not "I disagree". – Phaedrus 5 years ago
  • Of course it is ok to vote down if you disagree. – Tim J 5 years ago
  • @Tim Although the site guidelines are not exactly clear about this, many people seem to not downvote only because they disagree. http://meta.answers.onstartups.com/questions/256/what-is-your-perception-of-voting-downPhaedrus 5 years ago
  • @phaedrus - In some cases I will not downvote, but not only do I disagree with this answer, the person is also wrong. If downvotes are not to be used when you disagree, then why would they EVER be used? It makes no sense. – Tim J 5 years ago
  • Other peoples' opinions on how they downvote have no influence on me. I will continue to vote as I see fit. In this case I stand by my down vote. – Tim J 5 years ago
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0

Gates and Zuckerberg were both Harvard dropouts. It didn't seem to be an impediment to their successes.

answered Jan 6 '12 at 06:00
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  • Sergei and Larry were getting PhDs I think? Didn't seem to be impediments to their success either. There are arguments to both sides. – Tim J 5 years ago
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