Classroom vs. crash-course

February 10, 2010: 12:44 PM ET

An aspiring entrepreneur wonders if academic training in running a business will pay off.

Spate, Orange, Calif.
I am a sophomore in community college. My dream is to launch my own business someday. Now that it's time to choose a major, I'm debating if I should go to a prestigious school and major in entrepreneurial studies or major in engineering or something else to acquire a set of skills first, since I will most likely work for a company and build up some capital before I can open a business. What do you think? Is majoring in entrepreneurship a good choice?

By Kathleen Ryan O'Connor, contributing writer
"Can entrepreneurship be taught? That's the age-old question," says Heidi Clark, an associate professor at Babson College, a school noted for its entrepreneurship programs. "At Babson we teach you a method. We can't guarantee you success."

Rush Hambleton, a recent Babson grad and the founder of photo kiosk rental business Canditto, says one of the biggest benefits of a business-focused program is the community it attracts.

"So much of the MBA curriculum is unrelated to entrepreneurship, even at Babson," says Hambleton, who launched his company while studying for his master's degree. "But there is no better place to be to bat ideas around people who are going to be critical and orient you on the path of success. You don't need an MBA to do that, but [it's worth something] to be playful, to talk and to think."

Of course, to start a business you need something compelling to sell. Acquiring skills in a marketable field is a smart first move.

If you're dead set on eventually starting a business, though, that's a specific skill set for that as well. Hambleton said his Babson education was invaluable in teaching him how to speak the language of investors and pitch them -- "so you don't look like a country bumpkin."

Academic pursuits can also help train you to think like an entrepreneur, says University of Cincinnati Professor Charles Matthews, who also serves as executive director of the university's entrepreneurship research center.

"I always tell my students, I cannot guarantee much, but I can guarantee that when the course is over, they will definitely think differently about what it takes to be entrepreneurial -- individually, corporately, and socially," he says.

And the very least, Hambleton says, studying business means hanging around other folks reaching for the same goal. It's comforting.

"Entreprenurship is a really lonely endeavor," he says. "At business school, others are doing the same crazy thing."

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