The startup impetus: Why it pays to launch your business while still studying

New Glass Flooring Across Tower Bridge's High-Level Walkways
Many candidates have every intention of returning to their firm. Then they meet fellow students and cook something up (Source: Getty)

Increasing numbers of executive MBA (EMBA) students are becoming entrepreneurs. The FT’s 2015 EMBA survey showed that 26 per cent of graduates started their own firm either during their course or after graduating.

Doing an EMBA at a leading business school will set you or your employer back around £70,000 and, “if you’re going to pull the trigger and set up your own thing, it’s a lot easier to do it with a structure and institution behind you,” points out Silvia McCallister-Castillo, programme director for EMBA-Global at London Business School.

Read more: Will an MBA of PhD actually push up your salary?

And there are considerable benefits to starting up while you’re still studying. The ability to tap into the unique ecosystem offered by business schools is the biggest driver. In addition to alumni networks, in-house funds, and course content itself, many schools will offer a range of intensive incubator or summer school experiences that enable students to test a business idea’s robustness.

At LBS, as at other leading schools, successful candidates are then put in touch with an angel network that works with them towards a launch.

A unique melting pot

McCallister-Castillo says one of the most compelling things a school offers for those getting going while still studying is the people around you. A trend she’s noted is students from traditional corporate backgrounds who have been turned into entrepreneurs through the relationships they’ve formed.

A recent LBS graduate previously working for Dell in Minnesota, with no intention of leaving but simply securing a promotion, met a Chinese student while studying, and the pair ended up starting a venture fund for Chinese investors looking at the growing startup scene in the Midwest. Students will frequently fund each other’s ventures, too, and the same is true of professors.

Balbir Guru, head of MBA recruitment and admissions at Cass Business School, says that exposure to fellow students and test-running your ideas can give people a confidence boost sufficient to launch a business. “Many EMBA students have an idea before they arrive, but taking the plunge requires skills, knowledge and, crucially, confidence.

They immediately start building the kinds of relationships that make it possible.” A two year course like Cass’s, she adds, provides a thorough opportunity to think about and plan the next stage of your career – vital “when most people now expect to have two or three different careers in life.”

Sticking points

However, launching a business while studying is an obvious strain, and, as McCallister-Castillo says, “it’s almost impossible to explain how intense it’s going to be”. Not only are students being judged by the same standards as their full-time MBA counterparts, but many will be juggling high-level jobs and families at the same time.

Guru adds that it’s perfectly reasonable, therefore, to postpone a launch until you’ve finished the course. “Of course it makes sense to grab the opportunity while you can, but something has to give at some point. The dedication and ability to set up while you’re studying and doing your job isn’t something everyone has.”

There’s also the financial strain to consider. While you might get funded during your time at business school, you’d need to salary yourself. This becomes particularly relevant when you consider that 50 per cent of LBS’s students secure a promotion while on the programme. “So sometimes they’re meaning to launch something, but their career takes off and the moment is lost,” says McCallister-Castillo.

Rise of the intrapreneur

Moreover, the line between corporate worker and entrepreneur is blurring, with the rise of the intrapreneur – in-house executives who concentrate on strategy and innovation. “Big institutions are having to think hard about how they’re going to be successful down the road,” says Guru.

Read more: What an EMBA will teach you about corporate leadership

Electives around how to build organisational culture, and even highly specific ones on starting a business from scratch, are increasingly popular with students who stay in their industry but aim to disrupt from the inside. “Having someone in your team or leading a unit who’s taken electives focused on entrepreneurship can be a great asset. And for the individual, being dynamic and entrepreneurial in your role is increasingly a necessity,” Guru adds.

Related articles