This post is a reply by one of our EiRs Vikul Goyal to an interesting article by Vivek Wadhwa on not going to Harvard if you want to be an entrepreneur.
I’m not sure if I fully understand what the author is trying to communicate here. Is he trying to say – “Do not go to good schools if you want to be successful entrepreneurs” as the title suggests. I don’t want to disregard the findings of the research the author has conducted but my experience at Harvard has led me to believe otherwise. So, I strongly disagree.
A couple of observations and my thoughts after reading the article:
- More number of entrepreneurs are coming out of non-Ivy league universities probably because of more number of students collectively enrolled in these universities than in Ivy-league or top-tier universities. Secondly, students in these universities may not have the same opportunities to take up “lucrative” careers in finance/consulting, so due to lack of opportunities people go in for the self-employed route. What would be interesting to see here is the percentage of successful startups coming out of these two leagues!
- What path graduates choose to follow is largely dictated by societal preferences and industrial demand. In India, software/IT was really hot around 2003-2005 when the top rankers at IITs would aspire to get a job at Microsoft or Google or Yahoo (preferably in the US), which shifted to management consulting and investment banking around 2006-2009 and now VC/PE and entrepreneurship. When a top school graduate chooses to take up an entrepreneurial path despite the odds (high debt, multiple opportunities), it shows higher conviction to be an entrepreneur and belief in the idea rather doing it for the wrong reasons – lack of other opportunities, or just because being an entrepreneur is in vogue.
- Most of the top schools, at least I can speak for Harvard Business School, have programs that support aspiring entrepreneurs. The Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship at HBS has regular EIRs that work with students on their business ideas, conduct annual business plan competitions, and help students raise funding. HBS also has a loan forgiveness and a loan deferment program for students who choose to take the entrepreneurial path and are making less than average B-school salary.
- Finally, I can not emphasize enough the power of networks and support of the alumni community that these schools provide which could be critical in starting a successful business.
I’d like to think that the burdens that come along with going to a top tier school, be it a hefty student loan or the peer pressure to take up certain defined career paths, act as good filters and only serious entrepreneurs will come out of it, given that there is so much at stake, so much to lose.