Entrepreneurship vs. College Degrees: The Value of an Education to Entrepreneurs

A couple of weekends ago, I attended this semester’s $100k Venture Start-Up Competition at UTSA; the same business plan competition where my company had its humble beginnings as nothing more than an idea.   I was visiting with one of my favorite professors and she was telling me how a local business professional was meeting with her class during the semester and advocated quitting school and becoming an entrepreneur as soon as possible.  She was just astonished, as was I, that he would come into her college entrepreneurship class and blatantly speak against an education.

Then, a funny thing happened.  I came across two articles earlier this week in the Harvard Business Review that were discussing the very same topic: what value, if any, does a college degree provide to an entrepreneur?  For me and my professor, the answers were obvious, but it got me thinking.  If these questions are cropping up in two seemingly different circumstances, what are the differing opinions and debates surrounding them?

As it turns out, there are some large supporters of leaving school and starting a venture.  Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, is actually offering twenty $100,000 start-up grants to students under the age of 20, enticing them to leave (or not even enter) college to become an entrepreneur instead.  He believes that by getting younger people to start thinking big at an earlier age, they will become tomorrow’s innovators.  While his reasoning has its merits, I still can’t understand why you would advocate against the pursuit of knowledge.  Sure, $100,000 grant is a great way to start a new business, but of what value is all that money if you haven’t developed and refined your management, financial, and critical thinking skills to make effective and educated decisions with it?

Entrepreneurship isn’t an exact science.  Trial and error are some of the most valuable experiences you can gain as an entrepreneur, but so is a college education.  Devaluing it by luring potential students away with cash is a dangerous and slippery path.  Too many have dropped out, failed, and suffered the consequences as a result of these ill-conceived notions.  I would argue that pursuing a college degree better prepares and enables you for the countless challenges one will inevitably face time and again as an entrepreneur.  I know that my education has been an invaluable component in my pursuit of entrepreneurial endeavors, and that it is at the heart of what Washing the Dishes is really about – doing the best you can in all you do and learning something along the way.  I chose to pursue my undergraduate degree because I have long recognized the empowerment that comes with knowledge.  When its all said and done, entrepreneurs come in many shapes and sizes and it is the unique combination of personal attributes, experiences, and education that determine each entrepreneur’s level of success.  When given the choice, choose an education first.  The knowledge and skills you gain will make tomorrow’s innovations a reality.  The money will be on the table when you’re ready for it.

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