Do entrepreneurs need education?

February 3, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook from his Harvard dormitory, but after the social networking website exploded in popularity, he promptly quit school and became a full-time entrepreneur.

An informal roll call of Fortune 500 CEOs that dropped out of high school or university and went on to become self-made billionaires, includes the following: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page (Google), Michael Dell (Dell), David Geffen (Geffen Records), Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (Virgin), Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lauren), Jerry Yang (Yahoo) and the aforementioned Zuckerberg.

Most on this list received a modicum of post-secondary education, before bailing and pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

Like Zuckerberg, Gates also went to Harvard. Page and Yang both attended Stanford. Jobs only completed one semester at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Dell left the University of Texas at 19. Geffen dropped out of three universities before launching his record label. Lauren went to little-known Baruch College in New York State, but left after two years. Branson, a mild dyslexic, never made it out of high school. And it’s not clear if Ford founder Henry Ford ever had any formal education, outside his training as a machinist.

A new blog post (“Is College Necessary for Young Entrepreneurs?”) by Adam Toren, who co-founded with his brother Matthew, uses a fascinating survey by to fuel the discussion of how important a diploma is to entrepreneurs.

“Ask around and you’ll find conflicting answers,” wrote Toren in his blog. “Some will tell you it’s necessary in order to gain the skills you need to succeed. Some will tell you it’s necessary to build character. And some will tell you not to waste your time.”

After laying out both the pros (good place to form lasting friendships and potential business partnerships) and cons (average cost for a 4-year degree is around $80,000) of higher education, Toren steers clear from offering a definitive opinion on one side or the other, although most of his evidence would appear to support saving your parent’s money and getting a job instead.

“Just do what you feel is right, trust in your decision, and never look back,” wrote Toren.

What do you think? Does education and entrepreneurship go hand in hand? Should would-be entrepreneurs still go to college, or put their money into a startup instead? Post your comments below.


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I do not agree that some people should forget about college and go directly into the workforce. However, it is true that not everyone needs a four year degree.

1. There are many technical colleges that can train people for skills in trade, such as welding, computers, drafting, Autocad, etc.
2. A college degree is a time of growing up and expanding your view of the world beyond that of your highschool and home environment. I am now working in China because of the ideas I learned in college.
3. Technology and business in general are becoming more and more focused. It will take a technology degree or an engineering degree to be the business leaders of the future. In the past, we were developing simple technologies and making them better and better. Now there is stiff competition from Hong Kong to Brazil. Higher level knowledge is needed for the future growth in business innovation.

Unless you are a highschool genius, and have a god-given talent in a specific field (for example, Bill Gates, you will need that extra learning that you get from a technology degree. Without it, you are putting all your hopes for success on luck. Remember, there are more failures in business than there are successes. Don’t be fooled by the exceptions.

Posted by blahhhhhh | Report as abusive

Going to college is a fall back, just in case the startup goes bust.

Posted by carrington | Report as abusive

You are comparing passion with education. If you have a passion there is nothing that can stop you, not even education ‘coz you will hire the right people to get the job done. But on the other hand if you are educated and passionate at the same time you get the Google boys…

Posted by Georgeiswrite | Report as abusive

i don’t know!

Posted by michae | Report as abusive

Educatión is not only to learn technical skills, is also to give shape to the human character, but definitely no academic would understand the real world of bussiness and its problems.

Posted by lugue | Report as abusive

The allure and glitter of becoming a billionaire or a multi-millionaire without an education, such as Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, etc.,is great for many a budding entrprenuer, however, these are by far the exception to the rule.

The road to wealth is littered with countlesss many who have falsely believed that all they needed to succeed was a great product, service or technological innovation, without ay education. Our world is too complex to believe such foolish thinking.

Though I do agree that institutions of “higher learning” need to throw out or re-design the old models of higher education and look to teach more real world courses. For example, how many of us in business ever use complex statistical analysis algorithims or micro/macro economics forumulas we were arduosly taught to arrive at decisions?

Case studies and pratical hands-on training (online, seminars, training, et al) as well as a rounded overall education in the liberal arts is what is needed for the entrepreneur to succeed in the 21st Century.

Education is necessary to shape our character and mold aspects of decision-making and leadership.

At the end of the day, passion for what we do along with a Unique Service and Value Proposition (USVP) are what will make a company succeed.

Louis F. Vargas
CEO & Author of The Passion Driven Life

Posted by LouisFVargas | Report as abusive

It is easy to focus on a handful of success stories and make an argument that post secondary completion is unnecessary for entrepreneurial success. However, I have met far more people who have tried to make it in business without the education to back it up and have not become the next Bill Gates. Many are doing fine enough and perhaps if the only measure is money, they may be ahead of the game. But the associations you form are as important as the classes you take. Is there a need for everyone to rush into a 4 year college after high school? Definitely NO. But don’t base your choice on the luck and grit of Larry Page or Bill Gates.

Posted by solazoth | Report as abusive

I question how much character can be really learned in college, but I suppose that’s a subjective thing. I was focused on the books in college, but in High School, and in the job I got after college, I really began to develop some additional character…

Posted by ikelw | Report as abusive

They need an “education”. They DON’T need school.

Posted by tonysclassroom | Report as abusive

Most education systems are designed for the purpose of “getting a job.” While a business management or MBA degree will inform a would-be entrepreneur with lots of useful knowledge and skills, it will also neglect many things that can be useful to starting one’s own business. Therefore if one is going to attend a university, it should be one that has a course of study in entrepreneurship.

As for the comment above that a potential entrepreneur should save their parents money and get a job instead, that is completely wrong. For an entrepreneur, “getting a job” is in itself, a kind of failure. The better advice would be to use the parents’ money as seed capital in the intended venture.

Posted by m00ndog | Report as abusive

They need knowledge, but not necessarily from a socialist school system. Sell the government schools and the world would be better off.

Posted by JackDoitCrawfor | Report as abusive

Any successful entrepreneur should go to college and expand their view of the world around them. When you become successful in business you acquire a good deal of power to create change by way of money.

If you find yourself being a business leader, then it benefits you to understand how your business affects the communities it serves. By learning to use your new found financial power wisely, you can profit and also become an asset to the communities in which you do business. And that only brings more business to your door. The more powerful you become, the greater is your responsibility to understand and be wise in the use of that power. We are a powerful nation. But not that bright. We can do a whole lot. But we have no sense of purpose. We have lots of data, but no sense of meaning. We live by rule of law. But we have no compassion for each other. To be rich in material wealth and impoverished of mind makes a person poisonous to his fellows. Go to college. It’s good for you.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive

Unless you have some entrepreneurial successful track record or can get the attention of venture capital to fund your innovation, just try and get someone to put their money on the table unless you have an education. Education may not be necessary, but statistics have shown that there are many more examples of success with education than without it. As a full-time faculty member teaching Web Design and Multimedia Design in a community college, I bring industry into the classroom so students get hands-on experience solving business problems. I can tell you that most of my students (not all but most) do not have the skill sets or vision to innovate an industry. However, by the time they leave they have an idea of what it takes and some skill sets to build on. Oh… and a degree to get a job in the meantime.

Posted by dalerrogers | Report as abusive

I believe that a very important factor that is not instilled in our students throughtout their life, is self determination. Most people grow up, complacent and afraid to follow their dreams.
We need to educate our students at the elementary level and throughout High School to believe in themselves and read. It is through reading that they will seek the education and skills that they require as they weave their own success. One of the greatest gift to entrepreneurship that was given to this generation is access to mass information through the Internet. self-education and determination will allow you to achieve the success you seek.

Posted by Fratianni | Report as abusive

After a certain point a person can educate themselves quite well.
Gates was extremly educated when he decided to build a commerical operating system.

Of course they need to be educated!

Posted by xilus | Report as abusive

I don’t think it’s a question of university vs. no university. I think it IS a question of education vs. no education.

I’d guess that successful entrepreneurs never stop learning, in school or out. Most of them challenge themselves in everything they do, they look at our transport systems, video games, magazines, just about everything with a critical eye and a learning mind.

If sitting in class each day taking notes on someone else’s opinion will not ‘give’ you a complete education, then you need to go find it somewhere else.

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of people in the world. A small proportion of them THINK – they have a chance of being successful. A small proportion of those thinkers also DO – and it is these precious few, unafraid of failure, who have a chance of changing the world.

And if DOing involves dropping out of uni, then so be it.

Student. Age 24.

Posted by Justanotherguy | Report as abusive

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Posted by Political Correctness & All That Jazz « THINKING: Middle of the road Libertarian? Maybe… | Report as abusive

Education is very important I do agree, especially as commented on by dalerrogers above.

The degree itself might be useless if you don’t end up in an industry where you can apply it, BUT the skills attain…the life experience, the understanding of how certain things work and how “things fit together” so to speak can save a LOT of time and expensive life lessons.

Yes, the school of life is important, but combined with a degree, diploma or higher certificate can open more doors and perhaps get you in front of the right people.

I think its naive to use the Henry Fords and the Bill Gates’s of this world as an argument to support the idea that education is not important.

20, 30 years ago you could walk into some banks and probably get a personal loan or line of credit with as much as a handshake. The world just does not work like that any more, and never will again.

Much of what is needed for business-, even everyday life these days can only be obtained with a clear criminal history, clear credit records, good credentials, a solid education, business plans…and more and more perhaps a good mix of the above !

Do the college, go to University if you can.

Funding your next big idea could be much easier with a decent job, as opposed to maybe having to take a minimum wage job due to a lack of education.

Posted by OffshoreAdvice | Report as abusive

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Posted by Friday’s Entrepreneur Corner: Too Cool For School? Why Education is Important for Entrepreneurs « Libre Blog | Report as abusive

education is not a necessarily key to enter be an entrepreneur, but its a key to enter world

Posted by aa123 | Report as abusive