Many entrepreneurs struggle with whether they should go to university or just jump straight in with their business ideas. Fortunately, Richard Branson has some advice for those still trying to decide…
“A degree in business may not offer the kind of security people used to expect,” the Virgin Group founder says in a recent blog. “Going to university is the right choice if you’re looking to become a scientist, architect or doctor. A programme of study in one of those fields is essential preparation, though you don’t stop learning after the degree is done – my daughter Holly who studied medicine is a great example.”
But, he says, an entrepreneur’s education is on the job, through personal experience. “You probably know that Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of school and went on to found successful businesses instead,” he says. “Nobody would question whether any of those entrepreneurs could run a business. They didn’t develop their unique and compelling approaches to disruptive innovation and leadership by reading a textbook, but by living through the thrill, dread and sleepless nights that come with being an entrepreneur.”
While he admits that there are some great business leaders who have MBAs, Richard says that it seems unnecessary to him. “No matter how much you study the art of business or analyse famous entrepreneurs’ strategies, nothing can prepare you for the journey that is running a business.”
All entrepreneurs make mistakes, especially when starting out and Richard says, from a practical standpoint, it’s “best to go through that learning process when you’re younger and have less to lose”.
Richard says that the Virgin team has never agreed with encouraging young people who have entrepreneurial ambitions to go to university and get into debt when it isn’t their best option. That’s why the team lobbied the British government to launch the national StartUp Loans programme to help young entrepreneurs get funding, which led to the launch of non-profit Virgin StartUp.
“Young people in the UK have a choice,” Richard says. “They can go the traditional route and take out a loan and head off to university, or they can take out a loan and launch a business – with advice from Virgin StartUp’s network of expert mentors.”
The results speak for themselves. Since its launch in 2013, Virgin StartUp has given out more than 1,000 loans totalling more than £12 million.
“Programmes like that one give the new generation of entrepreneurs a helping hand, allowing people to turn their amazing ideas into reality,” Richard says. “And research shows that for every £1 that is loaned to a startup, another £3 is put back into the economy. Giving entrepreneurs options makes financial sense for our communities and our society.”
But, he notes, deciding to launch a start-up rather than go to university “doesn’t mean that you’re closing yourself off from learning and personal development. It simply means that you’ll find it in different places.”