Why Aren’t More MBAs Entrepreneurs?

Ever have a Jerry McGuire moment at work? Many MBAs have battled their share of qualms in the business world, but before you pass around your own version of “The Memo”, take a deep breath. Why change someone else’s corporate culture when you can create your own?

The time is ripe. More than 11.3 percent of adults in the United States were engaged in entrepreneurial activity in 2003, representing an increase from 10.5 percent recorded in 2002, according to the 5th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), a study of worldwide entrepreneurship.

The Debate: Innate Ability or Teachable?

Russell Simmons: An Empire Built on Phatness

Why is Russell Simmons schooling Harvard MBAs on innovation and enterprise? I remember thinking this as I hopped on 95 North, intent on attending Harvard’s 2003 Naylor Fitzhugh conference. As uptight as some of us business people can be, when Russell entered the room (in Phat Farm gear as usual), an explosion of applause ensued, to be punctuated with a deafening silence. We listened. We learned. We were inspired. Russell gets props. Why? Because he has what it takes… the hustle. Or- more eloquently- perseverance.

Simmons book, Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money, and God, talks about his personal transformation from street life to living in the Hamptons. It’s a must read for all hip-hop fans.

“You Can’t Stop The Hustle”- Jay-Z

Presently, 80 percent of hip-hop’s audience is white — not black. This majority has made hip-hop a $10 billion-a-year industry. Talk about “Phat” profits. The term “phat” is the essence of cool, and this essence inspired Russell Simmons to create a clothing line in 1992, Phat Farm, that he has just sold for $140 million. And that’s just one piece of his empire. You’d never guess who is his mentor-“The Donald”- as in Donald Trump.

Simmons is the consummate business person with ‘flava’. However, he has more than just a trophy wife. Kimora Lee Simmons, once a supermodel, is the Creative Director of Baby Phat, the sultry feminine line of Phat Farm. And she is quick to point out that she is more than meets the eye… she is a formidable businessperson in her own regard. According to CBS News: “We are fiercely competitive,” says Kimora. “For example, we made cell phones. We’re the first celebrities ever to have our own phone. My pink phone that I designed, that I sold to the girls. It was sold out before it hit the stores. It was re-ordered before it hit the stores and it was limited edition. So I want people to know that while his phone is greatly successful, mine is even more successful. So in that sense, we’re competitive… I’m a bad bitch, respectfully so,” she says, laughing. Russell and Kimora have two children, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee.

Howard Schultz: An Empire Built on a Cup of Coffee

He has many stories to tell. According to a recent issue of Fortune magazine, “he has now created an American institution”. And he’s not done yet.

Until he was a teenager, Howard Schultz lived in the Brooklyn ghetto. He has gone on to build Starbucks, the coffee company that many of us stumble tiredly into every morning. The comfortable ambiance of the stores- low lighting, warm colors, and plush chairs- lures laptops and laughter. It appears we’re there for more than just the coffee.

The growth of both Starbucks and Schultz has been phenomenal. Despite the overall economy, people are still plunking down $1.75 a morning for a cup of coffee, and stock was up 56% last year. Revenues increase on average, about 20% a year. Since its IPO in 1992, the stock has climbed an overall 3028%. Not bad. The company has opened a handful of stores in France this past January, and Schultz just keeps going.

Not only is the company dedicated to social responsibility, but Schultz seems to be a cool guy. As lead owner of the Seattle Supersonics, its pretty obvious that Schultz is a versatile visionary.

“…my mother was especially concerned.” -Howard Schultz

There have been failures along the way, as is expected of start up ventures and established corporations that dare to take risks. His book Pour Your Heart Into It, describes his passion and perseverance down the road of independence. “Taking a job at Starbucks would mean giving up that $75,000-a-year-job, the prestige, the car, and the co-op, and for what? …My mother was especially concerned.”

Given the fact that neither Simmons nor Schultz has a business degree, is entrepreneurship and education mutually exclusive? Not if the Kauffman Foundation has its way. It takes the desire to be independent, but also the educational foundation for a higher probability of success.

Kauffman Foundation: Leading the Way in MBA Entrepreneurial Development

UNC’s Kenan-Flager School of Business was one of eight chosen schools to receive a multi-million dollar grant from the The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation a few months ago. Under the competitive Kauffman Campuses initiative – the first such program of its kind – schools must match the Kauffman grant at least 2:1, ultimately directing a minimum of $75 million for the creation of new interdisciplinary entrepreneurship education programs in American higher education.

“College campuses are idea incubators where people learn skills and forge work habits and relationships that serve them all their lives,” said Rob Chernow, the Kauffman Foundation’s senior vice president of entrepreneurship. “We know there’s an entrepreneurial spirit sweeping across college campuses today, and we’re thrilled to build on this momentum so that entrepreneurship becomes a natural and vital aspect of the American educational experience.”

“If roughly one in ten Americans are trying to start a business, shouldn’t we be preparing more to succeed?” – Carl Schramm, pres of the Kauffman Foundation

The foundation has released the first-ever profile titled “MINORITIES AND VENTURE CAPITAL: A New Wave in American Business” . It examines the venture capital funds that make significant equity investments in minority business enterprises (MBEs). The report finds investments in MBEs resulted in healthy returns equal to, if not slightly higher than, traditional investments by mainstream venture capitalists.

With curricular developments, increased funding for ventures, and multiple entrepreneurial case competitions at many of the top business schools, now is the time to pursue your dream. Spending $100K on an MBA to go right back to Corporate America is not always best for everyone. If you have plans to start your own business as a prospective or current MBA, don’t underestimate the networking and educational credibility that an MBA affords. Now is the time.

For more information about the Kauffman Foundation.

-Keisha Dawn