Benefits of Taking a Non-MBA Degree as an Entrepreneur


Editorial’s note: When it comes to studying further for your graduate school degree, Master of Business Administration (MBA) seems to be the most popular choice. This is even more relevant if you are already “expert” in the field of work that you do. However, sometimes you could get more perspectives by taking a non-MBA degree that is of your interest. Our contributor, who is an entrepreneur, is here to share his experience on his decision in taking a non-MBA degree.

Many prospective graduate students who had already taken business majors in their undergraduate degree or have already engaged in entrepreneurial activities before going to graduate school often ask me – “How can a non-MBA degree contribute to my future entrepreneurial success?”

4067845528_55f33fedfa_zBefore I answer this question let me start off with a brief background about myself. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Economics back in undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Economic/International Development (MPA/ID) from Harvard University. In between the two degrees, friends and I co-founded, whereby I was the Chief Business Development and Lead Data Scientist of the firm from 2011-2017. Many people throughout my career would ask me, “why take a non-MBA degree knowing that you will come back to” I would answer them that I wanted to learn new innovative concepts that could disrupt the industry that I am in, and often times this comes from a technical (sciences/mathematics/economics/education and the like) degree, rather than from an MBA degree.

(Not to mention that some of the successful entrepreneurs of our time like Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg are do not hold an MBA degree!)

As for my own experience, my degree on economic/international development had a high exposure to advanced level mathematics. There, we learnt the microeconomics concept of game theory to understand human/firm behavior in an oligopoly market (something I faced in Indonesia’s online travel industry); and econometrics, which taught me how to create associative links between a particular output and a particular program (i.e. a discount/marketing/loyalty program).

However, there are certain pitfalls that budding entrepreneurs have to address when taking a non-MBA/technical degree in order to maximize their education:

  1. Networking. Technical degrees tend to be more academically challenging than MBA programs and at times students may get sucked into studying to an extent that they forgot to network. The aim here is to a strike a balance between learning and networking. Mingle and get to know people from the MBA program and other technical degrees. (They may be your future business partner one day!)
  2. Understand the Big Picture. Be a macro thinker; more often than not, not all parts of your course will be relevant to what you will be doing in the future. Find which ones will do and focus most of your attention on them. Remember that the pareto rule also applies to your education.
  3. Utilize your School’s Incubator System. Most leading schools in the US will have an incubator attached to their business school. School sponsored incubators provide many advantages including: the school’s brand name (plus point for any future fundraising), co-working space, mentorship, and a network of alumni and current students who are/have faced the same struggles as yours. Make sure you use these advantages!

35266011606_2e63c26a5c_zUltimately, taking a technical/non-MBA degree provides unique advantages to any aspiring entrepreneur. The best option would be to take a joint-degree of a technical degree and an MBA degree. However, if time/resource is of a constraint, one should still give serious thought of whether to choose a technical degree or an MBA for their Master’s program. Most importantly though – “Good Luck in your applications!”  

Photos are illustrative from Flickr.

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Jonathan Natakusuma is in charge of business and corporate strategy, investor relations and the company's data science team. Prior to he was a Junior Professional Associate in The World Bank focusing on projects in the People's Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Indonesia. He finished his Master's Degree in Economic/International Development (MPAI/ID) in Harvard University in 2015 with a side focus on Data Science in the Computer Science Department. In his spare time he enjoys playing jazz tunes on his soprano saxophone and a game of friendly basketball.