Tag Archives: business innovation

Do you need an MBA to be an Entrepreneur?

Do I need an MBA to be an entrepreneur

By EIBF President, David Falzani MBE

Since the MBA first materialised more than a century ago it’s been intrinsically linked to business career success.  After all, the programme is designed to prepare professionals for senior management positions within business, so it’s little wonder that many of those with MBAs have gone on to have wonderful business careers. You would therefore be forgiven for thinking that an MBA would be an invaluable – and even necessary – tool for launching your own business.  However, the answer to the questions ‘do you need an MBA to be an entrepreneur’ is a little more nuanced than you might initially think.

In today’s fast-paced digital business landscape, starting a business is easier than it’s ever been.  Start-ups are everywhere, and guess what? The vast majority are not led by people with MBAs.  Most people with that entrepreneurial fire tend to ‘learn by doing’, usually picking up useful advice from mentors and role models along the way.  Depending on their type of business, some of them may even enrol in educational accelerator programmes such as the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub which is aimed at engineers.  If these entrepreneurs do take on an MBA, it’s usually after they’ve completed their first foray into the world of business. That’s not to say an MBA can’t be hugely advantageous, but it certainly isn’t a requirement.

When MBAs were first established, they were not really geared toward entrepreneurship. They were, and still are, a primer for business. They were designed to whet the appetites of candidates and equip them with the basic tools and knowledge needed to go on and thrive in their business careers, in whatever role they chose. However, like business itself, the MBA is always evolving. The past 15 years in particular have seen the MBA change considerably, now offering lots of entrepreneurial options that could easily set somebody on the path to launch their own enterprise.

Twenty years ago when I did my MBA, which spanned Europe and the USA, things looked quite different.  The European portion of my MBA had no exposure to entrepreneurship as a subject at all, whereas the USA portion not only recognised entrepreneurship, but dedicated a separate branch of teaching to it that covered specialised techniques and approaches to business.  Of course, things have changed today.  So, if you are considering an MBA and have that entrepreneurial fire within you, know that there are MBAs out there that will fully support it and arrange their teaching around it.  In fact, most MBAs will have a leaning one way or another depending on the schools that are providing them, and the electives that are available – that’s why it’s crucial to pick the right course at the right institution, and entrepreneurship is no exception.

While it probably doesn’t hurt to have an MBA, with the wealth of knowledge it brings, don’t let the fact that you don’t have one (or don’t have the time/resources to get one) hold you back. There are countless ways to quench that entrepreneurial thirst, from entrepreneurship programmes at universities to local business groups that let you liaise with successful business leaders.  An MBA is a valuable asset, but it’s far more focused on the bigger picture.  You might even find that you learn more from an MBA once you’ve tried your hands at business. Whether you win or lose, the experience alone will be enough to prepare you for an MBA, in the same way we recommend a few years in industry first for those thinking about an MBA as part of their career development.

An MBA is a fantastic educational experience that can provide a great career boost, but if your sole objective is to start your own business there’s probably a better route you can take in 2020.  For example, I’m a trainer on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business UK programme that runs out of Oxford University.  Each year it attracts 140 brilliant small business CEOs and very few of them have MBAs.  What they do have, however, is a huge amount of support and business advice from mentor figures and people taking part in the programme.  Similarly, there are many regional programmes specifically for start-ups, often run by local universities or business schools.

For example, at the University of Nottingham, where I’m a professor, we have a start-up Lab for new businesses, and more than 50 entrepreneurs in residence who are available to mentor, support and run workshops for young aspiring business leaders. While higher education qualifications are still very much valued, there seems to be an increasing appetite in entrepreneurial circles for raw, ‘learn by doing’ experience and the kind of knowledge that can really only be passed down from one successful business person to the next.

With this in mind, it’s safe to say that an MBA is most certainly not a requirement if you’re looking to start up your own business. By all means view it as an option, but know that there’s a wealth of support, advice and mentorship out there that could get you to where you need to be far more effectively and faster than an MBA.

If and when the time is right for you to do an MBA and you are a professional engineer considering an MBA, you can apply for a scholarship towards your study. Visit our MBA scholarship application page to learn about our £500,000 annual Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarships.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

A Decade of Achievements for EIBF

As we say goodbye to 2019 and welcome a new decade, we reflect on some of our milestones.  We would like to thank our Patron, Lord Sainsbury of Turville and his Gatsby Charitable Foundation, our Sainsbury Management Fellows, partners and associates, who have helped us achieve so much in the last 10 years.

2009/10: Published Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth, promoting multi-skilled engineers as business leaders.

2011: The Sainsbury Management Fellowship becomes incorporated and a company limited by guarantee.  The legal name becomes Engineers in Business Fellowship.

2012: Engineers in Business Fellowship becomes a registered charity.

2013: Executive Fundraising Committee is formed and plans to raise an initial target of  £5 million.

2014: Launch of Engineers in Business Competition Prize Fund for university enterprise education.

2015:  Published Engineering New Horizons, promoting the exciting careers of 25  Sainsbury Management Fellows.

2016: EIBF and the Royal Academy of Engineering launch promotions to increase the diversity of SMF applicants.

2017: EIBF President David Falzani receives the MBE for services to the engineering industry.

2017: SMF Fundraising campaign raises £2.1m to help sustain the MBA scholarship scheme.

2017: SMFs’ 30 Years Anniversary commemorated with the launch of Mentor30Engineers university competition.

 2018: Our MBA scholarship is raised from £30,000 to £50,000 and applications extended to computer sciences and tech engineers.

2018:  Engineers in Business Competition expands support for university enterprise education from four to 32 universities – £135,000 awarded already, with a £700,000 pot available.

2019: EIBF President David Falzani MBE appointed Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at the University Nottingham.

2019: Our Hard Hat Index reveals a dramatic 37% fall in the publication of hard hats in the engineering media.

2019: Over £9 million in Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA scholarships awarded to talented young engineers to study at the top international business schools

 2019: Our first Engineers in Business Champion of Champions Grand final sees 10 university teams compete for £10,000 in prizes with innovations in surfing, prosthetics for children, medical cell counting services and personal safety devices coming out on top.

It’s been a very fruitful and rewarding 10 years –  here’s to the next 10 years!

If you have any questions about Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship, please get in touch.


Government Regulation and Today’s Tech Giants: How Far Should They Go?

There have been several points in our recent history whereby a new innovation or technology has come hurtling towards us, but debate and regulation on these advances don’t come to fruition until they are engrained into our daily lives. One of the best examples of this is the motor car. By the turn of the 20th century, owning your own motor car, although a reserve of the wealthy, was not especially uncommon. It wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the first road sign came along and that serious conversations were being had about safety, necessity and regulation.

Technology is inside our lives. We depend on digital technology in virtually every arena of life, whether it be shopping, doing our jobs, navigation, entertainment, communication… technology plays a huge part. This puts a lot of power in the hands of those who own and develop the technology that is now so integral to our modern existence. Of course, regulation and debate have been part of this landscape for quite some time, so long in fact that we, the public, and the lawmakers, government organisations, are starting to fatigue.  Technology has been moving so fast for so long, and the regulatory bodies have been trying to catch up before the next advance, that tech firms are, arguably, starting to break away.

Laws and regulation are key to the way society works and the tech giants that now hold so much power should be held within some kind of regulatory structure, but to what extent? How important is it to strap laws on to our technology? Should these big technology innovators be allowed to have the power that they currently seem to wield? Will over regulation stunt innovation and development? It’s a big subject, with many sides to it and many strong arguments to back them up. However, let us explore just a few of the ideas surrounding this, to help inform the arguments around this important global discussion.

GDPR and Trust
One of the largest, if not the largest concern around modern digital technology hinges around trust. Can we trust the internet and the people who hold the keys? The fear that many people have really stems from the fact that large companies are not generally perceived as entirely trustworthy. This is not surprising, as although technology is generally developed to improve our lives, the main aim of a company is to make profit.

Personal data was being mistreated in many cases, which led to the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2017. The main purpose of this was to, essentially, put some control back into the hands of consumers, and less so the tech companies. This legislation has been effective in making companies treat personal data more carefully, and in increasing transparency about how they use information. This accountability seems to be beneficial to all on the whole, but has it stunted innovation and company growth significantly?

Tech Company Power and Necessary Privacy Violation
This issue is littered with grey areas. Of course, we should be the owners of our own personal data and should have power over where that information goes and who uses it. However, let’s take an incident from 2016; the FBI approached Apple in 2016 to attempt to unlock a convicted terrorist’s phone. This phone had been programmed to delete all data after ten failed password attempts. Apple refused to comply due to company policy. Who was in the right in this case? Well, there are, again, strong arguments on both sides. The issue here is that neither the FBI nor Apple were legally in the wrong; which tells us that the power of tech giants is very real and not to be underestimated.

Limiting Growth
The problem that many technology companies have with regulation, and indeed the potential for ‘over-regulation’ is that it has the ability to significantly stunt growth and innovation, or even halt it altogether. The thought is that, with the altercations and debates currently flaring up between the government, the public and the companies themselves around many legal, ethical and restriction issues, overly compensatory legislation will be passed. That is, in order to ‘get ahead’ of the rapid advances happening in the industry, unnecessarily drastic and stringent laws may be passed in order to give the government time to catch up. This may help to redress the power balance, but it might also prevent new ideas and developments from breaking through.  

Intellectual Property
The once distant idea of artificial intelligence (AI) is now very much a reality. With self-learning tech and AI being a large part of our global technology platforms, the lines between who owns what are becoming increasingly blurred. This not only has potential pitfalls when it comes to legal issues but also the ability for technology to learn, independent of human input, which could lead to the acquisition of personal data on a huge scale. This may be a place where strong legislation is vital.

The essential question with all of this is: ‘is our technology safe and fair?’ This, through lawmaking and legislation, has always been the government’s aim with new, culture-shifting technology. However, the speed at which technology now advances makes this pursuit very tricky indeed. Yes, rules and regulations should be present, but to what extent? Do the cons of the current technological power balance between businesses and governing bodies outweigh the pros?

What do you think?