Sometimes people ask me why entrepreneurship education should be taught within our MBA program if most students don’t aspire to launch a venture immediately post-graduation. The answer is twofold: first, cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset is an essential skill for today’s business leaders and, second, entrepreneurship may not be the first step out of an MBA. In fact, a recent survey of our graduates suggests it’s a pathway that many choose later in their careers.  

An Entrepreneurial Mindset

Cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset and honing an entrepreneurial toolkit helps our students excel throughout their professional journey, even if they never desire to start their own venture.

At the heart of entrepreneurship is the ability to identify a problem worth solving, develop a solution that meets and addresses that specific problem; test, in a resource-efficient way, whether or not the target customers will pay you for the solution; and marshal resources to support and scale the effort. At Fuqua, we define this as the entrepreneurial mindset. The entrepreneurship courses at Fuqua and the co-curricular programs offered through the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) are designed to cultivate exactly these competencies, which can be applied to driving growth through innovation inside a larger organization or launching a startup venture.

Fuqua believes in the importance of the entrepreneurial mindset so strongly that in 2020 we introduced the Entrepreneurial Mindset and Action course and required it of all Daytime MBA candidates. The course allows students to learn and apply their newly acquired entrepreneurial mindset through hands-on, in-class exercises and an innovation project that threads through the course. The course content is designed to ensure Fuqua is preparing graduates with skills that will make them stand out among their peers as innovators inside large firms as well as prepare them to be successful in future entrepreneurial endeavors. I love learning stories about how the course is already making a difference, like this blog post by Claudia Ceballos, Daytime MBA Class of 2022.

Becoming an Entrepreneur Mid-Career

While entrepreneurship may not be the first professional step out of an MBA degree, a recent survey of more than 1,300 of our Fuqua alumni found that 16% launch an entrepreneurial venture over the course of their career journey. Additionally, we learned that our alumni start their entrepreneurial journey on average 13 years after they complete their MBA.

While this may seem surprising to some, this is in line with an extensive body of research that studies successful entrepreneurs. Despite the fact that the media celebrates the persona of the recent college graduate living out of their parent’s garage, research has found that the average age of successful entrepreneurs is actually 45 years old. At this stage of their careers, individuals have deep knowledge and expertise within an industry and know what problems are meaningful and need to be solved. This is embodied in Fuqua alum Wayne Cavanaugh, who experimented with entrepreneurship during his time at Fuqua, gained operating experience through working in private equity post-graduation, before founding his own venture, Ninja Nation, a franchise of obstacle course arenas targeting youth and adults.

Given this, it’s clear why an entrepreneurship education curriculum that focuses on cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset is the perfect fit with an MBA. Fuqua’s approach to cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset among all our students, not only students well in the early stages of their career as they support the growth of their chosen employer, but it also equips them with the skills that they will need when they see the right opportunity later in their careers and are ready to take the entrepreneurial leap. 

Editor’s Note: Since this blog was published, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) was incorporated into Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (Duke I&E), a partnership between Fuqua and Duke Interdisciplinary Studies. You can read more about that partnership here.