Why Entrepreneurs should go to University

July 13th, 2009

There is some huge stat that 7/10 successful entrepreneurs are university drop outs.

But the key is they WENT to university.

Some of the handy stuff I learned from university that kept me in good stead…

1) Actually Listening

As an entrepreneur I realised the real value of university, so unlike my colleagues I actually paid attention in class, which has stood me in good stead since university.  Case studies, lessons learned, models all very helpful.  The application of these has helped me learn / grow my business / avoid pitfalls my peers make in an outstanding manner.

2) Forcing you to do stuff that’s painful

In business often you want to shy away from anything that is painful (*cough tax returns).  However Uni teaches you to persevere through this by forcing you to do papers and assignments you don’t like.  (Note: this is hugely valuable).

3) The people you meet

The absolute biggest value is the people I met and the relationships I forged.  University has introduced me to my best friends and extensive networks of interesting people.

4) Time to goof around

Sure starting a business at 18 is cool, but it is nice to goof around for a bit, realise the world isn’t on your shoulders, gives you time to experiment.  At university I started and sold three small businesses without a *need* for them to be massive successes.  A sandbox persay. (Case in point Facebook started whilst the founder was at uni.)

5) A train ticket

Gaining a degree allowed me to take on much higher paying jobs in order to finance some of my ventures.  It also provides a fallback should you ever need it.

6) Freebies!

Being a student allows you many freebies, business advice, legal advice, entrance to events, business speakers, networks, alumni.  Hey I even leveraged my role as a student to get into a conference (for free by helping out with registrations) where I met Sir Bob Geldof amongst others.

If you attend university with the right attitude it will accelerate your learning and avoidance of mistakes others have already made.  Thus (I believe) cancelling out the time you have invested in uni.

(Update: By the above statement ‘but the key is they WENT to university’ I wanted to more quash the common defence I hear ‘but yeah the good entrepreneurs drop out’, unfortunately it has been understood by a few as causation, moreso hey they went to uni maybe they got the same stuff I did out of it, thanks guys -Ben).

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16 Responses to “Why Entrepreneurs should go to University”

  1. Nik Says:

    People take you more seriously once you’ve proven your mettle against three or four years of mind-numblingly boring drudgery.

    “There is some huge stat …” – Interested to read this, Citation Required? 😛

    (P.S “persay” is actually “per se”)

  2. Ben Young Says:

    @Nik No citation 😛 And thanks for pointing out, learn something everyday.

    You can keep university interesting with side projects – the goofing around time 🙂

  3. Luke Says:

    Ben, totally agree with your statement “But the key is they WENT to university.” The reason I went to University, was to get the bit of paper at the end.

    The “Train Ticket”.

    This bit of paper has helped open doors which I would otherwise have found deadlocked. The problem was I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

    Now, I wish I had slowed down a little more and taken advantage of points 3 and 4! Sure I started a business, which failed (good lessons learned though) and I travelled a little, but the extra time (26 weeks of holidays!) I had to apply myself without pressure to succeed could have been utilised in a more effective way.

    The funny thing is I’m back at University now (Extramurally) and paying a lot more attention because you have to teach yourself, so maybe this time things will be different!

  4. sue Says:

    Bob Jones always said he’d hire arts graduates over anyone else becuase of the the research skills and broader awareness of the world they had.

  5. Ben Young Says:

    @Luke Thanks for sharing! And yeah this time take advantage of the ‘Freebies’ doors open when you say you are a student wanting to learn or get ahead etc etc.

    @Sue Very very true, I would concur with Bob Jones.

  6. Craig Dewe Says:

    I think uni for me was more about finding out about myself than the course material. In fact, I learnt my chosen course bored me and it led to my passion. It also gave me the first steps toward that passion.

    It also gives you that buffer from being a know-it-all teenager to being an almost-know-it-all uni student to a there-is-so-much-to-learn adult.

  7. Ben Young Says:

    @Craig That’s right, gives you a bit of time to grow up. I don’t think high school prepares you for the real world and university provides that buffer for you.

  8. Julian Says:

    University or not is completely irrelevant. What matters is perseverance, focus, attitude, creating value and carefully planned growth strategies.

    Many Uni and Non-Uni people have succeeded in business and with entrepreneurship, but the common denominators are attitude, focus and drive.

    Look at your mate Branson, no Uni and about as immature as a 3yo but a lively driven character – and he succeeded.

    Not only that, but look at all the BRANDS he used to do it, ie: Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Records, Virgin Flowers, Virgin Money and about 50 others:

    (That was a wee dig on the Branding 101 post)

  9. Ben Young Says:

    @Julian Thanks, I’m not stating entrepreneurs need a degree to succeed I am merely pointing out what you can get out of it as an entrepreneur :).

    Success as an entrepreneur is a whole other topic, of which you mention a few things I’d mention.

  10. Julian Says:

    There’s a whole argument for “Street Smarts” vs “Education”.
    Remember who won the first ‘Apprentice’ show with Trump?

  11. Ben Kepes Says:

    I’m with Julian on this (and no I never went to Uni after school but did go to tech/uni later on – ending up with a trade certificate, three national diplomas and a (tiny) part of an LLB) – I believe Bob Jones quote is actually that he’d never hire university graduates, or that he’d hire them after graduates of the real world.

    Granted as Nik says it gives you the cred to have got through 3-4 years of boredom but that time could have been spent proving things even better elsewhere….

  12. Ben Kepes Says:

    Oh and I deal with a bunch of university grads every day (and quite a few post grads/post docs) they’re often geniuses (genii?) in their fields but have no broad ranging skill base upon which to build….

  13. Ben Young Says:

    @Ben @Julian What makes up the success of an entrepreneur is for a whole other blog post or more likely a book! I am merely pointing out reasons why entrepreneurs should go to uni – you can just as equally point out reasons why they shouldn’t.

  14. Simon Young Says:

    “But the key is they WENT to university.”

    Well, I went to university … last year, as a consultant, and this year, as a guest lecturer. But apart from that … zilch.

    Having said that, I hugely agree with your post. The education system has a lot more going for it than just pure information (the web’s for that!).

    There’s also a case to be made for a gap year or something that gets you exposed to the real world. Winston Churchill didn’t go to university, then discovered reading when he was a soldier in Afghanistan. He learned by mail order, hungrily devouring textbooks his mother would send him. I can relate, as you’ve seen by my textbook collection (which I am going to read one day! 🙂

  15. Ben Young Says:

    Hey guys, I updated the post, just to clear the air for those that took a different meaning away from it.

    (Update: By the above statement ‘but the key is they WENT to university’ I wanted to more quash the common defence I hear ‘but yeah the good entrepreneurs drop out’, unfortunately it has been understood by some as causation, moreso hey they went to uni maybe they got the same stuff I did out of it, thanks guys -Ben).

  16. Carl Says:

    Yeah I went to the university of hard knocks…my dad died when I was 16, so I ran the family farm/estate, I learnt perseverance, goal setting, and bumped shoulders with the IRD!
    At the same time I had school mates go to uni, and I envied them, so had to do my learning as Simon referred to like Winston Churchill.
    I think the uni ticket would be advantageous at times, however, the ability to think and apply oneself is always a good start.

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