Is Getting an MBA Worth It for an Entrepreneur?

By Vikram Joshi WG’08, founder of Proxim Diagnostics and Red Ladder Media

It was the summer of 2006.

The past winter I’d left a mid-level startup job and applied to MBA programs. I’d gotten into Wharton, which was amazing, but I still had some reservations. In my mind, being an entrepreneur and earning an MBA seemed like opposing forces: entrepreneurship is risky, fast-moving, and exciting, while MBA programs felt academic, methodical, and unimaginative.

The Proxim Diagnostics Profile Reader.
The Proxim Diagnostics Profile Reader: the result of Vikram Joshi’s entrepreneurial efforts.

I hedged, and decided to indulge the startup bug one more time before going back to school. I took a short term opportunity to move to LA and help a professor I knew spin-out a company from the local university. Little did I know that our work would immediately attract the interest of venture capitalists: we quickly closed our Series A, and the new organization was ready to embark on the process of building a company from the ground up. The investors offered me stewardship of the executive suite and more money than I had ever earned.  One caveat: postpone my MBA, which really meant forget about it.

This was mere weeks before I was supposed to be heading to Philadelphia and Wharton.

It seemed as if the choice was clear: be an entrepreneur, or get an MBA. But I decided it wasn’t that simple. After some serious introspection, I decided to go to follow my original plan and go to Wharton. Not because I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur—but because I did. I figured that ideas come and go, companies come and go, and if I truly was an entrepreneur I would find a way to hone this ability at school, then come out and leap back into the fray armed with tons of new knowledge and connections.

That was the theory, but it was still difficult, those first months at Wharton. From afar, I saw my friends hiring people, moving into a brand new facility, spending money like crazy and meanwhile, I was in some core class staring at my notes.  It took me 3 long months to finally accept that I was at school, and to dig in to the opportunities that were in front of me.

Once I acclimated to my new setting, I realized that it was a terrific testing ground for startup ideas.  I linked up with a friend of mine in LA who was developing a company in digital media targeted at the Chinese market. At Wharton, there were great resources that let me explore the subject matter and country—all without much risk. To be honest, I wouldn’t have touched this opportunity without the safety net of that environment. Through the programs at Wharton Entrepreneurship and various academic advisors, I was able to learn about the media industry and business models.  In regards to China, there were invaluable interactions with my many Chinese classmates as well as with professors who regularly taught and consulted there.  These resources and connections wouldn’t have been available to me in West LA.

Post MBA, the confidence gained from that experience allowed me to reach out and explore new regions for my current company.  As I explored business opportunities in Asia, I had this built-in experience of navigating new lands and the continuing aid of the Wharton network, which is still very much an active element in my life.

As an entrepreneur, the decision to seek an MBA is a difficult one. But entrepreneurship will continue to live inside of you wherever you go. If you’re pondering this choice, my advice is to use your environment to help cultivate that passion whatever your surroundings. You’ll surprise yourself with the number of open doors that present themselves. Even—or especially—at an MBA program.

Enjoy this post? Read more in our series Is Getting an MBA Worth It: Natasha Ashton’s post “An MBA Sent This Entrepreneur to the Dogs (Literally!)

IMG_HS(4)Bio: Vikram Joshi WG’08 is the founder and Chief Executive Officer at Proxim Diagnostics Corp., which is developing portable diagnostic testing systems and is based in Sunnyvale, CA. While at Wharton, Vikram co-founded Red Ladder Media, a digital media company targeted at the Chinese market. Vikram holds degrees in Materials Science and Engineering from Cornell and Stanford and a MBA from Wharton.

One comment on “Is Getting an MBA Worth It for an Entrepreneur?

  1. It was a nice read Vikram! Yes it is indeed difficult for an entrepreneur to go and join back an MBA course, leaving his company behind. However, doing an MBA, especially if you do it under the supervision of the best MBA faculty helps you gain immense confidence. It also gives you a wide exposure which allows you to expand your business in future.

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