So you dream of starting your own company - great news! But if you’re also thinking of going to university, then what should you study to lay the foundation for your future as a startup founder?
This article is written by Gerrit Bruno Blöss, Founder and CEO of Study.eu. He studied two different subjects before he embarked on his journey as an entrepreneur. Which ones? To find out, read on:
Many successful startup founders have a background in Business Administration or in Computer Science. I myself fall into both areas - first an undergraduate degree in Informatics, then a postgrad in Finance. What I learnt during my own studies has served me well as a founder.
But the truth is: There is no ideal subject that prepares you for becoming an entrepreneur. There also isn’t a wrong subject! Just because there are not that many magazine covers with founders who studied Environmental Engineering or Sociology does not mean that this couldn’t be you - if that’s where your passion lies.
If you are unsure what subject suits you, but want to prepare for a career as an entrepreneur, then you should consider getting a degree in Entrepreneurship.
Some people think that Entrepreneurship and academia are at odds, because one is about “doing” and the other about “learning and researching”. That stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the entrepreneurial process: Over the past few decades, Entrepreneurship has evolved into a science of sorts, with well-established concepts and methods that can be taught and have helped many a startup scale successfully. These days, many universities and business schools across Europe offer Entrepreneurship degrees.
Most Entrepreneurship programmes combine Business with areas like Product Development or Project Management; and sometimes technical aspects like Software Engineering. There are also more specialised programmes that come with a focus on certain markets, niches or technologies.
At the Bachelor’s level (find Entrepreneurship Bachelors), this usually means you’ll become a generalist, while a Master’s degree will help you take your previous background in a startup direction (find Entrepreneurship Masters).
Many factors play a role in picking the right university or business school if you want to study Entrepreneurship, or another subject, but with the plan of one day founding your own company. Here are the ones you should pay close attention to:
A lot of universities and business schools offer Entrepreneurship degree programmes, but not all are good or even worth their money. If you’re expected to pay high tuition fees, judge carefully - and use the chance to speak to an admissions officer to learn more.
Don’t let them get off too easily! Here are questions you should ask:
Don’t worry too much about university rankings. Classic rankings focus on factors that will be irrelevant to your chosen path, like academic reputation or number of research paper citations. Business school rankings, on the other hand, often focus on factors like salary increases that also don’t apply to founders.
So, rankings are largely irrelevant if you want to study Entrepreneurship, with one exception: if you plan to found a company in a research-driven niche such as a high-tech sector. In this case, access to world-class research facilities and leading academics is a key factor. Especially if your business idea will need significant funding, a strong university brand will lend legitimacy to your enterprise when you approach investors.
If a university is highly reputed in your chosen field and offers a programme with a major or minor focus on Entrepreneurship, then go for it!
Regardless of the subject, it’s worth exploring study options abroad. You may have great universities close to home, but I strongly recommend you look beyond your comfort zone.
As a foreign student, you will inevitably face many challenges that may seem unfair (and often are). Why is that visa process so complicated? Why is that language so hard to learn? Accepting and handling such challenges is part of the personal growth you will experience when attending university in another country. And it’s a great way to prepare for life as an entrepreneur: Unfair challenges are pretty much the norm when you run a company of your own!
A university degree is not necessary to become a successful startup founder. In fact, some of history’s most successful entrepreneurs had no degree.
But: Don’t fixate on outliers like Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg! Not only do you fall prey to survivorship bias, because who tells the story of all the college drop-outs who did not become billionaires? But, more importantly, your individual circumstances are very likely not comparable to theirs.
Here’s a fact: Finish college or university with a degree and you will have more options than if you drop out or never enrol at all. As far as that, going to university and getting a degree is worth it. You’ll be better-qualified, be more mature, and have a larger personal and professional network.
Luckily, getting a university degree and starting a company are not mutually exclusive endeavours. You can study now and become an entrepreneur later; or you can start a company, and go back to university at a later stage. (The latter regardless, of course, whether the startup failed or you successfully exited for millions of euros.) Yet, the old question of work experience vs. university remains a tricky one:
The backgrounds of startup founders are as diverse as the companies you’ll find out there. Many founders these days tend to have degrees in Business Administration (mostly those that then are CEOs at their startups) or Computer Science / Software Engineering (mostly those that become the CTOs). But it gets a lot more diverse than that.
Just for fun, and to underline the point that there are many paths for you, here are a couple of examples - founders of highly valued European startups and where they studied:
The right next step for you might be an Entrepreneurship degree; it might also be one of a million other things.
If there’s one thing that unites all successful startup founders regardless of their education, it’s passion for what they are doing. And that extends to your choice of university and programme: Don’t decide to study something you have no interest in just because it seems like a smart choice. So: Go for what you are passionate about! Passion fuels creativity, and that is - quite literally - the key ingredient when you plan to create an enterprise.96 Entrepreneurship Programmes in Europe