Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Entrepreneur - Education & Skills

Entrepreneurs are a modern symbol of the American Dream. In the purest definition of the word, they’re business opportunists: they set up new businesses, taking on the initial financial risk in the hope of a later and greater profit. Dozens of entrepreneurs with humble beginnings have gone on to become household names, and accrued great wealth in the process. But the field of entrepreneurship is much wider than just the widely-known: there are over half-a-billion entrepreneurs across the globe, and a significant portion of them are motivated by their desire to make a difference in the world.

Entrepreneurs come in many forms. They can be funders, supplying capital to other businesses. They can be executives, leading businesses through critical growth stages. They can be founders of their own businesses or corporate innovators at larger companies. And, more often than not, they have to play several of these roles at once.

Self-belief and confidence are cited in the 2020 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report as two of the most reliable indicators of success as an entrepreneur. But solid fundamental knowledge in business-related fields is critical for a lasting, and profitable, career. Even though the idea of the college dropout turned millionaire is alluring, it’s not a common path to success: Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg got their MBAs, and aspiring entrepreneurs should strongly consider doing so, too. An entrepreneur needs to be able to spot opportunities, but they also need to know how to act upon them quickly, strategically, and competently.

Entrepreneurs are self-starting individuals, with varied backstories, and there’s no singular path to becoming one. Sometimes a killer idea and a lot of luck are enough to catapult someone to startup fame, but more often than not, they need a little more help than that. If you’re looking to plot your path into entrepreneurship, read on to get a step-by-step guide that gives you the best chance of success.

Step by Step Guide to Becoming an Entrepreneur

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, the first step to becoming an entrepreneur is earning a bachelor’s degree. While each school will have its own admissions requirements, they typically include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); letter(s) of recommendation; SAT and/or ACT scores; and a personal statement.

Entrepreneurs have some flexibility when choosing their undergraduate major. Although a business-related field is the most obvious and linear choice, focusing in a STEM-related field, such as IT or engineering, can open pathways into tech-oriented enterprises later on in one’s career.

Arizona State University offers an online bachelor of arts (BA) in business, with a concentration in business administration. Students will learn core business skills such as forecasting demand, planning inventory, conducting negotiations, and building strategies for the future. They’ll also learn the technical fundamentals they need, such as macroeconomics, finance, statistics, and accounting. The program consists of 120 credits and takes approximately four years to complete.

Southern New Hampshire University offers a bachelor of science (BS) in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship. In addition to learning business fundamentals, graduates will be able to accurately analyze entrepreneurial opportunities, problem-solve across a wide range of functional areas, and understand IT principles and applications. Classes cover topics such as entrepreneurship, small business management, business plan preparation, and business law. The program consists of 120 credits. Students in this program are also eligible for the university’s “Degree in Three” program, making it possible to graduate within three years.

Step 2: Gain Early Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After earning a bachelor’s degree, gaining early experience is a valuable option for aspiring entrepreneurs. This experience can include joining a startup team, working at a larger company in a business-related capacity, or even starting an entirely new business. Those starting their first business straight out of college are extremely likely, from a statistical point of view, to fail, but the goal of an entrepreneur, especially at this early stage, is not to have a perfect success record; failure is an important part of the learning process.

Aspiring entrepreneurs looking to accrue early experience should focus on expanding their professional network, exploring areas of opportunity, studying the inner-workings of successful businesses and/or entrepreneurs, understanding the needs of consumer markets, and selecting a field of focus. Getting experience early on in one’s career can help focus one’s ventures later on, and also help choose a concentration for graduate-level education.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two Years)

Pursuing a master’s degree is one of the easiest financial decisions an entrepreneur is likely to ever encounter. A master’s of business administration (MBA) degree can provide graduates with a firm understanding of the mechanisms of the business world; it also connects them to a network of similarly-minded professionals. And, should an entrepreneur wish to flex into a more supportive or executive role in between entrepreneurial projects, their MBA will likely earn them the position, along with a higher salary than a non-MBA candidate.

Entrance requirements for MBA programs will vary from school to school, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); letter(s) of recommendation; work experience; GMAT and/or GRE scores; and a personal statement.

The online MBA in innovation entrepreneurship program at Northeastern University D’Amore-McKim School of Business was recently ranked in the national top ten by Financial Times. The MBA in innovation entrepreneurship program includes elective courses such as managing operations in early-stage ventures; entrepreneurship services and retail business creation; new venture creation; global social entrepreneurship and innovation; entrepreneurial finance for high tech companies; and new product development.

The program consists of 50 credits in total and takes approximately two years to complete. Students may also choose to enroll in a dual-degree program that grants both the MBA and a master of science (MS) in finance.

The Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University offers an online MBA in entrepreneurship that was ranked in the top 20 by Princeton Review. Although the didactic material may be completed entirely online, students attend a limited number of in-person residency events for workshopping and networking with fellow students.

In addition to 36 credits of core business classes, students take electives in corporate entrepreneurship, venture capital, and managing new product development. In 2018, Whitman’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises (EEE) won the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Education Award from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE).

Step 4: Connect with the Entrepreneur Community (Ongoing)

Even in a solo-minded profession like entrepreneurship, no one does it alone. According to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, access to a knowledgeable and motivated network of other entrepreneurs is one of the most important factors in promoting the spread of entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur engages on the journey of starting up their first serious businesses, connecting with other entrepreneurs can provide a wider set of business opportunities, a deeper pool of technical talent, and a more satisfying professional career.

For social entrepreneurs who want to create new enterprises that have a positive impact on the world, Ashoka is the premier organization. Since its beginnings in 1981, it’s grown to become the largest network of social entrepreneurs, with over 3,800 members across the globe. Ashoka seeks to identify the top social entrepreneurs, to equip everyone to become a changemaker, and to accelerate a culture of social change across the world. Partnered with major industry heavyweights, they also provide start-up financing, networking opportunities, and professional support systems.

For entrepreneurs with their eyes firmly set on the world of business leadership, Vistage offers itself as the world’s largest CEO-coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize business leaders. For over 60 years, Vistage has provided members with personal advisory groups and group meetings that can focus on either individual problem solving or blue sky brainstorming. With over 18,000 members and 16,000 meetings a year, Vistage is a not-so-secret society that should be in every entrepreneur’s little black book.

Helpful Resources for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is a rapidly changing field. Business trends, best practices, and operational processes are in a constant state of flux. Especially as entrepreneurship becomes increasingly globally-minded, diversity-supportive, and sustainably-focused, it’s crucial to stay connected with the wider community. The organizations below can help you get started as an entrepreneur, and they can also help you become a better one.

  • Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)
  • Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)
  • Edward Lowe Foundation
  • The Entrepreneurs’ Club (TEC)
  • United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE)
Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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