You don’t need an MBA — or even a B.A. — to start a successful company, as billionaire CEOs like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have proved. Nonetheless, enrolling in the right graduate program can give you a leg up. The best programs for prospective business owners not only offer valuable learning experiences, but also can put you in touch with successful businesspeople (who might become your mentors or even provide funding for your fledgling startup).
- Graduate School of Business Program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Stanford University. Thanks in part to Stanford’s Silicon Valley location, its MBA students can take advantage of lecture opportunities from thought leaders such as author Guy Kawasaki, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Amazon senior VP Diego Piacentini. Classes are held in the evenings, so there’s no need to quit your day job. An optional four-week Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship gives Stanford students and San Francisco Bay Area residents an opportunity to polish their business ideas and pitch them to real venture capitalists.
- Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Rice University. The Rice University Alliance — a partnership of the Houston-based institution’s business, engineering, and natural sciences schools — is dedicated to funding and promoting new tech companies. Its graduate program offers coursework in diverse topics, from business-plan development to biotechnology, as well as internship opportunities with NASA and venture-capital firms. Rice also hosts an annual business-plan competition, which to date has awarded more than $1 million (combined) to its winners.
- MBA in Entrepreneurship, Acton School of Business. This small, hands-on program in Austin, Texas, is a hard-core commitment that wraps up in one year. (Acton’s FAQ page recommends a 19-hour daily schedule that starts at 5:30 a.m.!) The school offers ample resources to students: All of the MBA program’s professors are successful entrepreneurs, and courses such as “The Life of Meaning” provide insight into how to balance the demands of work, family, and community. Best of all, Acton offers most students a $50,000 fellowship to cover the entire cost of tuition, fees, and materials.
- Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, Brigham Young University. So what if you can’t get a beer at BYU? The Salt Lake City campus is home to one of the country’s best entrepreneurship programs, which features a wealth of courses in business management and entrepreneurship. It also gives students access to internships, networking opportunities, and funding through Entrepreneur Founders (a network of hundreds of successful local businesspeople and investors). The school also recently hosted its first BYU Entrepreneurship Week, which featured a mobile-app competition, a startup marketplace, and a “speed pitch” mentoring session.