You may be a little surprised at some of the best university degrees for starting a business. While many entrepreneurs come from a Computer Science background, a variety of academic fields have shaped formidable business leaders.
Let’s explore several of the strongest degrees for someone who wants to make a business from scratch. Whether it’s the analytical rigor of Economics, the innovation of Design, or the structured thinking of Engineering, diverse educational paths have been the foundation for many success stories. The entrepreneurial journey isn’t limited to just one field of study.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs gravitate towards a business degree, and it’s easy to see why. This degree covers critical subjects like finance, marketing, and growth strategies. Within its curriculum, students become familiar with creating business plans, understanding funding methods, managing staff, and analysing market dynamics.
Pros of a business degree for an entrepreneur include its wide applicability across industries, the confidence it instills to take leadership roles, a strong foundation in core business concepts, refined problem-solving abilities, and enhanced critical thinking.
On the flip side, a notable limitation is that, while a business degree offers a solid foundation in management, it might not always inspire the groundbreaking or fresh ideas needed to innovate.
A success example is Phil Knight , co-founder of Nike. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Oregon before getting an MBA from Stanford.
2. Computer Science
Computer Science degrees attract numerous budding entrepreneurs given the transformational innovations constantly occurring in the digital space. This technical degree covers programming, algorithms, data structures, and software design. Students learn about software development, system design, artificial intelligence, and digital innovations.
For an aspiring entrepreneur, a degree in computer science or a related field such as information technology, software engineering, or data science has obvious advantages. Rapid change in digital technologies creates innovation opportunities. Harnessing these chances requires a strong understanding of algorithms, software development, and system architectures, as well as the expanding envelope of technological capacity.
A prominent example of success in this domain is Larry Page, co-founder of Google. He did a Computer Science Bachelor’s from the University of Michigan and later a Ph.D. in the same field at Stanford, where the seeds of Google were planted. Other famous founders with a computing background include Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.
Engineering degrees have long been a go-to for those with a passion for innovation and problem-solving. Spanning disciplines like mechanical, electrical, civil, and biomedical, engineering develops skills in design, optimization, and practical application of principles. Students are introduced to project management, systematic problem-solving, and the art of turning concepts into tangible products or solutions.
The strength of an engineering degree for entrepreneurs is manifold. It builds a rigorous analytical mindset, a knack for designing solutions to real-world problems, and a discipline in executing complex projects. Furthermore, the hands-on experience garnered in labs and workshops can be invaluable in product development and prototyping.
A classic success story from this field is Elon Musk, CEO of multiple ventures like Tesla and SpaceX. While Musk holds degrees in both physics and economics, his engineering mindset and approach are evident in the way he has disrupted industries, from electric vehicles to space travel.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, studied at Princeton University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
4. MBA (Master of Business Administration)
The MBA stands as a cornerstone in business education, often chosen by people aiming to elevate their strategic, managerial, and leadership capabilities.
For an entrepreneur, an MBA provides a significant edge. It arms you with a robust set of skills that goes beyond foundational business knowledge. These kinds of program are ideal for those looking to successfully grow and run a business. They incorporate real-world business scenarios and offer networking opportunities with fellow entrepreneurs and professionals.
While the MBA is relevant and well-rounded, some might argue that its structured nature doesn’t always nurture the free-thinking spirit of entrepreneurship. Nonetheless, the balance of strategic vision, leadership development, and hands-on skills is invaluable.
Examples of successful entrepreneurs with MBA degrees include Phil Knight (co-founder of Nike, MBA from Stanford), Whitney Wolfe Herd (founder and CEO of Bumble, MBA from Southern Methodist University), Scott McNealy (co-founder of Sun Microsystems, MBA from Stanford), and John Sculley (former CEO of Apple and PepsiCo, MBA from Wharton).
5. Design and Fine Arts
In an era where branding, user experience, and aesthetic appeal are paramount, degrees in design and fine arts are increasingly relevant. These degrees encompass disciplines like graphic design, industrial design, and visual arts. Students in these programs cultivate a sharp eye for aesthetics, understand user preferences, and develop the ability to visualize and create products that resonate with audiences.
Entrepreneurs with a design background benefit from a unique blend of creativity and user-centric thinking. This enables them to craft products and services that not only solve problems but do so with a flair that appeals to their target demographics.
Yet, one limitation could be that while design degrees emphasize aesthetics and user experience, they might not delve deeply into technical, operational, or financial aspects of running a business.
A notable entrepreneur in this realm is Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb. With a background in Industrial Design from the Rhode Island School of Design, Chesky’s design thinking played a pivotal role in shaping Airbnb’s user experience and brand identity.
An often overlooked yet immensely potent field of study for entrepreneurs is Economics. This degree provides a deep understanding of the forces that drive markets, the behavior of consumers, and the broader economic factors that influence business operations. An economics curriculum delves into topics like microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics, and market structures.
For entrepreneurs, an economics degree offers a solid grasp of market dynamics, consumer incentives, and strategic decision-making grounded in data and analysis. This foundational knowledge is vital for those looking to enter competitive markets or understand larger economic trends affecting their industries.
One possible constraint of this degree is its primary focus on theoretical models, which might need practical business experience or additional education to translate into actionable business strategies.
A shining example is Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix. His undergraduate degree in Mathematics from Bowdoin College was followed by a Master’s in Economics from Stanford. His economic insight, combined with his technological acumen, played a key role in the disruptive business models he developed for Netflix.