successful business

Do you Really Need a Degree to Start a Successful Business?

Theoretical knowledge versus practical experience – which is more important?

It’s an age-old debate that has never been more relevant in the business world when you stop to consider the current cost of tuition fees. For the next generation of entrepreneurs who have yet to apply to university, understanding how exactly a degree may help them to set up their own business is an essential starting point to deciding whether to go for it.

According to a national study conducted by Voucherbox, the average Economics or Business Management degree offers 12 hours of teaching time per week, which works out at the cost of just over £25 per hour. Although it’s not quite as expensive as some other degrees covered within the study, it remains a hefty financial commitment by anybody’s standards.

So, is £9,000 a year worth it?

The School of Hard Knocks

It’s perhaps no surprise that there is a long list of hugely successful entrepreneurs who didn’t go to university: Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Peter Jones, to name just a few.

For these people, the value of workplace experience is likely to far outweigh the value of handing in a mid-term paper on aggregate demand. Peter Jones has been quite vocal on the topic for many years now and has been known to advise prospective entrepreneurs that university is ‘a waste of time.’

But if it wasn’t a university-level education, how did people like Branson, Sugar, and Jones start off their remarkable journey to becoming some of the richest business magnates in the UK?

There are several key traits that these people share, but none more so than a willingness to learn on the job and the ability to act on valuable opportunities as soon as they arise. Branson originally named his first business – a mail-order record service – Virgin purely because he had no prior experience with business.

They are also prepared to rely on their best judgment to takes risks and dive into the unknown. Taking risks in business is one thing, but consistently taking the right rights is the thing that leads to long-term success.


Putting theory into Practice

While many successful business people may be quick to discount the value of a degree, it’s worth remembering that there are indeed some benefits to enrolling. At the age of 18, it’s highly unlikely that a budding entrepreneur will have a clear idea of the business they want to run and, more importantly, how to run it. We have to remember that the massive success of people like Richard Branson is an anomaly.

A degree in a business-related subject not only offers expert guidance and support, but it also gives young people the chance to socialize with other commercially-minded individuals, build a network of contacts and develop an informed business plan.

Getting started on the right path should help catapult any business venture you’re planning on pursuing. If the demands of that business become overwhelming, intellect and business strategy-wise, it’s never too late to continue learning, maybe an MBA Organizational Development will suffice, and you’ll see that there are certain benefits to investing in a degree.

And although people like Fred Smith, founder of Fed-Ex, and John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza, went on to put the theory of their respective business degrees to practical use, many successful entrepreneurs graduated in a subject not directly related to business.

Martha Stewart studied Art and History long before embarking on her multiple business ventures. Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube, completed a degree in Fine Arts before conceiving the idea for a global video-sharing platform. And despite the fact he dropped out after two years, imagine if Mark Zuckerberg had never enrolled at Harvard – would we even have Facebook?


Is University Essential?

The path to success is rarely straightforward. It certainly differs for everybody, even those who do choose to apply to university. If the fire of entrepreneurial spirit burns bright enough, a person can certainly start a business without ever having to don a cap and gown.

That said, there’s no doubt that a university education can help people develop both soft and hard skills, both of which are necessary to run a business. It may not be necessary to have a degree to start a successful business, but it certainly doesn’t hurt either.

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.