Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Another public figure advocates stopping education to start a company

10th March, 2013

Oh dear…

If you want to start a business there is no point in finishing college, just stop education Elon Musk

— Loic Le Meur (@loic) March 9, 2013

It’s frustrating just how many people - who really should know better - advocate dropping out or not even starting further education for entrepreneurs as it doesn’t help start a company. The usual trio of successful people - Gates, Branson, Zuckerberg - are usually hauled out to justify this point of view.

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As someone who has gone from a degree straight into a startup, I strongly disagree with Elon Musk’s and other’s comments on this subject.

The President of George Mason University has commented that entrepreneurship should start with a University education - and I could not agree more. There are so many benefits to a University education alongside doing the courses and the exams, it is almost impossible to measure it all.

For example, while I was at Uni for 5 years, I got the opportunity to work in an excellent local startup (DataSift) for a year - something I would probably not have had without the University connection. I was able to spend my summers working at startups knowing I would not be under financial or other pressures as I would be back to Uni soon (Huddle, TweetMeme, DataSift, Kusiri, Import.io). Afterwards, I was able to begin working straight away at Import.io, continuing where I had left off the summer before.

Additionally, I had the opportunity to work with larger companies - such as Microsoft - that was truly invaluable experience. I may not have decided to take that route in my early career but there is absolutely no reason why I may not work for that kind of company in the future. And if I do, that will look great on LinkedIn.

I am the first to admit that what I don’t use what I was taught in my degree classes every day at work. But I do use experience from my degree every single hour of the day. I basically learnt to program (PHP and HTML doesn’t count) at University, and I spend a lot of time doing that at the moment. I also do a lot of presentations - not a strong part of my Engineering course, but something I learnt through practice as part of the other activities related to Uni.

Not only that, but tackling ambitious projects (see my group and final year projects for reference) in groups and individually is probably the best preparation I had for working in a startup. Working well in a small team and getting used to just delivering quality, no matter what, is something that I need day-to-day.

Can going to Uni teach you how to be an entrepreneur? Despite what the MBA ads claim, you probably can’t - becoming an entrepreneur is something people need to recognise in themselves. But the other opportunities that participating in a degree yield need to stop being ignored for the sake of headlines and making sure future generations have a sufficient education to get them through life. other_migration:130