Is further study useful for pursuing a career as an entrepreneur?
Is further study useful for pursuing a career as an entrepreneur? © Getty

This week’s problem

I am struggling to decide whether I should pursue a masters degree in “technopreneurship” (entrepreneurship with a technical focus) immediately after my degree. In the long term I would like to start my own company. But I do not know if I should work for a few years before taking up further study. Female, 19

Jonathan’s answer

You have a strong sense of your long-term aim and are now trying to fill in some of the missing pieces between today and the day you start your own company. Since the “long term” could be five, 10 or 20 years from now, there is much that can happen in that time that may excite you to pursue other directions.

The underlying question is whether you need a qualification or formal training to start a business. Are entrepreneurs born or taught, and indeed can creativity, innovation and business be learned?

As you progress through your current degree, you can start to evaluate what skills you are going to need to be a successful entrepreneur, and start to acquire them. Three overarching skills for any business are being able to build the product or service, sell it, and then count it.

Gather skills and experience from your degree course, your university, the internet, student societies, and local enterprise organisations. For example, the Enterprising Oxford website provides links and content for all aspects of start-ups, and 90 per cent of the users are outside the city.

“Technopreneurship” is what Humpty Dumpty, in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass, called a portmanteau: two meanings packed into one word. Even if such a course lived up to delivering skills in both technology and entrepreneurship, the main benefit will probably be the network you will build with your classmates.

In terms of when you should make the decision, you may wish to delay starting your business until you have gained experience and skills. As Mr Azoulay, Mr Jones et al reported last year, “successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged, not young”. They analysed 2.7m founders of US businesses in the period 2007 to 2014, and showed that the mean age for the founders of the one in 1,000 highest growth new ventures is 45. Their findings, “strongly reject common hypotheses that emphasise youth as a key trait of successful entrepreneurs”.

Armed with your long-term plan, you do not need to make the decision yet, and anyway, you do not know enough to make an informed decision. Spend time gathering more experience and knowledge, conscious that you can choose in the future.

Readers’ advice

First, see how you want to learn entrepreneurship: 1) learning “about” it; or 2) learning “through” doing. Many courses have a focus on one or the other. Tyler

As a masters student of international business at a top British university who joined immediately after his undergraduate degree, I would recommend working in some capacity for a few years. Masters Student

Do internships, research projects and freelance etc during your academics. I worked for two years before enrolling for a masters and the work experience didn’t add as much value as I thought it would. Bilal Siddiqui

Be critically selective of higher education courses that claim to hold the key you seek because life is not a linear journey. No single course or certificate will unlock your future. Tryit

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development and working life. Do you have a question for Jonathan? Email him at dear.jonathan@ft.com

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