Should Entrepreneurs Pursue Formal Courses?

We see so many talented entrepreneurs today, with brilliant ideas and innovative solutions. A good lot of them are young, and have graduated from an Engineering college or a B-School a few years ago. Being a mentor, advisor, a virtual CxO in their businesses, most often I come across a question as to whether they need to go for any specific courses or upgrade their skills in a formal way.

To give you another perspective; as a business-accelerator I meet with clients, prospects, day-in and day-out. I consider my negotiation skills decent. An interesting metric is that my deal closure rate was at about 84% as of a couple of years ago. I came across a program from the Harvard Business School, Boston, on Negotiations and Competitive Decision Making during while I was residing in the US. I had the opportunity to be a part of this program back in 2012, and the experience that they provided was truly world-class and inspiring. You tend to pick up so many other dimensions that you have probably not worked on, seriously, before. It was a real eye-opener and I continue to recommend this experience to many of my contacts.

As an employee, you gain knowledge by working with your bosses. But as an entrepreneur, or as a founder, whom do you pick things from, learn from, as you may not have anyone above you; leaving aside board positions who may still provide some guidance. But, what if you do not have one?

Entrepreneurship is not about having higher IQ. It is about taking the right steps, failing early, standing up quickly, and moving forward. For entrepreneurs to succeed, it is suggested to have their following skills honed up well, through focused training programs and specific courses.

Some key skills entrepreneurs need to have are,

  • Situational Leadership
  • Negotiation skills
  • Effective Communication
  • Presentation
  • Strong Execution skills

With mushrooming training companies, in my outlook, the quality of coaching/training has been far below par; it is just another additional line in your profile for having attended these programs, but without much (or any) value. Anyone can read through an existing presentation, but it is absolutely essential for you to know whether that individual has demonstrated that skill in their past (organizations) and the expertise/experience that individual brings to your company (or you).

There are also courses that I have liked, and you as entrepreneurs or senior leaders, can explore if that fits your scheme of things. Some of them are, These trainings (I would like to call it ‘coaching’) are typically 1-2 days program; but if you are able to touch base with them after this session (say once a month) to review, provide feedback, take guidance, then it allows you to be more effective over time, in your job.

  • Harvard Business School (HBS), as I mentioned before, has many courses that include Negotiations and Leadership Development.
  • HBS also has another interesting course, Founder’s Dilemmas, that addresses the people factor, and this helps startup founders, advisors/board members, VCs, etc.
  • Stanford’s entrepreneurship course is also a popular one for many budding entrepreneurs
  • London School of Business and Finance has good programs like, Strategic brand management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • University of Illinois course on Sustainable product and market development
  • In India, Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India offers full time Business Management program, which was designed for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship managers
  • Besides, many of our top ranked B-Schools like Indian Institute of Management do come with specific programs on Strategy, etc. that suits working professionals

The list could just go on. But it is important that you look at the courses that you as an individual need, the trainer’s (faculty) background, institute’s reputation, duration, flexibility in terms of timing that suits working professionals like you, etc.

One question could flash your mind; with abundant information available in the internet, with so much of ‘free’ content that gets shared, what is the need for a paid program?

A structured way of learning will not just help you to stay focused during the program schedule, but more importantly gives you an opportunity to interact with fellow professionals, discuss issues and challenges, power your thoughts, create those sparks, etc. These courses/programs can help you come with a great business idea, shape up an idea, develop an interesting feature, solve some complex business problems, and many more.

Lean startups need to respond swiftly to the market dynamics, have agile development cycles, aim for rapid business growth, work with least capital. Experience helps in a big way to anticipate and adapt to the changes. But with so many young entrepreneurs today, these formal courses/programs will help them to bridge those gaps in experience through rapid learning and gaining insights. Nevertheless, for experienced professionals, this will still open up a lot of windows that will help them view things from different perspective.

Welcome to the world of formal learning!

About the Author

Shyam Sekar, a catalyst leader with over 20 years of experience is the Chief Mentor and Strategist at Startup Xperts, a business growth accelerator, supporting Startups and SMEs in India and abroad.

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