TechStars or a Harvard MBA

15 Jul

TechStars or a Harvard MBA

A while back I tweeted that one day I would write a blog post comparing an MBA from Harvard with participating in TechStars. The truth is that both programs are incredibly valuable and different and I am glad I had the opportunity to do both. But for folks interested in technology and ultimately starting a company (which more and more MBA students are doing) the idea that one can save $100k in tuition and almost two years of education is at least worth discussing.

So what do I think are the advantages of an MBA?

1 – Network: Joining an elite business school program instantly and exponentially improves your network. You interact on a daily basis with some seriously smart and accomplished folks who go on to become friends, confidants, and cheerleaders as your career progresses. This is immensely valuable and is helpful in ways that are difficult to predict. The fact that most schools have tremendous diversity of student body means that your network includes bankers, consultants, mgrs in corporations, and other tech/startup folks. I can’t even count how many times the friends I made in business school have been helpful providing advise and guidance, making introductions, and serving as reference checks when hiring or partnering with someone.

2 – Credibility: Being able to put a top tier MBA program on your resume is helpful. People rely on the admission committees to do a lot of the legwork to get most admits right and therefore feel comfortable assuming that an alum of a program is either smart, hard working, or both.

3 – Education: Hard to believe, but sitting in class for two straight years actually does result in some learning. Seeing 500 cases and working through 500 problems definitely sharpens the business mind and flexes the brain muscle. Is it stuff that one can’t learn with experience? Probably not, but being able to compress several years of experience into a few semesters is helpful and valuable.

How about participating in a program like TechStars?

1 – Network: A program like TechStars is all about the mentorship. You build a massive network of very impressive folks who get their hands dirty helping you. These industry heavyweights can unlock an incredible amount of doors through introductions, can lend their years of wisdom to help you avoid pitfals, and can ultimately become investors in your venture.

2 – Credibility: Lets face it, there are a lot of startups out there and being selected as a TechStar or YC company out of the 1000’s of others that applied gains you credibility. This helps when developing partnerships, recruiting, and fundraising.

3-  Acceleration: Being stuck in a room from 9am to 1am seven days a week is tough, hellish, and unsustainable, but it leads to an incredible amount of progress. I have compared those three months to about nine months of normal startup progress and probably two years of typical movement at a larger corporation. Being forced to work so hard, smart, and fast to reach the Demo Day finale with something worth presenting is an incredible recipe for acceleration. Combine that with the many resources TechStars provides like Hackstars, free stuff, and David Tisch and you are going to be miles away from where you started by the end of the program.

4 – Funding: There is no better platform to get funded than TechStars and YC. Look at the numbers and see how many of these companies end up raising significant funds from some of the best VC’s in the world. I have often heard that if you go through TechStars and you don’t raise money, there is a good chance you shouldn’t be funded.

Conclusion:

If you know you want to start a company there is nothing more helpful than TechStars and I would strongly suggest going through the program ahead of an MBA. The experience is more relevant, the network more concentrated, and the cost (hard cash and in opportunity) lower. In the long-run I am not sure which will prove more helpful (though I suspect the brand cache of an MBA program will be longer lasting), but the direct benefits of being in an incubator/accelerator are unmatched and the opportunity unparalleled if you are thinking of starting a tech based business.

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