Does an MBA Really Make Sense for an Aspiring Entrepreneur


To get the lowdown on the value of a business degree for entrepreneurs, we caught up with Mike Grandinetti, professor of entrepreneurship, innovation, management and marketing at Hult International Business School.

Mike was an obvious candidate as our go-to guy for advice on this topic. He’s one of Hult’s most popular lecturers, and has won numerous awards for teaching excellence. But he’s also an accomplished entrepreneur who, since beginning his career as an engineer in Silicon Valley, has been involved in the formation of seven advanced technology startups and helped lead five venture-backed startups to successful exits, including two NASDAQ Stock Market IPOs.

In addition to teaching at Hult, he is a faculty member at the MIT Enterprise Forum Smart Start program, and a senior lecturer at the Technical University of Denmark and speaks about entrepreneurship and innovation on the TEDx circuit.

BENTO: So, Mike, you probably hear the argument that ‘real’ entrepreneurs don’t go to Business school a lot. What’s your view?

GRANDINETTI: Well, I’d agree in the sense that entrepreneurship can’t be learned in the same way as traditional MBA subjects like accounting or finance. The Nike motto, “Just Do It,” is pretty good advice for entrepreneurs. You want to be an entrepreneur? The only way to learn how is by doing it—doing it and failing and then doing it again until you finally get it right.

I think an MBA can help. But I tell students to look for programs where faculty are experienced entrepreneurs themselves, and, ideally, current practitioners. Students should seek out programs where they’ll have opportunities to roll up their sleeves and create new ventures, whether that’s through new student ventures and pitch competitions, on-campus “hackathons” or consulting projects for other startups.

“Remember, working for a startup isn’t just a job. It’s a serious lifestyle choice.”

At school, students should sign up for practical electives to learn about current methodologies such as design thinking, lean startup and raising capital.

Many MBA programs now have on-campus startup accelerators for both students and alumni—and some have seed capital funds that invest in student ventures. In Boston, the DormRoomFund, capitalized by an institutional venture capital firm, has student representatives on 12 research university campuses in the area, including MIT, Harvard, Northeastern and Tufts. They make $20,000 seed investments in promising student ventures. Stanford has the StartX Fund for its student entrepreneurs.

Students should try to get as much exposure as possible to entrepreneurs, especially those of their own generation, as well as venture capital and angel investors. They should try to meet entrepreneurs and investors who come as guest speakers in class or participate in on-campus entrepreneurship student club events—wherever they can find them. They should also get off campus regularly and attend venture-centric meet-ups and other events to get a feel for how the local startup ecosystem functions. There’s a better chance of making those kind of connections at campuses located in established global innovation clusters—Boston/Cambridge, the San Francisco Bay area/Silicon Valley, London, Berlin or Singapore.

Social entrepreneurship is a rapidly emerging field. Many of the same arguments apply. I actually think getting a degree is one of the most effective ways to be exposed to this domain.

And don’t forget, business schools are a great place to meet co-founders and start your venture. Some amazing companies were launched on business school campuses by student co-founders: Airbnb (Rhode Island School of Design), Microsoft, Facebook and Rent the Runway (Harvard Business School), Warby Parker (Wharton School), GrubHub (University of Chicago), Uber (Stanford) and Akamai (MIT).

BENTO: What are some of the most common mistakes business students make in planning for entrepreneurial careers?

GRANDINETTI: Well, you know, students can be swayed by what’s in popular media. So many have an overly glamorized view of what it means to be an entrepreneur. They underestimate how hard it is—how heavily the odds are stacked against any single venture, the extraordinary level of commitment and sacrifice required to get a business off the ground. I tell students to remember working for a startup isn’t just a job, it’s a serious lifestyle choice.

BENTO: So what advice do you have for students who are looking for professional experience before starting their own ventures?

GRANDINETTI: The best professional experience is one that’s directly relevant to the job you aspire to. So, if you want to start a company, one of the best experiences you can have is to work in someone else’s startup first and learn from them. A lot of students tell me they want to get experience working for a big firm first before starting their own venture. But my view is that, with a very few noteworthy exceptions, working for a large global company will not be of much value to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur. More often than not, working for a big global firm tends to be a detriment to future success as an entrepreneur. It’s not that working for a big company is a bad thing. It’s just that the differences between big companies and startups—in corporate culture, velocity, performance expectations—are vast. In general, my advice is: if you want to work at a startup, start at a startup. There will be far more room for growth there—more chances to have a significant role, bigger responsibilities.

BENTO: You mentioned “hackathons.” What’s up with those? What are they and why are they so popular?

GRANDINETTI: A “hack” is a quick, creative, but maybe inelegant solution to a problem or limitation. A “hackathon“ is a mashup of the terms “hack” and “marathon.”

Hackathons have quickly emerged as key places for networking, job recruiting, pitching and in many cases, winning cash for your startup. For example, awarded a $1 million prize to a team that came up with the most innovative solution to a challenge it issued. Kleiner Perkins, the big venture capital firm, sends partners to about 20 collegiate hackathons a year.

Recruiters and startups use hackathons to see which students thrive in a chaotic environment that models the dynamic of a startup. For students, hackathons offer a “test drive”—the chance to experience the intensity of working for a startup before committing to a job.

Last year, the world’s largest organizer of hackathons, UP Global, delivered 1248 StartupWeekend hackathons in 568 cities across 112 countries worldwide, with 105,000 attendees. This year they figure the number will rise to 1800 hackathons with many student participants. University–specific hackathons are now a big part of the tech startup scene, with over 150 intercollegiate hackathons expected to be held on US college campuses in 2015 according to Major League Hacking, the “NCAA of Hackathons.”

BENTO: So what’s a hackathon like?

GRANDINETTI: Well, typically they run from Friday night through Sunday night, and are designed around small teams who gulp Red Bull and Starbucks while working together to find quick solutions, often by writing software applications. At the end of the weekend, judges circulate and review each team’s “hacks” to pick winners.

For MBA students who don’t have technical backgrounds, or have not yet attracted technical co-founders, non-coding hackathons like Protohack offer a less intense experience. Protohacks are 12-hour events that allow teams to develop prototypes without writing computer code. Instead they use “drag-and-drop” editors, mock-up tools and wireframes to approximate the rapid prototyping common to more traditional hackathons.

“Business schools are a great place to meet co-founders and start your venture.”

BENTO: So what about “accelerators”? What are they, and what should students know about them?

GRANDINETTI: An “accelerator” is designed to accelerate the market traction of a startup. The first two accelerators were founded in 2005 and 2006: Y Combinator started in Boston, and Techstars started in Boulder, Colorado. Now accelerators are a global phenomenon.

There are a variety of different business models for accelerators. The most common involves selecting a small number, typically about ten, through a highly competitive application process. Winners are hosted for 90-120 days “in residence” with their cohort, and get intense mentorship from entrepreneurs and angel investors who push them to achieve market validation fast. In exchange for this access to mentors and investors, the startups are typically required to sell approximately five to seven percent of their equity for an investment of between $50,000 and $150,000. At the end of the program, there’s a “Demo Day,” where entrepreneurs share their progress with the local investment community.

With top-tier accelerators, hundreds of angel investors and venture capitalist attend. Many view this as the first rung on the venture capital ladder. The leading accelerators are now very hard to get into.

There are also “pre-accelerator” programs like StartupNext, created by both Google for Entrepreneurs and Startup America. In just a year, StartupNext has helped place over 40 global ventures into top-tier accelerators.

Worldwide, there are at least 1500 accelerators. The best ones have a universally established track record of success. The latest trend is toward more industry-centric accelerators, from Hacking Health in Montreal and Rock Health in the Bay Area, to energy accelerators such as SURGE in Houston, the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator in San Diego, the Mobility Automotive Tech Accelerator in Detroit, and the LearnLaunch Education Technology Accelerator in Boston. Notable non-US accelerators include Startupbootcamp and Seedcamp, which are pan-European in scope. There is also MassChallenge in London, EISP8200 in Israel, Start-Up Chile in Santiago, Joyful Frog in Singapore as well as Techstars in Berlin. Well-known graduates of accelerators include Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe and Next Big Sound.

BENTO: So, bottom line, if I know I want to work at a startup or launch one of my own, is investing all the time and money on a business degree worth it?

GRANDINETTI: Yes, if you are purposeful in taking advantage of all of the resources and connections available to you, in the classroom, on campus, in extracurricular activities and in the startup ecosystem where you are studying. I’ve seen many of my students grow remarkably during their time in business school. Many are now well on their way to launching and growing exciting, innovative startups in San Francisco, Boston, London or other cities around the world.


This interview first appeared in the Hult International Business School Online Publication, “Hult Bento”

Experiential Learning in Entrepreneurship Education

This is the complete interview that I conducted with Boston Innovation on the subject of experiential education for MBAs, Masters students and undergraduates.

  1. What is your philosophy on experiential learning and how do you implement it in your teaching?

Entrepreneurship or marketing can’t be learned in the same way as traditional MBA subjects like accounting or finance can, with problem sets and exams. The Nike motto, “Just Do It,” is pretty good advice for entrepreneurs and digital marketers. You want to be a great entrepreneur? A world-class digital marketer? The only way to learn how is by doing it—doing it and failing and then doing it again until you finally get it right.

I tell students to look for programs where faculty are experienced entrepreneurs themselves, and, ideally, current practitioners. Students should seek out programs where they’ll have opportunities to roll up their sleeves and create new ventures, whether that’s through student new venture and pitch competitions, on-campus “hackathons” or consulting projects for other startups

  1. Where has Boston’s education community as a whole had success incorporating experiential learning and where do we have room to improve?

In general, some Boston colleges and universities have done a great job of integrating students into real world opportunities. For example


  • The MIT $1000K global entrepreneurship competition (where I served as a judge for 10 years) the grand-daddy of ALL B-Plan competitions, which has spawned literally hundreds of imitators around the world, and has a huge positive legacy in Boston and beyond. Participants come from across the Institute, from Bachelors through PhD programs and includes Post Doctorates.
  • The MIT Hacking Medicine Hackathon – which has students working alongside doctors and health care industry officials to cerate innovative new solutions to improve the standard of healthcare. Several of my Hult MBAs, tow of which are MDs, attended this past year with my strong encouragement. Itw as a n awesome experience for them.
  • At the undergraduate level, the Boston College Venture Club aka BCVC, (where I have served as a judge and a keynoter) is aimed at undergraduates and serves to inspire them early on in their careers
  • The Northeastern University accelerator IDEA, which has 200 companies now being incubated in its offices.
  • Northeastern’s iconic Co-Op program has long been the gold standard for university programs of this type
  • The Harvard Innovation Lab” iLab” is  open to all members of the Harvard community across all degree programs
  • Student centric seed stage VC funds like DormRoomFund, now targeting student entrepreneurs at 12 Boston / Cambridge Area research universities. Students from each campus actually source deals and serve as investors.

3. What, specifically, do you to to engender experiential learning at Hult International Business School? 

I have always stood for bringing the real world into the classroom, whether at MIT Sloan, where I taught as a Senior lecturer form many years, and of course at Hult.

Some activities that I would highlight include:

  1. Hult Impact Challenge, where EVERY Hult MBA
    1. Create a new startup
    2. Create  anew social venture
    3. Address global challenge from IBM, Philips, Unilever
    4. I was fortunate to be part of  small team of Hult leaders and served as an architect of this program while participating on our MBA Curriculum re-design team, which was named as the most innovative MBA curriculum in the world by the global accreditation body last year. Students really loved this experience and the level of improvement in our students over the course of this guided journey has been extraordinary.  I recently had the pleasure of judging our finalists from each of our global campuses at our graduation summit  in Davos  and was blown away.
  1. In my New Business Ventures Entrepreneurship elective offered to our MBA students in Boston that just ended, students brought in ideas for their own ventures, formed teams, and were guided by a very real-world, best practices process, including Design Thinking, LeanStartup, Value Proposition Design, etc, validated every step of the process by interacting with prospective customers and strategic partners, and ended the course by pitching 2 Boston angel investors and me. Several of the companies will continue into the marketplace. I had many guest lecturers in from the local Boston community, including Hubspot, and a company in the Techstars. Boston accelerator, Shearwater International and a company that has appeared on Shark Tank twice, failing the first time and raising money successfully the second time. We ran a joint session on pitching with the MIT Enterprise Forum Funders Smart Start Program, where I am also a faculty member, on the Hult campus. The MIT participants were all more senior in age and therefore more experienced professionally, and the multi-generational differences made the session quite interesting.  Almost the entire Hult class attended my StartupNext Demo Day, which was held at Hubspot’s HQ the night after the course started. The Founders pitches made a huge impression on many of them. For the final project, the students pitched their ventures to lasers from Techstars and Betaspring, tow of the top startup accelerators in the US.
  3. In my Digital and Social Marketing and Advertising core course,offered to our Masters in Marketing students, I recruited 15 startups from around the world (Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Montreal, London) . Our students worked closely with company founders and executives in a very hands-on way across the entire module to develop Digital and Social Marketing and Advertising strategies and campaigns, using Facebook, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked In, and YouTube. They presented to the founder sand executives. Many were rewarded with internships and some were hired full time. I had 8-9 guest lecturers from leading companies in the digital advertising world as well as the Financial Times.
  5. Many of my MBA and MIM students served as consultants to my 7 StartupNext Boston startup cohort members furthering their real word experience. Many attended my MeetUp at MakerBot on Design Thinking and Rapid Prototyoping and heard from 3 inspiring local startups, all using 3 D printing in their product manufacturing.  I ran a MeetUp on EdTech at MIT that featured the Boston EdTech accelerator LearnLaunch, the global accelerator Startup Chile, as well as a 9 EdTech startups including those from tech stars, StartupNext and LearnLaunch, that was very well attended by Hult students.
  7. We ran several events in conjunction with our Hult Startup Club , the Hult Science in Business Club and Hult Think Tank Group.  For example, we held a Meetup where we had speakers including the Managing Partner of  the Dorm Room Fund and the Managing Director Boston University . Technology Licensing office.  Another event featured the CTO and Co-Foudner of Shark Tank money winner Scholly as well as the  co-founder Founder of the award winning local craft brewer Revival Brewing.


  • There are still far too many students that I from across many area colleges and universities that I regularly connect with at MeetUps and Conferences that I organize and run that here in Boston that seem to feel that their courses are taught in the same way as they have been for the past 100 years, lectures and exams.
  • How has experiential learning contributed to the growth of Boston’s startup ecosystem?
  • Hackathons have quickly emerged as key places for networking, job recruiting, pitching and in many cases, wining cash for your startup. Recruiters and startups use hackathons to see which students thrive in a chaotic environment that models the dynamic of a real startup. For students, hackathons offer a “test drive” – the chance to experience the intensity of working for a startup before committing to a job. Boston holds many hackathons each year, and students are key participants.( For example, I will be bringing ProtoHack, a code-free Hackathon, to Boston for the first time, on 21 November- this will bring a much larger community into the rapidly growing global Hackathon culture )

What role does it play in improving talent retention in Boston?

  • The result in ALL of the above is that that has created a much more “Job Ready” work force that meets the requirements of the local business community. Startups don’t have the time or resources to rain people- hiring students with practical startup experience is a HUGE win for BOTH startup and student/ recent graduate. Students now know if startups are really right for them as a career choice. They are far more self-aware of whether they have the personality to thrive in such a stressful environment. Startups know the skills students have to get the job done on Day 1. They don’t wash out nearly as easily as they might have when both students and startups had to fly blind, and where many costly hiring mistakes were made

As more international students are attending Boston colleges and universities, how does experiential learning accelerate their adjustment to a new culture, language, etc.?

  • My international students get great benefit from experiential learning. For many, they come from far more traditional universities in their home countries, where ALL learning is from the professor‘s lectures and the only application of that knowledge happens through tests and exams. In many cases, the professors are regarded as “deity figures: and even asking questions can be considered inappropriate. Experiential learning is something that they are hungry for and actively seek out. It can be hugely transformative. Whether it be learning about the importance of punctuality in a business context, the “whatever it takes 24X7” business culture of the startup, or the unique US “pitch culture”, there is vast adaptation.
  • Who does experiential learning benefit more: Undergraduate students or graduate students?
  • While both benefit, my experience is that graduate students benefit more because they already have work experience under their belts. Therefore, they can be more productive when joining an employer in a consulting project, field study, hackathons, ect. They have more context and more skills fro their previous professional experience and are typically more self aware regarding their own intetersts and skills.

Student Entrepreneurship Thriving in Boston

On Thursday, February 26, a well-attended and high-energy event was held on Hult’s Boston campus to celebrate and explore student entrepreneurship in the greater Boston/ Cambridge area. This region has historically been a hotbed for student entrepreneurship, pioneered by MIT.

Many famous student startups were born in the Boston community before achieving iconic status, including Facebook and Microsoft as well as ZipCar, Akamai and Napster. More recently, student –founded startups such as Rent The Runway, Uncharted Play and Plated have vaulted to prominence.

The event was organized and facilitated by Hult Global Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Mike Grandinetti, in his role as Faculty Advisor to both the Hult Startup Platform and Hult Science in Business Student Clubs. As a serial entrepreneur, mentor, angel investor and educator in the Boston area for over 20 years, and currently Managing Director of StartupNext Boston and a Community Impact Fellow with OpenIDEO, Professor Mike tapped into his network to bring in a range of experiences for Hult’s students to benefit from. After starting things off, Professor Mike facilitated a fireside chat with each speaker and then guided a question and answer session with a very engaged audience of students from both Hult and other area universities.

Professor Mike kicked off the event in Hult’s aptly named Fenway Bleachers auditorium, with its great view of the Zakim Bridge. He started by testing students knowledge of well know Boston student – founded startups as well as student familiarity with recent Kickstarter project. He then provided an overview of the current state of student entrepreneurship on a global basis, including enabling factors such as the consumerization of IT, short-term coding academies, affordable subscription cloud-based apps, pre-accelerators, university accelerators and seed capital funds, student entrepreneurship – focused VC funds and crowd-funding.

The event also included two student entrepreneurship–focused venture capitalists, one from the DormRoom Fund, Bruno Faviero, Managing Director, who focuses on managing investments for the 12 major research universities in the Boston area; and Kate Murdock, who focuses specifically on funding Northeastern University bred start-ups. In addition, Kate serves as an analyst at Northeastern’s IDEA accelerator, where over 200 startups have been launched and incubated, including a few that were recently VC funded. Bruno is the Founder of Hacking MIT and other MIT – related startup events. Bruno and Kate discussed the extraordinary range of startups being launched around the greater Boston area by students, with a focus on the 23 companies that DormRoom Fund has invested in directly.

Michael Gaiss, former SVP of Highland Capital Partners and current founder and CEO of BigThink!, which focuses on connecting students interested in entrepreneurial careers with startups, spoke about the stark difference in hiring requirements between large corporation and startups. Unlike corporates, startups focus less on GPA and more on hands-on experience that indicates a passion by the student for the role and the market space. He also discussed his observations as Entrepreneur in Residence at UMass Boston, where the school recently expanded its Venture Development Center.

For the benefit of the Science in Business Club, Professor Vinit Nijiwhan, who runs Boston University’s Office of Technology Development, spoke of the challenges and successes of commercializing university based research. During his tenure, he changed BU’s model from licensing to startups, with great success. With this new startup-driven approach, BU has achieved more success in commercializing its science and technology in the past five years than in the previous 30 years.

At the conclusion of the event, Professor Mike, Bruno and Kate served as mentors for a pitch session. Many Hult students stepped up to pitch their ideas to a crowded room of 100 plus attendees where they received constructive feedback. Many also used the opportunity to get real-time input from their fellow students on the desireabilty of their ideas.

In summary, the event was exceptionally well received by the engaged students who asked many great questions, volunteered to pitch, and engaged in direct discussions with speakers during the networking breaks scheduled through-out the evening. It’s clear that student entrepreneurship is thriving in Boston / Cambridge.

Student Entrepreneurs to benefit from $100M X-Fund

It’s a positive commentary on the state of entrepreneurship that the first Fund – aka the $10M ” Experiment Fund” -was a huge success and that NEA, Breyer Capital and Accel saw the massive demand and remarkable talent and passion of student entrepreneurs, at both the under – grad and grad levels. They made five investments out of Fund 1, in a very diverse group of companies. These include:

-investing services startup Kensho Technologies Inc.,

-law search startup Ravel Law Inc.,

-TV and DVR mobile service Philo Inc.,

-apartment search site Zumper Inc.

-nursery device startup Rest Devices Inc.

Kensho, for example, is interesting on many levels. Co- founder Dan Nadler went to Harvard with Mark Zuckerburg. Kensho, combines natural language search queries, graphical user interfaces, and secure cloud computing to create a new class of analytics tools for investment professionals and has raised over $25M

Ravel Law was co-founded by two Stanford Law School graduates. The company is working to establish an alternative to LexisNexis for lawyers and others researching cases.

The VCs decided to capitalize the second fund at $100M, and to re-brand it the X-Fund. It’s a welcome addition to the DormRoomFund, led by FirstRoundCapital, as well as StartX, the Stanford Accelerator and UCVenture Fund.

I do hope that the number of future applicants will expand well beyond the high (70% of all applicants) MIT/ Harvard concentration of the Experiment Fund. Stanford accounts for another 10%. As there are so many great tech-centric student entrepreneurs working diligently at Northeastern, BU, BC, Babson, Wentworth, WPI, UMass Lowell and Hult, amongst many others institutions of higher learning in the Greater Boston / Cambridge area, they need to be as diligent at raising capital as they are at building great ted based products

The DormRoomFund is a great initiative from FirstRoundCapital, but we need more strongly capitalized funds like it to meet the needs of the many talented young students building tech startups in the greater Boston area and beyond. X -Fund is a welcome addition to the landscape

Best wishes to General Partners Patrick Chung and Hugo Van Vuuren as they expand the fund. Your mission is a noble one.