Image credit: Mario Gogh

What do college degrees have to do with today’s startup culture? Most young people today will automatically say ‘nothing’. But the truth is a little more nuanced, as the opinion piece below lays out…

Do college degrees help launch successful startups?

The most reflexive response would be to say no, but that could be because in this generation we tend to think of ‘startup’ and ‘app’ as one and the same.

It is also true that quite a lot of the biggest companies created in the 20th century were by college dropouts working on a smart new idea in their dad’s basement. But we must remember that they were all bringing those innovations in the technology sector and they were computer nerds to the core. And we must also remember that the minute they had convinced the finance men in suits that their shiny new thing actually worked, they immediately surrounded themselves with post-graduates in engineering, business, finance and science from the most ivy-league schools in the US.

Outside of the tech sector most innovations were driven by bright young graduates and post-graduates in medicine, engineering, finance and business administration. But they don’t get as much attention and media that our tech titans get. Which is understandable, because everyone loves a shiny new gadget that talks to you, but a brand new method of building a six-lane highway, or just-in-time delivery at Walmart simply aren’t as sexy!

So back to our original thesis that people tend to confuse app with startup.

An app is a new way of doing or organising something existing, or it is a new game or activity that people are looking for. A startup is an actual business framework built around that app. The road between an app and an actual startup can be a long and torturous one.   Hundreds of gamers get the door slammed in their faces every year by gaming corporations and angel investors say ‘no’ to just as many applicants with bright ideas. Why?

Because there is a big difference between a bright new idea – and a bright new idea which actually works in the real world. If you were the person with that bright new idea, how would you tell the difference if you didn’t know the rules of business – competition, scalability, finance, patents and labour laws, even consumer psychology? Each one of those issues will be brought up when you are in front of investors because each one affects the success or failure of your product.

Imagine inventing a new variant of an old drug without understanding chemistry or biology. Or starting a new restaurant in a city without any idea of its demographics and customer base, or even knowing how to cook.  So back to the original question – can you start a startup without a business degree? Sure. Can it be done successfully? Chances, almost zero.

Because there is no alternative to knowledge in the world of business today. 

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