Life Lesson No.2 - Education is Vital but University or Entrepreneurship?

There is a debate amongst entrepreneurs and business people whether a University education is relevant in today's super-fast moving information economy. So I pose a question - Do you support traditional University Degrees as the best start to a career or entrepreneurial courses and work experience? I assess my Masters of Entrepreneurship versus one of the leading entrepreneur courses Become a Key Person of Influence (KPI).


To be transparent, I have been on both sides of the camp. I have a Bachelor in Business (Marketing), Graduate Certificate in Management and a Masters in Entrepreneurship. All up I studied University for 15 years part time and that's not including all of the Tafe and short courses. I also lectured for several years, so I am a little bias towards formal education.

I have also worked on Startup Weekend (bringing the first session to Australia), been a judge for the Key Person of Influence course for three years plus attended numerous entrepreneur courses over the years. Plus, I run my own start up currently in Social Star. So which is better? 

When I attend KPI as a participant or judge, the belief is that University doesn't teach you the skills to run a successful startup. It takes too long, is too out of date and not practical enough. All meaningful points. However, most giving me that advice haven't completed University degrees so how would they know what the alternative is?

When I speak to business people or at University they favour formal education. Mainly as it is predictable. From my management experience, people who have attended University have a stronger grounding in general business principles. They have better communication, team work and written skills. They learn more easily, stick to deadlines and have a more professional approach, honed by numerous team assignments, reports and presentations. But does that help you be an entrepreneur?

The answer really depends on you. University or KPI can't guarantee success as an entrepreneur. They both provide essential information and tools on how to start a new business. The best choice really depends on your long term goals.  Before deciding I have a few words of experience to share.

To start a business right now KPI is the best choice. It will fast track your business to critical mass. This presumes you already have a great idea and have the basic business skills to run it. But consider the long term future of your business. Let's say you start your business and manage to scale it to a position where a business might want to buy it. What then? Most companies will want you to work for them for several years as a handover. Are you prepared to work within a larger business environment? Or if you are in the majority of small businesses that fails in the first few years and you need to get a job will you have the skills to do so? It's not easy to get a reasonable paying job to hold you over until your next big idea. A degree in this case definitely helps. 

If you don't have a brilliant idea, plus strong existing work experience to help you get a meaningful job in between ventures, I don't believe you are ready to run your own business.  In this case I highly recommend University to gain the strong base skills in finance, accounting, marketing, communications and legal.  You will develop essential people skills and be better prepared for the entrepreneurial world. One reason KPI asked me to be the judge of their pitch fest in the first place is all of my corporate experience and education!

If your personality is high risk and your value on money is low, then you can choose the entrepreneur lifestyle. However, if you want stability and enjoy the creature comforts, hedge your bets and get both! Your career is long, over 40 years, surely you can spend a few of those to better prepare you for your whole career. One of a thousand entrepreneurs will be financially free after their initial business. Most fail once or even twice and struggle financially in between ventures.  Plan for success, but be prepared for failure and the potential of working for others at some stage.

In my own journey I started out working in a small business and soon realised without a Degree I was unable to advance. I studied, I advanced. Then I felt the calling to be an Entrepreneur and am living that dream. It is hard work; I earn what I did 20 years ago but work twice as hard. However, the pay off in lifestyle and potential capitalisation of my business is worth the risk. Honestly, I love it.  However, if it doesn't pan out, I know I can easily return to high paying corporate work. It's a good choice to have, but one that is rewarded only after the hard work has been completed.

My advice is do your research. Read the KPI book and attend their one-day event, it's a valuable use of your time.  In fact, here is a free copy of their book my friends at KPI gave me. Click the link and they will send you one in the post.  Also attend open days for the entrepreneurship and business degrees. Talk to the previous students, I run a Facebook group for my University which you can seek out previous graduates. Then once you have the data, make your decision.

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Andrew Ford

Marketing expert Andrew Ford, the founder of Social Star, has discovered the secret of ‘Powerful Branding’. With a fire for unleashing people’s inner brand and developing business models to generate profit from an individual’s passions, Andrew leverages ground-breaking digital and social media marketing techniques to create digital strategies for clients to attract maximum opportunities. Having established a strong name for himself in the field, Andrew blends traditional business techniques with now-necessary tools for entrepreneurs to achieve scale, quality, and influence in their niche. Andrew’s comprehensive business background and qualifications consist of a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) (RMIT 2003), a Graduate Certificate in Management (MBA Executive Program, University of Sydney 2005), and a Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Swinburne University 2011). Continually on the cutting edge of his own education, Andrew has tested his marketing theories in forums such as the BCG Business Strategy Competition, which he won in 2005 against all Victorian MBA schools, and the Venture Cup Business Plan Competition (Swinburne University 2003), which he won in the Masters category. With experience working at Hewlett-Packard, Sensis (Telstra) and IBM, Andrew also has mentored dozens of junior staffs to help them achieve their professional goals. Meeting and influencing high-profile public figures helped Andrew to realise just how many professionals require more understanding and control of their public brands or appearance, and need help with the skills to use the many amazing free tools at their disposal to generate success. At Social Star, Andrew consults with clients to uncover their personal brand – both where it is today and where it can be tomorrow – and refine and define how that should be displayed in social media in order to attract their perfect target audience. Andrew mentors his clients to rapidly grow their business’ audiences, resulting in larger potential client bases and higher revenue. Applying formulas that integrate over twenty years of Andrew’s business experience and fifteen years of formal business education, Social Star specialises in building clarity and velocity for clients’ brands using the ‘Understand, Build and Leverage’ methodology. ‘Having a Personal Business enables people to have an authentic, congruent connection with their valued clients and partners, using their brand as the bridge,’ says Andrew. ‘I’m highly driven to work with the new breed of entrepreneurs and small business owners – people who have a passion for making the world a better place. Traditional business models are stepping aside as people follow their innermost dreams and my role is to see them operate within their values while creating wealth. Some people think you have to sacrifice what you love to be successful in your business, yet it is actually the opposite. Follow your passion and success will come.’ Lecturing at Swinburne University from 2009 to 2011 on brand dynamics and digital marketing, presenting at numerous conferences, and consulting to hundreds of clients, Andrew has seen his philosophy work that if you follow your unique path, based on your skills, experience, values and goals, you will automatically attract the opportunities you desire and achieve the success you deserve. Living his mantra, Andrew has created a successful business and attracts high-profile clients including musicians, athletes, authors, models, entrepreneurs, professionals and small business owners, helping them find their ‘why’ in their business and fulfilment in their lives. Business for Andrew is more than work, it’s personal. Running a personal business means that he is able to fulfil all of his values rather than separating his life from work. It supports his two boys while providing social opportunities, educational development, fitness opportunities, spiritual fulfilment and many valuable friendships. Social Star has now become the vehicle for Andrew to crystallise his mission in the world, to help people love what they do, supporting his ‘why’, that if more people loved what they did, the world would be a better place.