Startups Hiring MBAs - A Perfect Match

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MBA candidates are becoming increasingly appealing to startups looking for the individuals who can provide them with the business knowledge and drive to take their company to the next level. And with the scene booming, opportunities are plentiful.

It makes sense; with the skills that an MBA graduate of a top business school is almost guaranteed to possess, they can often prove to be an invaluable asset to the development of a new company.

Startup hiring practices and MBA candidates

According to a recently released report by the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance, there has been a significant increase in on-campus MBA recruiting activity by startups. This recent jump points to, “a growing number of MBA students focusing on entrepreneurship,” according to Jack Oakes, co-chair of the Research & Trends Committee and assistant dean for career development at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, speaking for the Alliance.

Startup hiring practices have begun to reflect this student interest, and it’s no mystery why, says Marie Apiou, director of the Career Development Office of the Faculty of Business and Economics, Hong Kong University, “Startups need individuals who are passionate, driven, and have business acumen. Hence, an MBA is a perfect fit.” Apiou points out that the startup hiring trend is more concentrated in the US and Europe, but also notes that it is “picking up” in Asia as well.

Many entrepreneurs of course are MBAs themselves, so who better to understand the skill-set which the degree engenders?

MBA skills and startups

Startups need business-savvy individuals to lead and counsel them from the inception of an idea to its production and distribution. As noted above, knowledge of business practices is a major incentive. But why else are startups hiring MBAs?

Associate Professor Nitin Pangarkar, academic director of the NUS MBA program at the National University of Singapore Business School, says that it’s all about the MBA skills that candidates develop and hone during the program. “The ‘soft’ skills (such as communication and presentation skills) possessed by a typical MBA graduate may be useful to any startup - say, when preparing business plans or making presentations to potential investors,” says Pangarkar.

Apiou echoes this sentiment. “The MBA program gives an overall management insight into a company, whether it be a large or a small institution, and also develops a multi-faceted individual who can multitask, pinpoint opportunities, interact with all levels of management, and be culturally sensitive,” says Apiou, who believes these MBA skills make candidates “a great fit for a startup.”

MBA entrepreneurship: Starting a startup

One particular set of MBA skills critical to startups are entrepreneurial skills. Startups hiring MBAs are looking for individuals who understand entrepreneurship.

While not all business schools provide an MBA entrepreneurship track or specialization, they undoubtedly recognize the importance of entrepreneurial skills and offer courses and even centers for individuals interested in learning more and pursuing entrepreneurship-related careers.

The University of Hong Kong, for example, has an MBA entrepreneurship lab that, according to Apiou, “provides projects which include startups within companies and individual startups in various industries.

“The objective of this lab is to give the interested set of individuals insight into startups and make them aware of the various aspects associated with [them].” Core focuses include “idealization, valuation, fundraising, marketing, recourse planning, and exit strategies.”

Pangarkar notes that while the National University of Singapore does not offer an MBA entrepreneurship track, its MBA program does offer several courses in entrepreneurship. Furthermore, it is also home to the NUS Entrepreneurship Center, which “incubates startups”. NUS also hosts the annual Start-up@Singapore competition. Initially a business plan competition, this has become something of an entrepreneurship hub, from which no fewer than 90 startups have emerged.

Most notably, the entrepreneurial skills developed in an MBA program are beneficial to individuals looking to start their own startup. Alumni of HKU have founded startups in “finance, aviation, logistics, digital media, and big data” among other fields. With backgrounds in various sectors and multinational companies, many even teamed up with their classmates to start their startups - an additional benefit of the MBA.

With MBAs providing the perfect talent pool for startups, and these often small operations giving alumni the perfect arena in which to demonstrate their skills, it seems that MBAs and startups are a perfect match. 

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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