Interview: Emily Cieri of the Wharton School

Emily Gohn Cieri

Entrepreneurship cannot be just learned in the classroom, says Emily Gohn Cieri of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. You have to get out there and do it. Cieri is managing director of Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs at Wharton. We asked her how an MBA can help aspiring entrepreneurs.

How can an MBA benefit aspiring entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship cuts across every business discipline – management, marketing, operations, legal…. – studied in a business school. For an entrepreneur, it’s critical to have a broad understanding of these various disciplines, but also to understand how to these disciplines work together.

When an entrepreneur builds a business, he or she cannot focus only on one issue at a time, but must be able to understand how to integrate them. From my experience, many times students seek an MBA to complement their strong technical or engineering background or industry-specific skills, with a full range of business skills that are needed to be an effective entrepreneur.

What should future entrepreneurs look for in an MBA program? What is special about the Wharton entrepreneurship angle?

From an educational perspective, entrepreneurship is very much an applied discipline. I believe you have to experience it to really understand it; you can’t just sit and study it. Prospective students should look for experiential learning opportunities within a given program that will provide this dimension; ideally bringing real life problems or situations into the classroom. The entrepreneurship curriculum at the Wharton School incorporates a variety of teaching mythologies including hands-on project.

The Wharton School also has a large suite of co-curricular educational programs to support student entrepreneurs; students do not receive academic credit for participation nor are they required for graduation. These include the Wharton Business Plan Competitions, Wharton Venture Initiation Program, our educational incubator, as well as a variety of mentoring programs that provide opportunities for students to work directly with a broad range of entrepreneurs.

What should future entrepreneurs consider when returning to school?

Making the decision to go back to school is very difficult, and there are many considerations individuals must make. My advice to students is always to take time before you start a program and outline your professional goals for seeking your MBA. Then put a plan in place to make sure you achieve these goals.  At the outset, two years seems like a long time, but in reality the time goes by very quickly.

Time will be the most precious commodity that you have during those two years; university life is very full and it is very easy to get swept up in other activities and lose track of your entrepreneurial goals. On the other hand, getting involved in a vibrant entrepreneurial community from day one will help you make the most in this phase of your entrepreneurial career path.

Any advice for prospective MBA students seeking to become entrepreneurs?

Prospective students should really explore the entrepreneurial community on campus. Reading websites and talking to administrators can help with the factual questions, but you need to visit the campus and talk with current students involved in the entrepreneurial community and get their perspective. It is important to understand the culture of the university and make sure it’s the right environment for you.

Photo Courtesy: Wharton

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