Do I Need a Degree To Start a Business?

Last updated on August 6th, 2023 at 09:08 am

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The idea that a degree is a prerequisite to starting a business has been nullified by how successful entrepreneurs practically became billionaires without a formal education.

In this post, we’ll provide answers from different perspectives to the question: Do I need a degree to start a business? And come up with some successful entrepreneurs who didn’t have a degree.

Of course, having a degree before starting your own venture can be advantageous in certain sectors and boost business growth

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On the flip side, this post isn’t meant to encourage you to drop out of school. You shouldn’t treat formal education with levity.

Succeeding in business through apprenticeship

In Southeast Nigeria for example, most of their successful tradesmen who went through the Igbo Apprenticeship System (IAS) became billionaires without a formal degree.

The Igbo’s IAS is locally called Igba boi or Imu oluaka.

IAS “is an unpaid business apprenticeship/incubator model that lets young boys learn business methods from a master for a certain number of years (usually between five to eight years) and at the end of their apprenticeship tenure, gets cash infusion and support to start their own business.”

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Most times, the uncle who teaches his younger kin the act of buying and selling rarely has a degree.

The younger kin who gets the financial support of his uncle, most times enroll in the apprenticeship system after a primary school certificate or JSS 3 certificate, with no formal degree. And they were successful in their choice of trade.

It is safe to say that the decision to pursue a degree in a business-related programme before starting a business will depend on your circumstances.

From Nigeria to the United States, they can be found in every country. Some of them include Cosmos Maduka, the sole distributor of BMW vehicles in West Africa; Richard Branson; and Innocent Chukwuma, founder of IVM Motors and many more.

Skills You Need To Start a Business

It is indisputable that you could be successful in your business without a degree. But you need some skills to complement your hard work and doggedness to start and oversee a successful business.

Without a degree, some of the essential skills and qualities to start and run a successful business include:

Communication skills

You need to be able to communicate with team members, your customers, and stakeholders. It may not necessarily be in English or Mandarin or any other globally spoken language. Any language that your customers understand is a business language.

Creativity

You need to be innovative and think of new products when degree holders are thinking of the next high-paying jobs.

Most of the successful entrepreneurs around the world possess this quality, which makes them unique. That’s one of the reasons they are employers of the most brilliant graduates.

Problem-solving

Your ability to proffer solutions to people’s problems is essential to be successful in a business.

Adaptability

You must be ready to adapt to changing market conditions, adjust to economic policies and prevail over market challenges.

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Financial dexterity

Non-degree holder entrepreneurs are the greatest financial managers. As such, you must be prudent and make sound financial decisions is critical to the success of a business.

Leadership

You don’t need a degree to have leadership skills. This skill is what you need to inspire and build a strong team.

Marketing and sales

Unlike those who went to school to have a degree in marketing, successful businessmen and women without a degree learn sales techniques in their ventures.

Most of the successful entrepreneurs without a degree developed these skills through experience and self-education in their trade.

In the Igbo Apprenticeship System, the apprentice pays attention to these skills during the training period.

Successful entrepreneurs without a degree

A degree isn’t a guarantee that you will succeed in business, but it will be a plus. And from across the world, we can see successful entrepreneurs without a degree. They include:

Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto

The chairman of Ibeto Group is a product of Igbo Apprenticeship System. He started as an importer of motor spare parts. He grew it into the manufacturing of auto spare parts.

He is also the founder of Ibeto Cement. Ibeto didn’t have a degree before starting his business

Richard Branson

Branson is the founder of Virgin Group. He dropped out of school at 16 due to poor academic performance.

Despite suffering from dyslexia, the British entrepreneur went ahead to build a global business empire that includes more than 400 firms across several sectors including aviation, telecommunications, rail transportation, and entertainment.

Mark Zuckerberg

If a degree was needed to be an inventor, the co-founder of Meta wouldn’t have founded the social media platforms Facebook.

But Zuckerberg left Harvard’s undergraduate computer science program to devote his time to his pet project.

Today, Facebook is ranked as the largest social media platform by the number of users, according to Alfred Lua’s Buffer report

Facebook has 2.96 billion monthly Active Users (MAUs) as of March 15, 2023. Under his social media radar are WhatsApp (with 2 billion MAUs), and Instagram (2 billion MAUs).

His determination and innovative thinking is a product of more than 90 companies under Zuckerberg’s ownership, some of which he acquired.

In 2017, he was a commencement speaker at his former college Harvard University.

Steve Jobs

The co-founder of Apple Inc. is one of the most referenced dropouts in the history of business startups.

He later disclosed that “I ran out of money” in a 1991 commencement speech at his former school, Reed College.

Other successful entrepreneurs who either dropouts or didn’t have a degree are:

  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Alicia Keys
  • Rasaq Okoya
  • Tiger Woods
  • Cosmos Maduka
  • Bill Gates
  • Jack Dorsey

Notably, most of the successful businessmen from Southeast Nigeria, majorly Anambra state, who do not have a degree or are dropouts, are products of the Igbo Apprenticeship System.

How did the dropouts become successful in business?

Some of the qualities that are peculiar to all the aforementioned dropout successful entrepreneurs is their determination, ability to take risk, perseverance, and innovative thinking

While a degree can complement business decisions, it is not a prerequisite for success in entrepreneurship.

What matters most is the drive and determination to pursue your goals in the face of challenges.

 This, of course, would take us to the next question: what business ideas require no degree?

The business you can start without a degree

The success stories of dropout entrepreneurs have proven to us that one can start a venture without a degree.

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Here are a few examples:

E-commerce business

You don’t need a BSc in Marketing or Business Administration to set up a shop on an e-commerce platform.

You can learn the process of setting up an online store by watching videos on YouTube and online guides.

Freelance services

While a degree in Mass Communication or English Language would be helpful in creating captivating copy and complementing your freelance success, it isn’t a must to have a degree to start this business.

There are online resources that would teach you the act of freelancing.

Event planning

Event planning is a business that you do not need a degree to start.

By networking with other event planners, and reading resources online, you can learn a lot about this business.

Personal services

If you have organizational and communication skills as earlier pointed out, you can start offering services such as dog walking, pet sitting, and running errands.

These services require no formal education.

Cleaning services

You can offer cleaning services for homes, corporate offices, and other commercial spaces. No degree is needed to start this business. 

Advantages of a degree to an entrepreneur

Having proved that it is possible to become a successful entrepreneur without a degree, yet, we can’t underestimate the importance of formal education to the success of a business.

Here are the ways education contributes to success in a business:

Credibility

A degree provides credibility, especially when starting a business and seeking funding from financial institutions.

Access to knowledge 

Education isn’t a scam because it is a gateway to get access to a wide range of knowledge and skills.

Some people might opine that the courses in finance, marketing, and management are theory; its applicability in real business life is a huge plus for business success.

Professionalism 

Communication and writing skills are taught in undergraduate programs in Mass Communication, English Language, and many other Arts courses.

Networking opportunities

There are many successful entrepreneurs who met their business partners as undergrads. Formal education is an opportunity to build a network of contacts through alumni groups and meetings.

Although the popularity of professional networks like LinkedIn or social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc might fill this gap, formal education is still a huge networking opportunity.

Critical thinking skills

There are some exam questions or assignments that can only be solved by critical thinking.

For instance, a degree in Economics will most likely help someone who wants to become a foreign exchange trader to make decisions.

Remember, problem-solving skills are essential for success in entrepreneurship.

Successful entrepreneurs with a college degree

As we pointed out that some successful entrepreneurs either drop out of college or didn’t even have a degree, it is also very important to point out that some successful business owners have degrees, they include:

Jeff Bezos:

The founder of Amazon attended Princeton University with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science

Warren Buffett:

After his first degree billionaire investor went ahead to earn a Master of Science in economics from Columbia. Buffett also attended the New York Institute of Finance.

Elon Musk:

The founder of SpaceX and Tesla attended the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with a degree in physics and economics. Musk is also the largest shareholder of Twitter.

Jamie Dimon:

The American businessman and banker attended Tufts University and Harvard University graduating with a degree in psychology and economics.

Sundar Pichai:

The Indian-American business executive didn’t become the CEO of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google by accident.

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He attended the  Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

The Google CEO also has an M.S. in engineering and materials science from Stanford University.

So, if you want to add the above benefits of education to your venture, then you need a degree to consolidate your success in business.

No wonder, we see dropout billionaire success entrepreneurs attending leadership diploma courses in highly-rated institutions around the world.

Skills through self-education

While the majority of self-trained successful entrepreneurs went through self-education and experience, education provides a learning platform.

Education can also provide access to Mentos and resources that can help with the development and growth of a business.

However, a degree isn’t a guarantee that you will be a successful entrepreneur and many dropouts have achieved success without a degree.

Alternatives to a degree

Undergoing a 4-year programme at the university may be the formal way of acquiring degrees in various disciplines.

There are, however, many alternatives or forms of self-education where dropout entrepreneurs can acquire skills. They include: 

Mentorship programs

There are many mentorship programs providing valuable guidance on how to implement various business ideas.

They also connect young business owners with experienced entrepreneurs. Some mentorship programs are offered by professional organizations, business accelerators, and incubators.

Online courses

On Alison, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning, you can obtain a diploma in various programs, including business management, marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and leadership.

These courses can be taken at your own pace. It can also be a cost-effective way to gain knowledge and practicable skills.

Workshops and seminars 

In real estate and other sectors that are related to marketing and sales, workshops and seminars are a good way to learn marketing skills.

They provide opportunities to learn from experts. Through their tips, you can learn insights into their feat.

Networking events

If you want to learn business ethics and management, try and attend business networking events, and build relationships for future partnerships and collaborations.

Books and podcast

Reading books and listening to business podcasts can be an effective way to gain insights into specific areas of business.

There are free e-books on business, finance, and marketing that you can learn from.

Verdicts:

You can start a business without going to business school or without a business-related degree.

To start a business without a college degree, you need to possess qualities and skills such as communication, creativity, an eye for problems and ways to proffer solutions, prudence, leadership, and marketing skills.

Depending on your goals, if you are bent on getting a degree before starting your own business, most useful degrees for aspiring entrepreneurs include communication, finance, computer science, business administration, marketing, and Accounting

Most experiences are learned in the business field.

Above all, you don’t need a degree qualification to start your own business.

Conclusion

If you’re still asking: Do I need a degree to start a business? This post explains the merits of being formally educated in business.

Whether or not a degree is necessary for success in setting up a business depends on the individual’s goals.

We believe that formal education can provide the required skills and credibility, however, other alternative ways to gain knowledge and skills can serve as a buffer.

The most important thing is to continue learning whether through formal or alternative methods.

While you don’t need a degree to successfully run and manage a business, a relevant degree isn’t a waste because there is some applicable formal knowledge that will help your business to grow.

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