It's A Whole Network Of Advisers
Entrepreneur|October 2016

Need help with your business but have nobody to ask? Many entrepreneurs are tapping into a curated group of mentors—by signing up for online MBAs.

Jenna Schnuer

AT FIRST, KRISTIN CARPENTER-OGDEN’S CAREER CHANGE FELT MANAGEABLE. SHE HAD BEEN A REPORTER, AND IN 2002 SHE FOUNDED A PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRM CALLED VERDE BRAND COMMUNICATIONS— ESSENTIALLY BECOMING THE KIND OF PERSON WHO REACHES OUT TO REPORTERS.

But a few years in, she hit a wall: “As my business was growing, it was becoming more challenging for me to research and seek out mentorship and help,” she says. Pursuing an MBA would have provided her with ample guidance, but that seemed impossible: She lived in Durango, Colo., and was raising two kids.

“There is no way I would attend an on-site program,” she says. And then, in 2006, she found a way to plug in from home: The Poultney, Vt.–based Green Mountain College offered a sustainability-focused MBA online. “It was a miracle for me,” says Carpenter-Ogden.

An MBA had long been something aspiring entrepreneurs got before launching their businesses, or during pauses in their careers. But in signing up for an MBA this way, Carpenter-Ogden joined a growing group of small-business people who no longer see education as simply preparation: It is now more of a booster, to be applied when someone’s business needs it. Stephen Taylor, assistant dean of graduate programs at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, says online MBA programs are full of these students—and he regularly sees them using class lessons directly in their work.

“These programs are a relatively safe place for entrepreneurs to learn about how they can manage a business long-term or explore a business opportunity with help from the entire university’s research faculty and other students,” he says. “It’s a whole network of advisers that stays with you for your whole life.”

MBA programs first stepped out of the classroom and onto the internet in 1994, when Athabasca University, in Alberta, Canada, launched its online executive MBA. More recognizable business schools followed, from the University of Florida to Rochester Institute of Technology. (See pg. 52 for a ranking of the top 25 programs.) The degrees were initially met with skepticism, and sometimes hostility, from schools and graduates who believed that in-person classes and meetings were critical to the experience.

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