Do You Need a Degree to Succeed as an Entrepreneur?

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in his Harvard dormitory and dropped out of school after the social network exploded. Steve Jobs, Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, Michael Dell, and Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t obtain college degrees. In fact, most of them didn’t attend or even finish college — Wright didn’t even finish high school! Though the entrepreneurs listed are the exception rather than the norm, they established that it is possible to succeed as an entrepreneur without a degree or higher education. What it takes is three things: an innovative idea, a thorough business plan, and an adequate level of self-awareness.

While a degree may not guarantee your startup is an instant success, higher education can provide you with valuable knowledge in your field, and open doors for potential business partners, clients, and investors. It can give you a fallback option, and increase your self-esteem. The best degrees for entrepreneurs are subject to the industry and type of business, but the ones below have all proven to be good stepping stones in building up a business.

A Technical Degree

The most important driver in startup success is an in-depth knowledge of the industry you are targeting. It’s difficult to identify where the best opportunities lie if you don’t know the ins and outs of the industry itself. Obtaining a specific degree in the field, and conducting research to familiarize yourself with the basics are all good ways to gain knowledge and get a good overview. What you cannot find on Google, you can find in a book or a trade journal. What can’t be found in a book or other written publications can be accessed through mentorships, internships, and jobs. This will ensure you have a ground-up understanding of the industry and the people in it.

A Business Degree

To complement the degree from the field they wish to pursue, entrepreneurs often need a business degree to give them extra knowledge on how to run their businesses efficiently. With a business degree, it will be easier to relate to professionals who will be working for your startup. You’ll understand basics in product productions, management, distribution, and advertising. These degrees are held by most entrepreneurs due to their versatility.

An Innovative Idea

Innovation does not mean you have to create anything new. In fact, many  famous inventors simply improved existing ideas. With proper insight, it’s easy to identify gaps in the existing products and services. Those gaps could be based on similar businesses but addressing an area that has an unmet need.

An excellent example of an innovative idea is from Meg Gill. The 28-year-old is the youngest female brewery owner in the United States. Golden Road Brewing is one of the hundreds of California breweries, and California is a state that did not need a new brewery. Meg Gill saw it differently. When she was researching her target industry, she identified a factory gap. In a scale of 10 million people radius, there was no full-scale craft brewery. She launched her business to meet the demand.

Now, Golden Road Brewing 150 employees, doubled growth every year since 2015, and has partnerships with Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Whole Foods. Although she does not have a business degree and opted for a BA in Classics from Yale instead, her education has helped her in forging and understanding the threads that connect people to their communities.

A Thorough Business Plan

A comprehensive business plan can increase your chances of obtaining venture capital and business loans. Creating a business plan will allow you to identify the problems and opportunities that your business is likely to face. It also gives an insight into the possible penalties, legal challenges, and changes in the marketplace that you will likely encounter. It provides you with a theoretical perspective on what your business will look like, how it will be expected to perform, and ways through which you will address major problems.


Most entrepreneurs want to fix every problem they encounter. However, if you try to cover all the bases yourself, you’ll end up burning out. Being an entrepreneur requires surrounding yourself with a good team and people with specialized skills. The team should be able to complement your strengths as an entrepreneur and pick up the slack in places where there might be gaps.

Unless you are a high school genius or have a natural talent in a particular area, ultimately you will need a college education to pursue your startup dreams. Without it, you will be playing Russian Roulette with your business. Keep in mind that there are more failed businesses than successful ones. Learn from the exceptions, but be smart about the process.

Eileen O’Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. For more information on degrees to help your background as an entrepreneur, check out WGU. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy.