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New Report Showcases How Female and Male MBAs Perceive Entrepreneurship and VC

MBA students are now drawn to entrepreneurship more than ever before. In Illuminate Ventures’ latest research paper, over 85% of MBA respondents – including 88% of men, and 80% of women – were considering an entrepreneurial career path. The current pandemic also lends a germane and immediate perspective by revealing an uptick in entrepreneurial drive.

With rising interest in the space, and the high percentage of MBA startup founders, these student opinions matter as they’re set to become the founders (and investors) of the future.

The team at Illuminate sought to identify the unique experiences and concerns of both male and female MBAs pursuing entrepreneurship and venture capital. It reveals key differences between male and female attitudes, including perceived confidence gaps, concern over the availability of funding, and influences and barriers on their paths to success. It also covers shared views and motivations, including necessary attributes to bring ideas to market.

Some of the key findings include insights into the following questions:

What influences, motivates and supports MBA student interest in entrepreneurship?

  • By far, the most selected reason for considering entrepreneurship for both men and women was to bring ideas they are passionate about to the market. This mirrors the response from our prior research of current entrepreneurs.
  • Roughly 60% of students interested in an entrepreneurial career path had an entrepreneur friend, and over two-thirds had a parent or mentor as role model.
  • The most prized data source for MBA students was current entrepreneurs.
  • Mentors and information found through websites, journals and books were also valued, but students assigned much less usefulness to clubs and classroom experiences.

How do students think about entrepreneurial barriers and success attributes?

  • When considering barriers to entrepreneurial success, female MBA students ranked “self-confidence” as a barrier to entrepreneurial success somewhat higher than the male students surveyed.
  • Male and female MBAs both selected financial security (58%) as a very significant barrier followed by access to startup capital (37%). These top two barriers paralleled those of both male and female founders in our prior research.
  • Across all current and prior survey respondents –whether female or male – all agreed that the most important attribute of a successful entrepreneur is a combination of resilience and perseverance.
  • All but one of the groups (women MBAs) surveyed also selected the ability to attract a great team as the second most important success attribute. This ranking is likely well-merited, since data shows that 23% of startups fail because they lack the right team.

How far along are students on their entrepreneurial journey?

  • Over a third more male respondents noted they already had a startup idea versus female.
  • Many students prefer to start by joining an existing startup versus launching their own.
  • A much higher proportion of male students reported that they were already active in an entrepreneurial project when compared to female students (48% versus 34% of respondents).

What is the level of interest in and the perceived barriers to a venture capital career?

  • While MBAs were interested in careers in venture capital – 63% of men, and 53% of women – they strongly believed it is very hard to break into the space. Roughly 75% of female students perceived a “high barrier to entry” and nearly 80% of male students.
  • Historically, the odds of gaining a VC role have been much worse for women and other diverse groups lacking the right networks.
  • Students believed the best way to gain exposure to VC was getting an internship in the space, but few have access to these types of opportunities.
  • Research shows that even minimal exposure to VC networks substantially benefitted men, but was less helpful for women. This is an area where further exploration may be helpful.
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