Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson are all famous for being hugely successful without a traditional university or business school training. Now research from Stuart Read, professor of marketing, innovation and entrepreneurship at IMD, in Switzerland, says that this is because there is little connection between innovation and entrepreneurship and education.

Giving academic backing to what many have believed for decades, Prof Read has just completed a study analysing data from the past 20 years that addressed the issues relating to human capital and innovation. He then cross-checked the information against the performance outcomes of start-up ventures - whether they survived, whether they were growing companies and whether they were profitable, for example.

What he found was the education scored persistently low across all successful outcomes. The factors that scored highly - that is, resulted in successful companies - were networking and setting up a business with at least one partner, rather than going it alone.

In a separate piece of research conducted by Prof Read, which asked successful entrepreneurs what they valued most highly, it was having a mentor, rather than receiving funding, that came out on top.

“What I was really interested in was what were the human aspects involved in new ventures,” says Prof Read. The answer, it seems, is that the “softer” resources of mentorship and organisational support are more important than the “harder” resources of money.

So, is Prof Read not shooting himself in the foot by suggesting that education will not help those setting up in business for themselves? He says the answer is for business schools to pay more attention to some of the issues relating to the human aspects of setting up and growing a business, rather than the more technical elements. “We have to be very sensitive to what people need. If we deliver on that we will be able to make a difference.”

The research will be published shortly.

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