Business Administration

A Guide to a Doctor of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship: Beyond the Innovation MBA

A Guide to a Doctor of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship: Beyond the Innovation MBA
If you're already a successful entrepreneur with a few companies under your belt, think carefully before you enroll in a DBA program. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry December 4, 2019

People think of the Master of Business Administration as THE business degree, but there's a lot of material that MBA programs don't cover. If you're passionate about entrepreneurship and want to take your knowledge base to the next level, enrolling in a Doctor of Business Administration program may be the best decision you ever make.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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Are MBAs really “nothing special,” as The Economist claimed a few years ago? That’s up for debate.

MBAs typically get paid more and have access to more opportunities than bachelor’s degree holders or even those with other types of master’s degrees. That’s pretty special. On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there with Master of Business Administration degrees (nearly 200,000 MBA degrees are awarded every year in the US). That’s not so special. Perhaps standing out from the crowd in the not-so-distant future will require an additional degree: a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), for example.

DBA programs dive deeper into high-level business skills and techniques than MBA programs, but there are similarities. As is the case in most MBA programs, DBA students can choose concentration areas (sometimes called tracks or majors). Of these, the entrepreneurship concentration is relatively rare but nonetheless compelling to some aspiring business innovators.

Some schools are likely wary to enter the entrepreneurship arena for the simple reason that 90 percent of startups fail. While more people than ever are becoming entrepreneurs, most of these businesses go bust. That’s not a record schools want to stake their reputations on.

Still, some intrepid universities see the value in exploring this growing field. Entrepreneurs seeking a competitive advantage in the world of cutting-edge business ideas and venture capital funding may benefit from a DBA in Entrepreneurship. And in a space where failure is the norm, every competitive advantage is worth considering.

In this guide to a Doctor of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship, we’ll cover:

  • What is a DBA?
  • DBA vs. PhD
  • Why choose a concentration in entrepreneurship?
  • Possible fields and career paths for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship
  • Prerequisites for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship
  • Top schools for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship
  • Commitment required for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship
  • Is this the right degree for me?

What is a DBA?

The DBA is a practical/professional doctoral program (versus a purely academic one) that prepares executives to advance in business or to strike out on their own. Most students in DBA programs have significant professional experience that includes time spent in leadership roles. They also typically hold MBAs or other master’s degrees.

You’ll learn deep business theory in any Doctor of Business Administration program, and you’ll also apply what you learn to real-world challenges. When you choose a DBA program that offers an entrepreneurship track, you’ll also gain new insights into financing entrepreneurial ventures, managing innovation, pursuing social entrepreneurship, planning new ventures, advancing corporate development, and more. With this degree in hand, you’ll be ready not only to take on new levels of responsibility but also to launch your own companies or to lead growing startups as a consultant.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

University and Program Name Learn More

DBA vs. PhD

At first glance, most Doctor of Business Administration and PhD in Business Administration programs look similar. In the US, they can be treated as equivalent research degrees, and at many schools, the distinction is solely administrative. Harvard University, for instance, used to offer a DBA because Harvard Business School (HBS) was not authorized to issue PhDs. When HBS partnered with Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (which is authorized to issue PhDs), it changed its DBA program to a PhD in Business Administration program.

Other universities draw a distinction between DBAs and PhDs. This difference is typically related to career outcomes. Those who want to do original research, contribute to the business body of knowledge, and ultimately become professors pursue the PhD in Business Administration. Those looking to conduct applied research and prepare for executive roles in the business and organizational world opt for the DBA.

Why choose a concentration in entrepreneurship?

DBA students can choose concentrations in many specialty areas, from management science to finance. The entrepreneurship concentration is designed for students who are highly motivated to launch their own companies or support innovators who are taking the leap.

These students aren’t just dabblers. Typically, they are seasoned executives who have years of experience growing businesses from the inside. They’re looking for a degree that will help them leverage that expertise while launching new businesses or new products, marketing existing services and technologies to new industries or demographics, or helping small- and medium-size businesses scale in a big way.

Graduating from a Doctor of Business Administration program that offers a concentration in entrepreneurship won’t turn you into an entrepreneur. You don’t become an entrepreneur by getting an advanced degree or coming up with lots of ideas for new ventures. The only way to become an entrepreneur is to start your first business or launch your first product, degree or no degree. The Entrepreneurship DBA will provide the skills and insights to improve your chances of success, but it won’t turn a neophyte into the next Larry Page.

Possible fields and career paths for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship

DBA graduates have the academic qualifications necessary to hold all kinds of executive and leadership positions (like CEO or COO) at corporations, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and consulting firms. Some universities consider Doctor of Business Administration graduates qualified to teach advanced courses in business administration, marketing, economics, finance, and other disciplines. DBA holders also have the skills and knowledge to conduct independent business research, contribute to the development of textbooks, or write for business publications.

They’re also equipped to strike out on their own, which is what inspires most students to enroll in these programs. Graduates aren’t limited to vying for top executive positions or professorships (though they can if they want to) because they have the knowledge and the skills to found their own companies. That means they can do just about anything.

Is the entrepreneurial path a risky one? Yes. The average salary for entrepreneurs in the US is just over $68,000, which is a lot less than the average CEO salary.

When you factor in the failure rate for new businesses, some entrepreneurs are making diddly-squat. On the other hand, the most successful entrepreneurs make millions of dollars, so the upside is definitely there. Founding your own company is a lot less risky when you also have the qualifications to pivot to a chief executive position if you fail. The DBA offers, among other things, a fairly reliable parachute.

Prerequisites for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship

Most DBA programs require applicants to have either an MBA or an advanced degree in a functional area of business. They also typically require at least five years of work experience in business, or teaching experience in a relevant business field. One MBA option you may want to explore if you haven’t already earned a graduate degree is the MBA in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In some cases, a compelling history of entrepreneurial successes may be enough to persuade a university to admit an applicant without the usual prerequisites. In general, however, schools are looking for students with a strong business background and degrees that show they are capable of taking on significant amounts of academic work. A doctorate is a labor-intensive degree.

What you’ll study in a DBA program

Students in Doctor of Business Administration programs complete advanced core coursework in:

  • Managerial economics
  • Managerial statistics
  • Corporate finance
  • Change leadership
  • International business
  • Accounting
  • Marketing strategy
  • Organizational behavior
  • Strategic management
  • Advanced research methods

When you choose an entrepreneurship concentration, you’ll also study the processes and strategies employed by successful startups and companies with a history of innovation. By studying real-world situations, students learn how to identify unique market opportunities, manage risk, raise capital, and leverage change. Coursework typically focuses on:

  • Strategic entrepreneurship
  • Venture management
  • Creativity in entrepreneurship
  • Ethical issues in entrepreneurship
  • Categorical data analysis and multivariate statistics
  • Start-up marketing
  • Business plan development
  • Team-building strategies
  • Consumer trend identification
  • Global economics
  • E-commerce models and platforms
  • Venture capital

Most programs for doctoral students culminate in a thesis project or dissertation. For a DBA, these capstone projects involve applying research to real-world business challenges (versus conducting original research).

Top schools for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship

As mentioned above, very few schools offer this concentration, but you can probably expect more to develop programs specifically designed for entrepreneurs in the next few years. The universities on this list are among the only schools offering a specified entrepreneurship track:

Commitment required for a doctorate in business administration in entrepreneurship

Many Doctor of Business Administration programs are designed for working executives and can be completed in three to four years while working. These programs follow a format that includes both blended classroom and online learning; classes often meet in the evenings or on weekends.

There are, however, some DBA programs that full-time students can complete in three to four years. These programs can take closer to five to seven years to complete on a part-time basis. Always read program descriptions carefully so you understand the commitment you’ll be asked to make before submitting an application.

Is this the right degree for you?

That depends on why you’re interested in the degree. There’s no denying that having a Doctor of Business Administration degree on your résumé will help you stand out among the growing crowd of job seekers with MBAs. What it won’t do is turn you into a successful entrepreneur just because you chose entrepreneurship as your concentration. Only you can do that, and you can do it without a degree.

You don’t actually need a DBA to come up with cool business ideas, secure funding, take risks, and then do it all over again if your venture is a flop. A DBA in Entrepreneurship won’t give you grit, a high tolerance for failure, or any of the other qualities that make entrepreneurs successful.

What this degree will provide is a deeper understanding of:

  • Business plan development and control
  • Business opportunities exploitation
  • Start-up management
  • Human resources management and scaling
  • Innovation
  • Other high-level business concepts specific to the entrepreneurial path

If you are reasonably sure those concepts will help you grow as an entrepreneur, then yes, it’s the right degree for you. It may also be the right degree for you if you want to make the transition from entrepreneur to entrepreneurial consultant.

But, if you’re already a successful entrepreneur with a few companies under your belt, think carefully before you enroll in this particular type of DBA program. You obviously have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, which means you might get a lot more out of a different DBA concentration.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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