Succeeding in Business Before You’re 30: Is a degree necessary?

by / ⠀Startup Advice / February 21, 2013

Self-made entrepreneurs across the country usually get their start out of a combination of ‘traditional’ work frustrations or increased career-life desires. In a nutshell, entrepreneurs create opportunity when others are napping. They see excitement where others might see failure. They align themselves with products, build businesses, create needed services, and build on the innate business creativity inside them.

And you want that too! Say with me: “I want to be an entrepreneur.” Great! But how do you do that? How can you shift your outlook to move from job centered to opportunity centered? Many young professionals think you need a top business degree from a worthy university to get started. But many cases abound that show that’s untrue.  In fact, some business industries do not even need top-educated professionals. Instead, hunger, passion, and a desire to succeed is often what’s more valuable to a growing business.

Having an MBA from an Ivy League University isn’t a pre-requisite for starting your own business. Both Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. CEO Michael Dell started Dell Computers at age 19, and countless others have started small to large businesses without a formal college education. Education is a valuable asset, but experience is also a good teacher. In today’s rapid-paced business market, entrepreneurs must know how AND know why.

One way to gain the ‘why’ knowledge you need is through an online college education. It’s a topic once relegated to the Chronicle of Higher Education, but is now widely read about in the New York Times and other mainstream reads. Your business may come first, your entrepreneurial pursuits may be top of mind, but having access to online learning education can be one of the best steps a young professional can take.

One of the leading players in the merging online education market is Coursera, a free online education service begun by two former Stanford professors. Coursera is partnering with top universities all over the nation, including California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, John Hopkins University, Rice University, UC San Francisco, University of Illinois, University of Washington, and the University of Virginia as equity investors.

Taking online courses on Coursera can help bolster an entrepreneur’s learning levels. The site’s free online courses can fill in education gaps that may have been forgotten on the rise to business entrepreneurship. Upon completion of a course, most universities will offer certifications at the discretion of the professor and the college. But most importantly, this is just a phenomenal opportunity to reignite your mind and start learning again.

Below is a list of distance education universities & institutions and some of the most novel courses now offered through Coursera, courtesy of and

Neural Networks for Machine Learning

  • School: Johns Hopkins University
  • Instructor: Dr. Kevin Frick
  • Workload: 7-9 hours/week

How do machines learn? This computer-science class takes a look at advanced learning methods concerning artificial neural networks. These networks, as opposed to basic algorithms, use algorithms inspired by how our own brains learn. The course will look at how these new methods are being applied to current machine-learning applications such as speech, object recognition, image segmentation, human emotion, and what’s required to apply these procedures to other domains.

Principles of Obesity Economics

  • School: Johns Hopkins University
  • Instructor: Dr. Kevin Frick
  • Workload: 3-5 hours/week

Are consumer choices influences by preferences, relative prices, and time and money constraints? This course looks at how consumer choice leads to weight differences in individuals, and whether there’s reason for government intervention in personal choices related to obesity.


  • School: Stanford University
  • Instructor: Dr. Dan Boneh
  • Workload: 5-7 hours/week

How is valuable information protected in computer systems? Even when this information is protected, is it still vulnerable? This class examines a number of topics surrounding data protection including cryptographic primitives, public key encryption, digital signatures, authentication protocols, secure auctions, privacy mechanisms, and how to apply this knowledge to real world applications.

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry

  • School: University of Pennsylvania
  • Instructor: Dr. Al Filreis
  • Workload: 5-8 hours/week

From Dickinson and Whitman to the present. This fast-paced poetry course aims to introduce students to a wide range of modern and contemporary poets, including a course on how to read, interpret, and appreciate complex poetry. The selected authors and works also provide an understanding of general cultural transition from modernism to postmodernism.

Experimental Genome Science

  • School: University of Pennsylvania
  • Instructor: John Hogenesch, John Isaac Murray
  • Workload: 6-8 hours/week

The course serves as a helpful introduction to experimental genomics. The course begins by looking at the basic underpinnings of DNA sequencing and the genome project, past and present. The course concludes with an overview of the “high throughput sequencing” genome method, as well as the central problem concerning philosophers of biology, being: “What exactly is a gene?”

Think Again: How To Reason and Argue

  • School: Duke University
  • Instructor: Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Ram Neta
  • Workload: 5-6 hours/week

This course teaches students how to reason and argue— and how to do it well. Students learn important rules regarding how to understand topics, and some common mistakes to avoid in reasoning. Professors discuss how to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments by other people. Once this is accomplished, the course turns toward how to construct arguments in order to help students decide what to believe, what to do, and how to appropriately respond to faulty arguments.

Introduction to Astronomy

  • School: Duke University
  • Instructor: Ronen Plesser
  • Workload: 6-8 hours/week

In this class, you will be studying everything in the universe. Starting with “classical” astronomy and describing the night sky. Studying the Solar System, Milky Way, and the wonderful and strange objects we observe in deep space, such as black holes, quasars, and supernovae. The course will conclude with some discussion of what scientists know today about the universe as a whole.

Introduction to Digital Sound Design

  • School: Emory University
  • Instructor: Steve Everett
  • Workload: 3-4 hours/week

This course provides an oversight of the fundamental principles of sound— where sound and music are influential in our society, and the factors that determine audio perception. The course explores recording techniques, mixing, processing, synthesis, sampling, analysis, and editing of digital audio—all of which can be done using free digital music software for Mac and PC. Students learn numerous sound design and editing techniques for use in a broad array of applications, including film and web-based media, art installations, soundscape creations, or live and Internet music performances.

Whatever online education course a young entrepreneur chooses to take for understanding more ‘why’ in his business orbit can likely be applied in some form or fashion to the pursuit of business.

Richard has an MBA in Business Administration but finds he enjoys writing about the business sector more than running a company. Fascinated by economics and business, you will never find him sitting still.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.