March 1, 2024

Why some investors will only back founders with MBAs

Is it a problem for investors to prioritise founders who can afford eye wateringly expensive business school courses?

When you’re moving around the world of venture-backed startups, you’re never too far from someone with an MBA.

These business school courses — which often cost north of €100k — are a polarising force in the tech sector, seen by some as a hallowed career booster, by others as a vehicle for fostering elitist networking mafias.

The startup community’s favourite innovator Elon Musk has views of his own, arguing leaders wanting to learn necessary skills should “work your way up and do useful things,” rather than spend a lot of money on business school.


Some VCs are championing investment strategies where they exclusively back founders with an MBA qualification, while other entrepreneurs are launching schemes they say teach the same financial skills in a fraction of the time and the cost.

Network boosters 

Mónica Aznar is a partner at MBA Ventures, an early-stage VC fund that only invests in founders with MBA degrees. She says founders who complete these courses learn vital knowledge in areas like investment and accountancy but also concedes that a lot of the value is in the network that students build.

“You meet people from all over the world and all industries, you broaden your network,” she says. “If you’ve done an MBA it will be easier for you to raise funds for your startup because many VC firms appreciate the network you’ve built thanks to it. You will have contacts that might help you scale your business beyond the country where you founded it.”

MBAs alumni networks are very active, and people help each other even if 15 years have passed between the time when they graduated, says Aznar, who got one of her jobs in venture via an MBA colleague from the same school she attended. 

Personality traits

Aznar says most applicants without strong maths skills find the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) very challenging, and that passing this rigorous exam is a big tick when assessing if a founder is backable. 

“You might need to spend an entire year preparing for the GMAT, while you’re working. People who go for an MBA tend to be very driven, ambitious and hardworking,” she says. “That’s the type of profile that I’m looking for in an entrepreneur — someone serious who also knows how to navigate challenges.”

In Spain, where Aznar is based, people are traditionally averse to taking a loan to pay for their studies, unlike in the US or the UK, so most MBA graduates have their fees paid by their employers, often big consultancy firms or banks, or by their parents. 

Only top employees would get financial support from their employers to do an MBA, so investing in those people normally pays off, she says, adding that she respects founders who’ve taken a risk by taking out a loan to pay for a course.

“All MBAs are ridiculous”

Cheaper and more accessible alternatives to MBAs have been around for some time, with online-only programmes like ThePowerMBA promising equivalent training over 14 or 18-month courses.

But new offers are popping up that say you can learn the same skills in as little as three months.

Eduardo Riera cofounded the Spanish edtech startup Zrive in 2022 to help students from state-funded universities in Spain become more employable in sectors like banking and tech, and to link them up with top employers without requiring a business school diploma.


He says he was ineligible for certain banking jobs in Madrid after finishing his economics degree from the state-backed Oviedo University in northern Spain, because he didn’t have a qualification from a top business school. Years later, he did obtain an MBA from a top London school, paid by his employer at the time, but wasn’t impressed by the course.

“Academically speaking, all MBAs are ridiculous. They’re about having fun, a two-year party,” he says. 

“The most important thing to change career paths is not concluding your MBA, it’s being selected for one. You start an MBA and in your first month you’re taking part in recruitment processes which you didn’t have access to before. Companies outsource their first round of recruitment to the admission committees for MBAs.”

Countering Aznar’s point about backing risk-takers who pay for their MBAs with a loan, Riera says that children from wealthy families often grow up with an innate “everything is possible” mindset. This, he says, means they consider an MBA from an elite US university as an achievable milestone — whereas most mortals would feel deterred by their cost and scrap the idea of applying before even assessing financial support options.

Breaking the glass ceiling

With Zrive, Riera aims to help founders from less well-off families via training programmes that seek to replicate some of the upsides of an MBA, in just between 10 and 14 weeks.

At a cost of about €1,500, Zrive’s courses include sessions with professionals from top companies, networking, access to exclusive recruitment processes, business and workshops events. One of its most recent programmes is focused on the applied data science sector, and Riera is planning to launch one focused on business roles in the tech sector.

He argues the reputation of some business schools in Spain is declining as they prioritise profits by admitting more and more students. He does accept though that short courses can only scratch the surface when there are bigger socioeconomic factors at play.

“One of the problems that we are finding in Zrive when trying to boost social mobility is that something that’s very hard to replicate — and something that people from wealthy families tend to have — is their social capital,” Riera says. “It’s irreplaceable that you may have spent 20 years of your life sitting at a dining table in a house where business was discussed on a daily basis, with your parents and often their friends too.”

Cristina Gallardo

Cristina Gallardo is a senior reporter at Sifted based in Madrid and Barcelona. She covers Europe's tech sovereignty, deeptech and Iberia. Follow her on X and LinkedIn