UCLA B-School Sees a Surge in Applicants

Going back to school is a profitable use of hard times, says dean Judy Olian. And she thinks many of the applicants may be from Asia

With financial markets crumbling and capital for startups harder to find, what should would-be entrepreneurs do? For a growing number, this might be just the time to head back to the classroom. Judy Olian, head of the business school at the University of California at Los Angeles, says that applications typically increase during bad times. "When the market contracts in terms of employment, people come to school," says Olian, dean of the UCLA's Anderson School of Management. While it's too early to say just how much bigger the applicant pool will be this year, she says "we have preliminary indications it's up."

Chances are, a good number of those applications are coming from Asia. UCLA Anderson is popular among students from there, says Olian, who was in Hong Kong on Oct. 27 on an trip to promote partnerships with Asian schools. UCLA Anderson is partners with 17 schools in Asia, including four in Japan, four in China, three in India, and two in Hong Kong. Those connections help boost the popularity of the school in Los Angeles: Last year, 25% of UCLA Anderson's 3,700 applicants came from Asia. "It's a robust applicant pool," she says.

One reason for the school's popularity, Olian believes, is UCLA Anderson's highly ranked entrepreneurship program. Compared with other parts of the U.S., "Los Angeles is a much more entrepreneurial economy," she says. That emphasis on entrepreneurs "suits this part of the world," Olian believes, pointing to the importance of private business in the rise of the Chinese economy. "China's ascendancy has to do with entrepreneurs and taking risks, so in that sense there's a kindred spirit with the California risk-taking spirit."

Deepening Gloom

There are some things about launching a startup that not even the best B-school can teach, Olian concedes. "Nobody can inject you with risk tolerance or preference," she says. Still, Olian argues there's plenty that aspiring entrepreneurs can get from an MBA program. "There are a variety of ingredients in the entrepreneurial process that can be learned," she says. For instance, students can gain insights on how to test ideas, develop business plans, attract capital, market products, and structure deals.

Business schools can also teach would-be entrepreneurs about another, less appealing, topic: What happens when things go bad. "Entrepreneurship requires a high level of tenacity in the face of failure," says Olian. That's why a good entrepreneurship program will, among other things, "prepare people for the risk of failure, the likelihood of failure."

The deepening gloom about the global economy might make the odds of failure seem even higher for many young Asian entrepreneurs, but Olian says there's reason to be hopeful. Opportunities and rewards for creativity are going to be there in spades," she says. Despite the huge losses suffered by investors, "it's not as if there's isn't money," she says. "There's a lot of money waiting on the sidelines for the right ideas and the right time to get into the markets.".