In 2010, Peter Thiel, co-founder and former CEO of Paypal, made headlines by paying some college kids $100,000 to leave school. Starting next month, students will be doing just the opposite – skipping MBAs to pay our company $25,000 as Apprentices, to learn how to start, build and run a company. We believe it’s a tectonic shift in the field of business education.

Phil Randazzo, a Nevada native who will graduate from Elmhurst College in a few weeks, has opted to pay to learn from me for one year instead of getting a traditional MBA. This may be the first time since the end of the apprentice system in the 19thcentury that someone paid a company to go to work for them. I believe we’re just going back where we came from.

Phil is the first student to choose Crankset Group’s new Mastery of Business Application program, which encourages students to learn in-the-trenches, directly from a businessperson, instead of from professors. There isn’t a whit of correlationbetween MBAs and success, and the data backs that up. Only 29 of the top 100 CEOsin America have an MBA, and an exponentially lower percentage of successful entrepreneurs have MBAs, or even finished college. The correlation isn’t between education and success, but life-long learning and success – two very different things.

Randazzo found out about our program listening to an interview where I challenged students to do it. Phil had to decide whether it made sense to pay a lot more than $25,000 for an MBA from a traditional college. He told me, “In the end it seemed to be a lot better investment to spend a year shadowing an actual entrepreneur and learn how it’s really done, and also benefit from a great network of relationships.”

There is a growing debate on whether higher education is giving students the return on investment that colleges claim. I’ve never been a fan of it for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit. I believe if you want to learn to start, build and run a business, you’ll have to unlearn most of what you would learn from an MBA, which, with some very notable exceptions (like Kennesaw State), just teaches people to be cogs in giant corporations. We decided Crankset Group, which helps businesses grow on three continents, needed to develop an alternative MBA in the trenches.

Our Mastery of Business Application focuses on learning while doing, and from those doing it, not those theorizing about it. It’s not an accredited MBA, it’s much more valuable than that to someone learning how to start and build a business. As with the books I’ve written on starting and growing businesses, our stuff isn’t created to work in theory, it only works in practice. The program is a twelve-month, rigorous apprenticeship including meaningful work and a formal syllabus of business fundamentals the Apprentice will learn while applying them.

We didn’t invent this. Before the Factory System of the late 1800s interrupted meaningful work, for centuries English families paid a master craftsperson to place a family member under their tutelage, who then paid them a small stipend for adding value to his business while they learned from him. We’re just closing the loop and going back where we came from.

Crankset Group Apprentices will be encouraged to create a permanent position for themselves or figure out how to extend Crankset Group’s business products and services. Everyone who works here is challenged to find something they could start and maybe lead, and in the process, create ownership for themselves in the venture. We have a new ecommerce initiative Phil will probably help start up. If it flies as we expect, it could be a permanent position with equity for Phil. As with all startups, no promises–just a lot of promise of world-class experience and learning.

Crankset Group will offer similar financial terms as traditional MBA programs. If there is any hardship, we will defer payments on the $25,000 apprenticeship fee until after the end of the twelve-month period, similar to most education loans. We will also help our Apprentices secure meaningful, above minimum wage employment with others if we don’t have a place for them in our business. They’re paying us $25,000 for the learning experience, but as with pre-Factory System Apprentices, they’ll also get paid for any value they bring to our business while they learn how to start and run one.

For every ten Apprentices that go through the program, we intend to take on two without payment. “This won’t be an elitist program”, says Krista Valentine, our Chief Relationship Officer. “We’re in the trenches and we expect to take some kids with proven ambition but no means, and help them become entrepreneurs, too. Being able to learn directly from Chuck, other Crankset Group leaders, and our strategic alliance partners is a tremendous alternative to an MBA. And they really can’t put a price on the network of relationships they can build during the program.”

Phil’s apprenticeship starts June 22, but others will join the program for their own customized twelve-month rotation at any time. He is the first of many we believe will forego traditional MBAs and pay for real-life learning experiences like this. We’re excited to build an alternative that teaches everything someone will need to start, build and lead the business of their dreams. My life vision is To Live Well By Doing Good, and this is right in line with living that out.

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