People who succeed in business tend to try really, really hard. They also possess traits that can’t be easily be taught in business school — ingenuity, resilience, passion and creativity, for starters.

So why not reverse-engineer the MBA process, and help people become business savvy after they’ve proven themselves to be problem-solvers and innovators?

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That’s the thinking behind mini-MBA programs, condensed but intensive business courses that usually take place over a few evenings or weekends. Generally, mini-MBAs are geared toward professionals who are already established in their fields and want to bolster their business credentials.

Though these quick and affordable business boot camps are popping up across the nation, Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. offers two innovative options: A traditional Mini-MBA in the essentials of management, where professionals from all walks of life can learn business fundamentals, and Business and the Creative Process, a collaboration between the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) and Bentley University geared toward artists and designers, many of whom already work in the corporate world.

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To be clear, a mini-MBA is no substitute for a traditional MBA, which typically takes two years to complete, explains Alan Hoffman, program director of Bentley's Mini-MBA program and a professor of management. 

“It’s apples and oranges. It’s not a degree. But if you know nothing about business and you take these classes, you know a lot more,” says Hoffman. 

Creative problem-solvers

The 10-day Business and the Creative Process Mini-MBA grew out of an  initiative  funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and today helps artists become versed in the language and culture of business.

“The idea is if we could teach artists who work in companies about business, then maybe the business could tap into their creative minds and solve problems from a different perspective,” explains Hoffman.

The course includes traditional lectures, classes in strategy and design thinking and group collaboration on prototypes for real world business  dilemmas . Companies come in and present specific problems to the students, who are then tasked with coming up with creative solutions.

Previous projects include one for Dunkin’ Donuts, where students conceived of an app that would allow customers to order and pick up food without have to interact with precision — all the way back in 2008, long before the idea became a reality. This year's updated curriculum incorporates design-thinking principles, and graduates have gone on to a range of career ventures. 

"We’ve had people who work in non-profits, people who are curious are making career shifts toward design management. We’ve had people go on to do some of their own business ventures," says Anne Marie Stein, Dean of professional and continuing education at MassArt. 

Says Hoffman, “Innovation is the key to success in business, so the companies that innovate, and hire these creative minds, are the ones that win in the long run.”

Savvy professionals

Led by graduate faculty members, Bentley's Mini-MBA program in the essentials of management uses case studies and business simulations to teach financial fluency, marketing and social media and the foundations of process management. 

“There’s a whole lot of people who work at companies who have engineering degrees, they’re scientists at biotech companies, or they're HR people and they studied history or English literature, and their companies send them to this mini-MBA so they can get some business background because they didn’t study in college,” says Alan Hoffman, the program director at Bentley's Mini-MBA program and a professor of management in the Micro-MBA program at MassArt in Boston.

Part of the Mini-MBA ethos (Bentley has trademarked the label "Mini-MBA" in the state of Massachusetts, though these bite-sized programs exist across the nation) is that learning doesn't stop after our careers start. 

Says Hoffman, “It helps them in their job, and it makes them grow as better employees.”