Paths with Purpose

Paths with Purpose

There are numerous routes to preparing for a career as an entrepreneur. Get going!

Innovation commonly conjures images of breakthroughs in technology or logistics. However, for an entrepreneur, any idea that can grow into a business is an unquestioned opportunity. Most new business ideas will be disruptive while a smaller company with fewer resources successfully challenges and penetrates an existing market. Disruption is genuine innovation. 

The most common approaches for disruption:

  • More suitable functionality. Gain a foothold with a more appropriate solution—frequently at a lower price. Entrenched incumbents tend not to respond vigorously.
  • Good-enough products. Provide low-end customers with a good-enough product as incumbents focus on high-end customers who demand the latest features.
  • Get a foothold in new markets. Find a way to turn non-consumers into consumers.

Once you gain a foothold, inch upmarket. 

The next step after the initial idea is a well-crafted business plan. The standard requirements for success are adequate funding, a unique business model, and a seasoned team. This advice misses the reality that doing any one of a myriad of things poorly, despite all those strengths, can kill your business. The hidden secret of success is avoiding failure!

Many assumptions in your plan will fail, however, so pressure-testing and substantiating the idea and its underlying assumptions before launching the business is a must; you do not want to be tackling those problems when the meter is ticking. Failing forward is a powerful concept that highlights weak links that need improvement and uncovers items to add or start doing. If a problem appears unresolvable, you can abandon the idea and look for a better solution. 

Such in-depth analysis requires a level of preparation, collective experience, and wisdom that is often beyond the entrepreneur and team. Various options for schooling or immersive preparation are available to strengthen your idea before you launch:

  • A degree in entrepreneurship. Immersive preparation is the raison d’être of such a program. However, be very selective in picking a credible program. Many universities have old-line faculty with no entrepreneurial experience and have simply rebranded their regular business program with a course in entrepreneurship. 
  • An entrepreneurship minor. Add an entrepreneurship minor to your major or professional degree. Use your classes to build your idea into elements of the business plan. Most instructors will let you develop these segments instead of working on an esoteric problem. You can also enlist your classmates in the process; a critique from your instructors helps improve the plan.
  • A part-time job in a company close to your dream while continuing your studies. Learn about the details and the viability of your idea in a real-world setting.
  • Non-academic sources. Incubators and accelerators are intense, practical, fast, cheap, and relevant. These usually require evidence of entrepreneurial accomplishment before they accept you into their program.
  • Business plan contests. Programs like MN Cup and others provide mentors who can help critique your idea and assumptions. 
  • Boot camps. A short-term immersive experience enables critique and suggestions from experienced professionals.
  • Peer-group roundtable. Fellow entrepreneurs whom you’re not competing with business-wise can help share ideas and resources.
  • A credible mentor. You must learn from mistakes—but do they all have to be your own? Mentors can provide excellent institutional knowledge based on experience and insights from scenarios they have faced and overcome. 
  • Do it yourself. Many credible methodologies are available. One free process I helped develop is at Ideagist.com.
  • Get a full-time job. Take a job in a company closest to your passion, interest, and skills, irrespective of whether it is the highest-paid job. Learn the ropes. Do not consider the job distracting from your desire to become an entrepreneur. Save substantial parts of your pay as resources for your future startup. Over time, you will have the option to stay or leave whenever you feel you’ve learned what you need. 

Schooling before launch improves the probability of success and provides a potent edge to entrepreneurs who want to disrupt the status quo and build their own business. Immersive preparation lays the foundation for a more solid startup. 

Rajiv Tandon is executive director of the Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs and an advocate for the future of entrepreneurship in Minnesota. Reach him at rajiv@mn-iie.org.

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