A few years ago, I took a Harvard Business School course on entrepreneurship. I have never been in a place with so many like-minded individuals from every corner of the globe. We were all entrepreneurs.
I was also amazed by how these individuals from around the world were attuned to our culture — “Americanized” as one attendee described it. They seemed to know everything that was going on in our national news, from sports, to fashion, to politics. They also respected America’s culture of capitalism and free enterprise, which is something you don’t hear often as business and corporate leaders are so often demonized in the media. Even Hollywood usually poses the businessman as the bad guy.
The course was refreshing and it got me to thinking…Where have all the American entrepreneurs gone? U.S. entrepreneurs and the startup companies they create are critical to healthy economic growth, but the annual number of startup companies has been falling for decades.
According to a report by Inc. Magazine, the Kauffman Foundation, citing its own research and drawing on U.S. Census data, concluded that the number of companies less than a year old had declined as a share of all businesses by nearly 44% between 1978 and 2012.
These entrepreneurs at Harvard came to learn about entrepreneurship and plant the seed of capitalism in their own country and culture. Now, I’m borrowing a seed from them to replant it here. That seed is “Enthusiasm for Entrepreneurship.” I believe as they did — entrepreneurship is a universal language that can solve many of the world’s economic woes.
Upon learning that I had been an entrepreneur for decades, one of the participants asked me what kind of advice would I give someone who had a burning desire to become an entrepreneur but wasn’t entirely sure if they had what it takes. I developed 10 questions that should be considered before making the decision.
So, you think you’re an entrepreneur? Answer these 10 Questions to be sure.
What is your passion? What is it that gets you excited? What is important to you? List all of them and rank them in order of preference
Are there career opportunities in any areas of your passion? Yes/No — if “no” is the answer then go to the next passion
What is your best career path? Staff position/Entrepreneur — identify the quickest path to success
What is the top-leading position attainable in your area of interest? Goal No. 1 — make that your ultimate career goal
Is there a burning platform in this area (something that everyone says can’t be accomplished) that you believe you can achieve? Goal No. 2 — that becomes the vision
Can you develop this into a five-year point of differentiation? Goal No. 3 — this is the mission
What will it take to leverage this point of differentiation? Goal No. 4 — your process becomes the start of a business plan
What are the obstacles to your success? Goal No. 5 — be honest, write them down, plan to solve them one-by-one
What affiliations do you need to make to succeed? Goal No. 6 — list them and start to make those contacts (e.g. PR professional, banker, potential partners, etc.)
Which individuals are critical to your success? Goal No. 7 — constantly identify and nurture contacts who can make a difference at key points along your growth path.
Often, the most difficult challenge for entrepreneurs is finding the cash to launch a new enterprise. Banking in the past was the lifeblood of small business owners, yet many banks are not responsive to the needs of the today’s entrepreneur. According to the New York Fed, only 50% of businesses with revenue less than $1 million get financing through banks.
No doubt recent years have been tough on new entrepreneurs. Not only do business owners have to battle an erratic economy, but they also have to swim against the political tides that malign free enterprise. I’m concerned we’re losing the next generation of business owners simply because entrepreneurship is no longer in style.
Entrepreneurship may not be as cool as it was in past decades, but there is hope and there are many new opportunities at hand for aspiring entrepreneurs. Universities are offering more courses on entrepreneurship. There are many glowing success stories of entrepreneurs reinventing and disrupting older business models and industries. The tech sector is virtually booming with startups. New financing methods such as Crowdfunding are a viable and growing alternative to traditional banking. The aspiring entrepreneur only needs to do what comes naturally – START!
This article was originally published in the Business Observer.