Common misconceptions that could derail would-be entrepreneurs

Mark Hauserman, director of The Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship

Mark Hauserman, director of The Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship

Without question, entrepreneurship is the hottest thing going today. Rarely will you pick up a paper or magazine that does not either feature a fabulously successful entrepreneur or talk about some of the literally hundreds of programs or courses being offered to help you become that entrepreneur.

But, what is it really? In part the interest is a reaction to today’s younger generation – 75 percent of high school seniors do not want to work for a large organization. This is a reaction to the re-engineering of American business that has taken place during the past 20 years. These young people have seen the impact on their immediate families and they want to do something that will afford them more control of their lives.

Educational institutions, ever mindful of changing demographics, have jumped on the band wagon. The Internet revolution and the many successful IPOs of Web-based entrepreneurial firms have heightened the visibility of entrepreneurship. There is an increasing interest in entrepreneurship among the general population, but particularly among younger adults. As a result, colleges with formal Entrepreneurship centers have grown from a handful in 1990 to more than 200 today.

Smart Business spoke with Mark Hauserman, director of The Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship, about common myths about entrepreneurship and what traits are common in successful entrepreneurs.

Are entrepreneurs necessarily young men and women?

You may be surprised to learn that a recent Kauffman Foundation research study revealed that the average age of the founders of technology companies in the U.S. is a surprisingly high 39 — with twice as many over age 50 as under age 25. With the average life span increasing and more ‘necessity entrepreneurs,’ those who start businesses because of the scarcity of job availability at existing companies, being created every day, this number will probably increase.

When you gain experience, you probably know a lot about a lot of things. If youth is the answer, why are so many venture capitalists over 50? And most of the better ones are over 60. Don’t short change your experience. Investors get a lot more comfortable if they know you have been around the block a couple of times.

How is entrepreneurship learned?

The best start for an entrepreneur is to gain experience. This often means working for a company that may not have the biggest buildings on the block, but has an entrepreneurial attitude and will challenge you to spread your wings and continually take on new tasks.

While all jobs consist of ‘things you must do,’ the better businesses are also continually looking for better ways to serve their customers and markets. Every business owner responds to ideas that will make the company more money. You may not think you are an important cog, but the owner will sit up and take notice when you offer better solutions to the existing business strategy.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I have heard Edward Crawford, Chairman of Park Ohio and self-made entrepreneur, say that the common denominator in entrepreneurship is failure. Not every idea you have will be a winner, but people will respect you if you get up after being knocked down and get back in the game.

The younger entrepreneurs get it. A healthy 44 percent of young entrepreneurs feel that business failure is perceived as a learning opportunity.

How will you know when you have arrived?

In most cases, there was no ‘grand plan.’ The entrepreneur just started working and as they solved more and more problems, work became fun. The classic sign of an entrepreneur is they cannot let it go. Unlike the idea in the popular culture that they are looking for the big score, they love what they do.

I played golf with a guy a couple of years ago who had just been offered $8 million in cash for his company. I am afraid I jinxed the deal when I asked him what he was going to do in a month after a long vacation and a shopping spree; no answer and ultimately no deal. He was only 42 at the time, so he will eventually sell, but it was way early and he was having too much fun.

Mark Hauserman is director of The Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship. Reach him at (216) 397-4572 or [email protected]

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