Business owners and managers are working longer hours these days in the face of mounting competition, trying to achieve superior results in a constantly changing environment. Many of them consider entrepreneurship as some elusive strategy that moves the billion-dollar idea from the pizza parlor to the IPO. In other words, says Mark Hauserman, how does this affect me?
Smart Business spoke with Hauserman, director of the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll University, about things to consider when determining your strategy.
What is the first thing to consider?
People often believe that entrepreneurship is the province of the young and gifted, particularly when it comes to intellectual property. However, the average age of the successful start-up entrepreneur is 38. If you think that seems old, consider that a recent study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation says that ‘in every single year from 1996 to 2007, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34.’ This is also supported by the findings of Charles Eesley and Edward B. Roberts in their study titled ‘Entrepreneurial Impact: The role of M.I.T.’’
Would you rather have a bright idea or experience?
Experience will win out every time. Good ideas come mostly from people who have experience. Jay Brand, Ph.D., an expert on creativity, supports Malcolm Gladwell’s (Outlier,s Brown, Little & Company 2008) thesis that 10,000 hours of experience is the best preparation for achieving that ‘breakthrough’ result. Follow the money. Few venture capitalists invest in ideas; instead, they invest in people, and the best ideas are nearly always backed by experience.
Is entrepreneurship a learned behavior or the result of natural selection?
The question we are most asked in the academic environment is, ‘Can entrepreneurship be taught?’ The fundamental building blocks of entrepreneurship can definitely be learned. A working definition we use for entrepreneurship is ‘seeing an opportunity that others did not see, and taking action.’ Long before entrepreneurship became a buzzword, our institution was churning out successful private sector business owners. In the five counties surrounding Cleveland, there are more than 500 companies owned or run by our graduates. How did we do it? By leveraging a 125-year history of teaching students to think critically, one of the hallmarks of Jesuit education, and a building block of entrepreneurship.
What is the role of change in your business and how do you use it to your advantage?
At a recent meeting, I asked successful business owners to raise their hands if they were doing the same thing they did five years ago. As you might expect, no hands went up. So how do you get out in front of change? A key element is opportunity recognition, fostered by your experience. There are few people who have the experience you have and who know more about your business than you do.
The first two courses in our entrepreneurship program are Creativity, Invention and Innovation and Idea Development. Freshmen and sophomore college students usually don’t know enough to realize that their crazy idea just might work. We encourage them to think of solutions to problems they see right in front of them. One instructor uses the ‘bug list,’ asking students to walk around the campus and come back with five to 10 things that bug them. Then they are asked how they would solve the problem. Do your customer service people know what bugs your customer? Do you have a way to mine these nuggets?
Remember that profound change is often incremental. You do not have to turn your business upside down to leverage your team’s great ideas. By the way, the student idea is rarely ready for prime time. This is where your best, most experienced associates need to weigh in.
Tips to help you create a good environment for this strategy:
- Don’t have functional fixedness; if you spend too long on a single problem, all solutions may start to look the same.
- Avoid surveillance while working, Micromanagement will kill most good ideas.
- Don’t constrain your own choices, for example, ‘The budget will not support it.’
- Don’t predetermine the result by your method of evaluation.
- Don’t do what the competition does. They might be good, but they don’t know everything.
Mark Hauserman is the director of the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship at John Carroll. His undergraduate degree in business administration is from John Carroll and he is a Beta Gamma Sigma graduate of the M.B.A. program at Indiana University. Hauserman joined his family’s business, the E.F. Hauserman Co., in 1974 as a member of the corporate financial staff. After transferring to sales, he held a series of positions of increasing responsibility in both sales and sales management, working in Atlanta, Ga.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Cleveland, Ohio. In 1984, he bought a subsidiary, Decorative Veneer, from the company. In the 1980s and 1990s, he helped to develop a diverse group of smaller companies in information management, consumer marketing, office furniture and coating technologies by assembling the management teams and providing strategic direction and capital. He has now divested his ownership of these companies. In October 2004, he was hired as the executive director of the Entrepreneurs Association at John Carroll University and in 2006 he became the director of the Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship.
John Carroll students are given many opportunities to develop their entrepreneurial talents through the University’s Edward M. Muldoon Center for Entrepreneurship. The university’s multidisciplinary program can help open doors for students who gain entrepreneurship skills and knowledge from both business and liberal arts faculty, and through hands-on experiences with ‘real life’ entrepreneurs who are members of the university’s Entrepreneurs Association that also volunteer to coach John Carroll students. John Carroll’s entrepreneurship program has been recognized by Bloomberg Businessweek as the 18th best program in the nation and the best undergraduate entrepreneurship program in Ohio. This marks the second consecutive year JCU has made the list; the program rocketed from 43rd in the nation last year.
Visit www.jcu.edu/muldoon for more information.
Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University.