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It’s all about business

By Staff | Jun 6, 2008

SPENCER — Approximately 40 people from regional businesses attended the Iowa Lakes Corridor Entrepreneurial Leadership seminar in Spencer Thursday afternoon.

Neal Thornberry from Babson College in Boston, Mass., was a guest speaker. Babson has been ranked as the top college for entrepreneurs for the past 15 years.

Thornberry has been on special assignment in Monterrey, Calif., working with the United States Navy. He was asked to design an innovation course for Admirals in the Naval post-graduate school

Much of Thornberry’s presentation centered around differentiating an idea from an opportunity. An individual may have a great idea for a business or product, but unless it can be made into an opportunity, it will remain only an idea. Because of the low rate of success of entrepreneurial start-ups – 80 percent fail within the first two years – Thornberry makes a point to show the difference between the two. “Intuition doesn’t make up for facts and figures,” he said.

Thornberry asked those attending why they believe that 80 percent of these ventures fail. Explanations included not understanding the market, not enough experience, and not listening to advice and constructive criticism. Thornberry added that entrepreneurs should know how to sell, market, price, and compete with other businesses in order to be successful.

“The original definition of entrepreneurial was ‘creative destruction,'” he added. This is when a person blows up their original idea in order to create a better one.

He also said that an entrepreneur should be able to make an ‘elevator speech.’ This term comes from the situation in which a person has the length of an elevator ride, from the first to the 11th floor, to give their sales pitch to a CEO. If a person doesn’t know their product or business well enough to make a brief sales pitch, then they don’t know it well enough.

Another point Thornberry discussed was that great ideas do not always equal great opportunities. Some of the questions he asks to separate the ideas from the opportunities are:

n Is it durable or lasting?

n Will it stand up against the competition?

n Is it sustainable?

n Is it profitable enough for the risk involved?

An opportunity is a unique value for a customer segment. Ideas are not hard to come by. “The fun ends, and work begins, when it’s an opportunity,” said Thornberry.

The entrepreneurial process involves a balancing act which includes starting with an opportunity, finding the right people to be involved, and coming up with the resources. “A good team will make it happen,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry lists the personal characteristics of an entrepreneur as:

n High drive to succeed.

n Seek and use feedback.

n Willingness to share success.

n Ability to learn from failure.

n Low need for status and power.

He used the play “Waiting for Godot” in his presentation. In the play, a town is waiting for Godot, who is supposed to arrive and make changes for their town. In the end, Godot never arrives. Thornberry explained that, like the town, businesses and entrepreneurs can’t wait around for someone to tell them what to do or to give the OK.

The second speaker of the seminar was Erik Pages, the founder and owner of EntreWorks Consulting in Alexandria, Va.

In Pages powerpoint presentation, he stated why entrepreneurship is important. A few of the statistics he gave include:

n One-third of the difference in national growth rates is due to entrepreneurship.

n 11 percent of the U.S. adult population is trying to start a business.

n 80 percent of U.S. colleges offer entrepreneurship courses.

n Half of the college graduates believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job.

n One-third of workers aged 38-57 make the change to self-employment.

The Iowa Lakes Corridor will have the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute again this summer. The 32 college students attending were chosen from University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, Buena Vista University and Iowa Lakes Community College. The event will take place Aug. 3-8 at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.