What It Takes to Boost Your Entrepreneurial Capacity
Drew Starbird MBA '84
My friend Dave Aune and I just finished teaching a 10-week experimental course at the Center for Employment Training (CET) in San Jose. The CET offers vocational education programs in construction trades, culinary arts, medical office assistance, and early childhood education. Our class, "How to Start a Business," had 18 students primarily from culinary arts and construction trades, who were interested in using their new skills to launch their own businesses. We used a "flipped" classroom design, meaning the students read material online and complete online quizzes before coming to class. In class, we had panel discussions and active exercises that reinforced the online content. We drew our online content from the My Own Business Institute (MOBI) at SCU and called the class MOBI+CET.
The MOBI+CET class aims to boost the “entrepreneurial capacity” of the CET students. By entrepreneurial capacity (EC), we mean the willingness and ability to take on the challenge of starting a new venture. Many factors can have an impact on EC. Some are related to personal attributes and some are related to community attributes. Dave and I found the following personal attributes imperative to boost and support the entrepreneurial capacity of our CET cohort:
- Network: New entrepreneurs need a network of friends, believers, mentors, and advisors to open doors and provide direction. A good network provides access to resources and increases the chance of success.
- Technology: Technology is the collection of systems and processes involved in the production of goods and services, including information systems, transportation systems, financial systems, and communications. New entrepreneurs need to know what these technologies are and how they can be used to support the new business.
- Temperament: Starting a business is easier for people who are willing to try new things, take advice, possess self-confidence, and communicate well. In our class, we reinforce our students’ curiosity, resilience, and adaptability.
- Experience: Experience helps new entrepreneurs focus on the most important issues and find solutions faster than those who are inexperienced.
Additionally, influences from the community that can contribute to EC include:
- Policy: Government policy that is misaligned with the needs of new business owners can be a serious obstacle to success. Policies are rarely intentional obstacles to small business. More often well-intentioned policies have unintended consequences that make starting a business more difficult.
- Culture: Not every culture is open to the ups and downs that new businesses will inevitably experience. Some communities are less accepting of failure and less impressed by ambition. Overcoming these social obstacles is a trial for the aspiring entrepreneur.
While teaching the experimental course, Dave and I also learned that many of the students overcame remarkable personal challenges just to take our course. Some were traveling from as far away as Salinas and Sacramento, some were trying to hold down jobs while going to school, and one had to leave the classroom early to check in with his parole officer. Their grit inspired us.
Teaching the MOBI+CET class reinforced two important lessons for Dave and me. First, the single most important element in entrepreneurial capacity is determination and, second, there is no shortage of determination at the CET.