Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wanted: Educators with Soul

By André Taylor 
Entrepreneur and Author

There's a school of thought in the world of entrepreneurship. I don't think it's a point of view typically held by educators, but I've certainly heard it espoused by many entrepreneurs. The thought is, "You can't teach someone to be an entrepreneur.”

There's a reason many entrepreneurs feel this way. I think it's because we know successful entrepreneurs have "it” in their soul. I'm convinced educators in entrepreneurship will only be successful if they can make small business education a soulful experience for themselves and their students.

The sentiment; "You can't teach it” is related to the familiar question, "Are they born or made?” We all know that something takes over in the mind, body, and spirit of entrepreneurs, and connecting with that "something” is what entrepreneurship is all about. It takes a special kind of person to bond with and stir the soul of an aspiring entrepreneur.

I first noticed this as a college freshman as the 1970s came to a close. I registered at my community college for the one small business course offered. As we approached the first day of classes I was thrilled. I had always wanted to build a successful business.

Throughout my teenage years I worked for a successful entrepreneur and relentlessly devoured books about starting and running a successful business. I wanted to know more about how I could make this a career choice and lifestyle. But once the course began, I immediately noticed differences in the way entrepreneurship was taught in school versus on the street.

Following Malik's Example

I worked for a young entrepreneur named Malik, who founded a restaurant business. He was not college educated but was equally street smart and well-read. He was a self-made man who had escaped the mean streets of a rough section of Buffalo, NY, and built a small restaurant group with four locations through his enormous drive and charisma.

I would watch how he handled people and situations. Occasionally we would talk one-on-one, and he would give me a quick course in entrepreneurship. He'd show me how to lower the natural sales resistance of a customer, how to inspire the staff to work harder, and how to quickly make the cash register ring when we needed to by charming everyone in sight. He'd talk about the power of serving a well put together meal–how it should look, smell, and be presented. It was a study in improvisation with Malik's well-honed artistry and creativity at its core.

The restaurant I worked at was in Harlem, just a few blocks from the world-famous Apollo Theater, where legendary soul performers like James Brown and Aretha Franklin routinely took the stage, but what I saw Malik do every day was just as soulful as the masterful acts that appeared at the Apollo each night.

It was a different story, however, at my community college small business class.

In class we immediately launched into a theoretical discussion of what a business is: legal structures, and what should go into a business plan. Next we discussed break even points and accounting methods. Although this was quite practical and somewhat necessary it bored me to tears. Each day I felt more and more removed from what I knew a business was really about. What I really wanted to do was visit a real business, meet more Maliks, and see real-life entrepreneurs solve the dozens of problems that crop up each day.

The focus of my college class was far too administrative; documents, spreadsheets, structures, licenses, certifications…yawn!

My fellow students didn't know the difference. Many were exploring entrepreneurship in-depth for the first time and silently became convinced during the course that running a business wasn't for them. Little did they know how exciting the world of entrepreneurship could be. They didn't have a Malik in their life.

I ultimately "nailed” the course, scoring an excellent grade but my performance in the class meant nothing to me. That's because neither the professor nor the class were connected to the soul of entrepreneurship.

The reason many entrepreneurs feel you can't teach entrepreneurship is because they know a great company doesn't come about without soul. Successful entrepreneurs and companies are not the result of merely studying "practical” matters. Anyone can master that. Great entrepreneurs are always seeking to make themselves, their staff, and their customers feel special by creating extraordinary products, experiences, and results. It's a "moving” experience.

Can you teach entrepreneurship? Sure you can. But to do so, you must have soul.

André Taylor is an entrepreneur, consultant, and author of the book, You Can Still Win! He's chief executive of Taylor Insight, a New York-based leadership development firm, serving entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies. He's a regular contributor to ABC News Money Matters, and a community college graduate. More at

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Does a successful business start with passion or a great idea?

Posted By Cheryl D. Gracie

Leslie looked over the latest bank statements for her business. Although she had managed to pay expenses, she had done so by exhausting the last of her savings. People just weren’t buying. Yes, it was great to be in business doing something she loved. But it would be nice to pay the bills and have something left over to live on. Yes, she loved her work. But, her passion wasn’t making any money for her business.

People buy goods and services to satisfy their own needs. They could care less about the passion a small business owner may have for their work. Leslie may feel her art is the best thing to hit the market, but it won’t sell unless customers find it useful to them. In fact, that need may not have anything to do with art. They may simply be looking for something to hide a hole in a living room wall. Unless there are sales, a business is doomed. So, while passion might motivate the small business owner to put in long hours and work for free, it is wasted time and effort unless people buy what the small business is selling.

Success as an entrepreneur depends on recognizing opportunity and having the knowledge and skill to start and grow a business that capitalizes on that opportunity. Many people, especially in today’s economy, start a business out of a desire to make a living. People have been laid off. Jobs are scarce or, in some areas, non-existent. And, some people just don’t like working for someone else. These people are motivated to start and grow a business as a means of financial survival. It has nothing to do with passion. And, these people often succeed without having passion for their work. They had knowledge and experience to recognize a great idea and the skill to start and grow of business based on that idea.

Yes, passion is nice to have. But, it isn’t necessary. A successful business starts with a great idea that is then developed and implemented using the talent and experience of its owners.
What do you think? What role does passion play in helping an entrepreneur become successful? Is being passionate about growing a business enough or do you have to also be passionate about the idea your business is being built on?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is an entrepreneur or a member of the faculty most qualified?

Posted By Cheryl D. Gracie

Jane’s department has just spent the last year putting together a program in entrepreneurship at the community college where she teaches. The first class in the program will be offered this fall. Although several members of the department put in many hours designing the curriculum and developing materials to use for the class, she doesn’t feel these faculty are best qualified to teach the class. None of them are entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs have the real world experience needed to demonstrate in practical terms just what is involved in starting and growing a business. This helps students learn for the following reasons:

Students are motivated by the stories of success (and even failures) entrepreneurs are able to share. Upon hearing these stories, the dream a student has for owning a business doesn’t seem so out of reach. Failure is viewed as merely a point on the road to success.

Students are more likely to acquire entrepreneurial attitudes, particularly attitudes towards risk, if they see this attitude modeled in the classroom by an entrepreneur who has "done it.”

Students are more likely to appreciate the need for networking and building long-term relationships with those who can help them marshal the resources they will need for their business. An entrepreneur can demonstrate to students in practical terms what it will take to build and maintain these networks of relationships.

Students are more likely to acquire skill in solving problems in new and innovative ways, which is key to being a successful entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are by nature problem solvers who are creative in their approach. They are best suited to demonstrate to students this complex (and to many of our students unfamiliar) process.

Finally, entrepreneurship isn’t much of a discipline yet. Unlike calculus, there isn’t an accepted body of knowledge or skill set that we all agree needs to be taught, let alone an accepted methodology for teaching it. As a result, we need to be flexible and adaptive in the classroom. This will allow us to identify best practices that might eventually serve as the basis for establishing a discipline in entrepreneurship. Who better than an entrepreneur to adapt classroom experience as conditions in the classroom may require?

Jane reflected.

Yes, entrepreneurs have real world experience in starting and growing a business that faculty often lack. And entrepreneurship isn’t yet an established discipline with a body of accepted knowledge and trained faculty to teach it. But does that make entrepreneurs more qualified to teach the subject of entrepreneurship than faculty who understand learning processes and who develop the curriculum and materials used for these classes?

What do you think?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ways to Get Entrepreneurs Involved

By André Taylor
Entrepreneur and Author

You're a community college president, dean, faculty, or a member of the continuing education, workforce development, or foundation team. You think it would be ideal to get a local entrepreneur involved with your college. Maybe you'd like to gain their participation in a particular program or even ask for a donation. Do you know how to do it?

A friend of mine received a call from a local college. A lovely young lady from the foundation was asking if he would help with their annual fund drive to help students pay their tuition. The college apparently purchased a list of businesses in the area and began cold-calling.

The young lady called in the middle of the workday and launched into her pitch. After describing the college's efforts to help students, my friend thought about it and said, "Sure, I can give you $250.” The young lady responded, "How about $500?” My friend replied, "How about $150?” She said, "Wait a minute. You just said $250!” My friend bristled into the telephone, "Miss, I am really busy. I don't really have time to go through this. I said I would be willing to give you $250 upfront, but you're trying to push me.” Ironically, my friend could probably have given $25,000 easily, but the inexperienced and impatient young lady approached him the wrong way – and at the wrong time.

Many education professionals find communicating with members of the business community difficult. They don't know what "buttons” to push, or where to put their focus. They often don't know how to advance opportunities that surface because they don't know what to say. To some business people it feels that academia often marches to a different beat – because it does. To build relationships with entrepreneurs you must know how to sell, market, and network just like entrepreneurs do.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can win over members of the business community:

1. Acknowledge

Every entrepreneur I know is the same. We want to be acknowledged. Being an entrepreneur is somewhat lonely. Most people, including our spouses, have no idea how many mountains we climb on a daily basis. Everyone can see when we're on top, but few feel the agony and pain of trying to keep our footing as we attempt one steep climb after another. The simplest way to build a relationship with an entrepreneur and win them over is to give them a call or write them a letter and say "Great job!”

2. Provide Access

There are probably many aspects of your college of great interest to the business community if you would simply open them up. Maybe you have a historic archive, or a group of scholars who can shed light on a particular topic. Perhaps you have an arts group, or interesting scholarly research taking place. Invite an entrepreneur or two in for a private tour, showing, or roundtable. Provide exclusive access to what you have. Treat them like kings and queens while they're there.

3. Listen

Every entrepreneur thinks they have the best ideas, me included. Being confident about your ideas and your abilities go with the territory. Want to get an entrepreneur involved? Want to have an entrepreneur focused on helping you? Ask for ideas. You will probably get more than you can handle. How about asking an entrepreneur to come in and listen to some of the concepts you're considering and provide feedback? Better yet, how about visiting the entrepreneur and listening to what they are working on?

4. Give

Colleges have so much to give but often are not very creative about it. Give an entrepreneur an opportunity to speak at your school. Promote it internally and to the community. Give an entrepreneur an award for community service. Give an entrepreneur space in your school to hold a meeting such as an industry forum, sales meeting, seminar, or Chamber of Commerce gathering. If you can, give an entrepreneur that degree they've earned by mastering their craft over the last 20 years.

5. Ask

You'll notice this is last on my list. Yes, you can and should ask the entrepreneur for a donation, sponsorship, or access to their company resources, but never start there. And when you do ask, begin by finding someone who knows the entrepreneur. This person can pave the way by providing an introduction.

While it may seem to you that your school, conference, or endeavor is an ideal opportunity for an entrepreneur to write a check, you are far more likely to be ignored if this is how you first approach an accomplished business person. There are simply an abundance of opportunities to contribute to, but few organizations that know how to make you want to. Yes, you can get entrepreneurs involved, but you must know how.
André Taylor is author of You Can Still Win! and a regular contributor to ABC News' Money Matters. He's the founder of Taylor Insight Worldwide, a premier leadership development firm providing innovative, forward-moving advice, information, and resources for entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurial enterprises. He's a community college graduate and serves as a strategic advisor to NACCE.

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's Your Entrepreneurship Index?

By André Taylor

Entrepreneur and Author

We were gathered around a table talking about the spotlight on community colleges in this sputtering economy. I was among a group of business people who had heard all the "noise” about community colleges. Everyone seemed quite informed. There were anecdotes about attention from the White House and banter about the perceived impact on economic vitality, continuing education, workforce development, and, near and dear to my heart, entrepreneurship. Just about everyone had heard about the initiative to assist 10,000 small businesses by a Wall Street financial powerhouse. But missing in these conversations was the detail.

How many businesses are really being created at the community level? Is it really getting done?

It isn't much different when community college officials speak. I hear educators and administrators talk about the progress and success of their entrepreneurship programs in starkly different ways. Some are pleased to get one course off the ground. Others are proud to have launched an incubator. A few have programs providing entrepreneurship education in name, but, in reality, little gets done.

The question: What should the outcome of entrepreneurship courses at community colleges be? Should they create new businesses? Should they merely inform students about the rewards and perils of entrepreneurship? Should they serve to eliminate entrepreneurship as an option for those unsuited for such a career? My vote? Community colleges should be the catalyst for new businesses across the country. They should spark the growth and turnaround of existing businesses. And we should have a national index to track it.

Results Matter

It's too easy to allow the results of entrepreneurship education to go unmeasured. The danger of creating programs that do not produce successful businesses is lethal to the entrepreneurship movement at community colleges. Students, faculty, administrators, presidents, and trustees will ultimately not take such programs seriously. Folks who fund these programs in a big way, like veteran entrepreneurs and corporate donors, will certainly not take these programs seriously. And what will government agencies and even the White House think about entrepreneurship education at community colleges if we cannot prove it works? If an insignificant number of businesses are created, all of our work is simply academic – and not in a flattering sense.

If your college is not measuring the results of your entrepreneurship education efforts beyond grades and tuition, you're missing the mark. Students who enroll in entrepreneurship programs care more about creating money-making enterprises than anything else. You should too. At what level was the business when it began work with your program? What are the specific gains achieved by the business in revenues, profits, customers, and other variables? Is the business now a viable company?

Good Intentions Aren't Enough
Over the years I have tried to assist many colleges in creating successful business education programs. Generally I'm contacted by an earnest faculty member assigned the task of creating an entrepreneurship program. Typically he or she has no resources, and expectations are low.

We meet. I provide my best ideas. I detail my experiences. I give lots of recommendations – ideas that I know will work. The faculty member excitedly listens and we part ways. I feel thrilled I was able to contribute to the school's efforts, only to follow up months later and find little, if any, progress has been made.

There are internal debates about curriculum, credit vs. non-credit, and concerns about an initially low student enrollment. Meanwhile, like any business there are customers to be served –- would-be entrepreneurs, but they don't know how to find them, market to them, and serve them. Since no one is tracking results at these schools, the idea of developing a world-class entrepreneurship program simply fades away.

This missed opportunity exists because there's no pressure to produce results. How different things would be if the educators had to produce a meaningful number of successful businesses at their schools? What if they witnessed other schools having success, launching and growing businesses in concrete numbers?

There are even schools with no entrepreneurship program with significant numbers of students launching businesses. Other factors at the college sometimes make it conducive to serving entrepreneurs. Yet these statistics never make it to the attention of the school's leadership.

I suggest you start right now, creating an annual index at your school, tracking start-ups, expansions, and turnarounds at your college no matter how dismal the initial data may look. I would encourage every community college to create an individual school index to be rolled into a NACCE Entrepreneurship Index. Announcing this index annually would not only provide tangible evidence of the results of our collective work, but it would give community colleges a greater voice in the business of national commerce. There's an old adage: "What gets measured, gets done.”

André Taylor is an entrepreneur, consultant, and author of the book, You Can Still Win! He's chief executive of Taylor Insight, a New York-based leadership development firm, serving entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies.