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Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship: inspiring ambitions

Mrinalini Reddy |

Entrepreneurs need to have plenty of self-confidence and be passionate about their projects – not just when starting up their own businesses but also when innovating within large corporations.

“The biggest difference I see between managers and entrepreneurs is that managers analyse a lot and entrepreneurs act a lot,” says INSEAD Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Filipe Santos, who is also Director of the Rudolf and Valeria Maag International Centre for Entrepreneurship (Maag ICE). For instance, whereas management executives spend a lot of time analysing data and research before crafting a decision, “entrepreneurship is the opposite. You need to have the confidence to act and then learn from the outcomes.”

Just ask entrepreneurs such as Tom Adams and Peter Sage (see related articles). “It’s not about the money,” says Adams, CEO of Rosetta Stone Inc., a language learning solutions provider. “Most people who succeed at being entrepreneurs are doing it for other reasons.” Peter Sage, who’s been at the helm of multiple ventures including mail order, land development and health clubs, says, “The most important environment for an entrepreneur is the internal environment. What is your passion? What is your ability to handle uncertainty? What is your drive?” His latest venture Space Energy aims to deliver solar power collected in space using satellite.

INSEAD’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp tries to instill the confidence that entrepreneurs will need if they’re to be successful in pitching their business ideas to potential investors.

It’s a 48-hour immersion programme in which the participants – INSEAD alumni and MBA students – are put through the rigours of conceiving, developing and presenting an executable new business venture. They arrive at off-campus locations near the school’s Europe and Asia campuses in Fontainebleau and Singapore on a Friday night. Instructors lead students through a series of workshops designed to help them identify ideas, to recruit dynamic teams and then formulate strategies. The final test: a two-minute pitch to a panel of angel investors on Sunday afternoon.

The Bootcamp “really challenges people to think about themselves more than anything,” says Santos. “Am I an entrepreneur? Do I like entrepreneurial contexts? Do I have it in me? And can I build the capabilities to deliver?”

Getting started

Recent studies show that, apart from having the confidence to take calculated risks, aspiring entrepreneurs often find it difficult to pin down the necessary funding. That said, Santos believes you should “never start with raising funds.” He adds: “It has to be about solving a problem, assembling a passionate group of people and coming up with a venture design that you can take to market quickly.”

His sentiments are shared by Paul Kewene-Hite, recently appointed Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship and Director of the Entrepreneurship Accelerator at INSEAD. “I emphasise the team as being the most important, that execution is the next most important, and then the idea,” says Kewene-Hite, who developed and leads the Bootcamp workshops. With two decades of experience with start-ups and building and managing technology companies, Kewene-Hite doesn’t limit entrepreneurship to setting up new businesses. “We need more corporate entrepreneurs and more entrepreneurs in big companies,“ he explains. Consequently, the school has just launched a Corporate Entrepreneurship Initiative to build capabilities and develop new programmes that can help established companies become more effective at launching new businesses.

A former technology evangelist at Apple, Kewene-Hite adds: “You can be entrepreneurial inside a machine if you are thinking laterally, if you are thinking about how to materially improve and innovate. If you are proactive, if you are dynamic, refining the questions to get better answers, you are an entrepreneur.”

Having an entrepreneur as a role model can help, whether it’s a parent, family member or friend, says Santos, as it can encourage would-be entrepreneurs to look beyond traditional careers and jobs. Downturns can also mean resources are available at a lower cost, whether in terms of office space or talent.

But ultimately, to succeed, it will be your innate abilities to discover something you are passionate about, to be able to assess trends, find new opportunities or problems that can be solved differently, and to persevere despite setbacks.

It’s not so much a question of finding the biggest opportunity, says Santos, but rather one which fits with your personal goals and beliefs. “It’s wrong to say that the internet is great so let’s all do internet(-related projects). That is a recipe for disaster.” Effective entrepreneurs tend to be contrarians, he adds. They see emerging trends and connect the dots before other people. By the time everyone is doing something, then it is already too late for the entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship at INSEAD

In July, the school received a five million euro endowment from alumnus Rudolf Maag (MBA ‘73) to fund the continued growth of the Maag Centre for Entrepreneurship, which was set up in 2003. The Centre runs an Entrepreneurship Accelerator, a series of events designed for MBA students seeking a more focused entrepreneurial education and experience at INSEAD.

The highlight of the Accelerator is the two-day Bootcamp. “If anything should validate why (students) need the strategy class and the marketing class and the ethics class and all the different courses that are offered, this experience should really emphasise that,” says Kewene-Hite on how the Bootcamp can complement the MBA curriculum. “(They) should really develop them as practical tools that you can use as entrepreneurs.” Kewene-Hite heads a group of 30 Entrepreneurs in Residence who mentor MBA students interested in entrepreneurial projects.
In addition to the Bootcamp, the school also offers a New Ventures elective for MBA students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. “The Bootcamp opens the door and the New Ventures course allows them to fill the holes and understand the different elements of entrepreneurship,” explains Santos.

The Maag Center offers access to external projects, entrepreneurial sales training, pitch mentoring and a Global Entrepreneurship Forum which brings together alumni and MBA students. The Accelerator complements the MBA entrepreneurship curriculum, which offers 20 electives, an Entrepreneurship day and a Business Venture Competition. Maag has also launched a Global Angel Investing Network (GAIN) to connect INSEAD angel investors and entrepreneurs, relying on the strength of 40,000 alumni worldwide.

This month, the Maag Centre has launched a new programme – The Social Entrepreneurship Catalyst - to promote social entrepreneurship and impact investing for the INSEAD MBAs and alumni. “An interesting trend in entrepreneurship is the formidable growth and interest in entrepreneurial efforts that are not focused on capturing value,” says Santos, “but on creating value for society by solving important problems that markets and governments have failed to tackle.”

“In essence entrepreneurship is an approach to create value by solving neglected problems through new business initiatives. These initiatives could happen as new commercial ventures, social ventures, corporate ventures, even government-led ventures. The essence of entrepreneurship is solving problems in innovative, practical and sustainable ways. Our society needs more entrepreneurship.”

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