3 Ways Entrepreneurship Is Not Like a Coaching Tree

3 Ways Entrepreneurship Is Not Like a Coaching Tree

Entrepreneurship Leadership Mentorship

We are entering the college football playoff period and there is a lot of talk about successful coaches and their coaching trees.  A coaching tree is the geneology, if you will, of the influencers of successful coaches.  Because it is relatively easy to track where successful head coaches played their college sports, served as graduate assistant coaches, and held their assitant coaching jobs, we have a pretty good idea which head coaches were their greatest influencers.  So why don’t we have the equivalent of a coaching tree for successful entrepreneurs?

  1. The Entrepreneurial Process is Informal – Unlike the coaching ranks, the growth and progression of entrepreneurs isn’t tracked in a formal system.  Coaching is structured, hierarchical, and is a formal job with an actual title that means something (not Chief Culture Curator). Entrepreneurship is relatively unstructured and, unlike coaching, there is no system that tracks where they are trained, what other companies they may have worked for, which companies they start or how successful they are (unless they reach an IPO).
  2. The Family Influence – Many successful entrepreneurs are influenced most significantly by their families. Studies have shown that around half of entrepreneurs have entrepreneurial parents or family members. Growing up in a family business can have a profound influence on entrepreneurs.  Working in that business when they are young, understanding the entrepreneurial mindset and what it takes to be successful, and learning the language and concepts of business early on are clearly major influencers.  For these successful entrepreneurs their most significant influences did not come from holding a formal position in another company or startup, but rather from being emersed in an entrepreneurial family with entrepreneurial friends.
  3. Entrepreneurship Is Not a Linear Progression – Coaching careers are relatively linear as players become graduate assistants, assistant coaches, and finally head coaches.  Although some coaches go from head coaches at a small college or high school level to assistant coaches as a higher level, the progression is generally predictable.  Entrepreneurs on the other hand, can take a relatively circuitous path to success. Some launch unsuccessful startups when they are young, go work for other companies to get experience and make connections, only to launch their own companies again later.  Some start their companies right out of high school, learn what they need to know on the job and launch, run, and sell multiple companies throughout their life.  Finally, others work in other large corporations, sometimes in the same industry, for 15 years or more before taking the leap to form their own company.  While there are basic skills and experience required for success, their is no set formula for how to acquire them and no guarantee that having them will lead to success as an entrepreneur.  If the journey is your goal, you are more accepting of the risk of failure.

THE TAKEAWAY:  The good thing about entrepreneurial life is that there is no set path to success. The bad thing about the entrepreneurial life is that there is not a set path to success.  Unlike entrepreneurs, one reason successful coaches got into coaching was that they like the structure and having a predefined path to success. While the maverick entrepreneurs will always forge their own path, I believe many entrepreneurs can expedite their path to success if they can tap into a somewhat structured system of skills and knowledge acquisition, work experiences, and true mentors.  Despite the perception of the free wheeling, unbound startup culture, a little strategically placed structure and discipline is a good thing.

 

 

What If Your Parents Have No Entrepreneurial Experience?

What If Your Parents Have No Entrepreneurial Experience?

Entrepreneurship Parenting Preparation

Neither of my parents were entrepreneurs.  Both were raised during the Great Depression and never attended college.  My mom ran our house.  Dad worked in a foundry, sold candy, had a thirty-year career as a civil servant at a military installation, served as our small town’s first mayor and continued his mostly unpaid service in that position for sixteen of the next twenty years.  He has an elementary school, a community service award and the snack bar at a water park named after him.  How many people can say they have a bar named after them!  So what could my parents, particularly my dad, teach me about entrepreneurship?

The answer is “plenty”, although I didn’t know it at the time.  Despite never starting or running his own business, dad’s work ethic, ability to engage and motivate people, willingness to try new things and risk failure (if you think starting a business is tough, try incorporating and running a city), team building, never ending thirst for knowledge, problem solving ability, and focus on the customer (citizens) were all entrepreneurial traits.  Dad was old school.  I don’t recall him ever actually trying to teach me any of these things.  He taught by doing and providing examples.  The rest was up to me.  We have a fancy name for this now – experiential, project based learning.  What my dad would have called “gettin’ stuff done”.

In addition to these traits, my dad was married to my mom for forty-five years and raised us three kids with her.  He never left the house without giving her a kiss and I can’t recall him ever missing an event, mostly sports related, that I was involved in.  He treated people that worked for him with respect.  He didn’t take himself too seriously and was known to wear a dress or bathing suit with makeup and a wig (womanless beauty pageant) to raise money at a school or church charity event.  So let’s add ability to pick a great co-founder, loyalty, work-life balance, respect for others, community service, and a sense of humor to the list of entrepreneurial traits.

My dad helped found a city, but not a startup.  He scaled some fish, but never a company.  He made plenty of deals, but not with investors.  He taught me most everything I needed to know to run a startup and help others do so successfully, without ever doing it himself.  I only hope that I can have a similar impact on Joshua, our young entrepreneur. It is not lost on me that my dad’s legacy lives on in me and hopefully in our kids.  What a blessing it was to have my dad in my life.  He was my role model and mentor and I think of him every day.

THE TAKEAWAY:  For all you young entrepreneurs who, like me, had a father in your life that has helped you develop your skills and knowledge, even if indirectly, I urge you to make sure they know what a positive impact they’ve had on you and how thankful you are for them.  This also goes for those of you who were blessed with strong mothers who served as both mother and father.  For parents who see entrepreneurial traits in your kids but feel you don’t have the entrepreneurial experience to help them, sharing your time and helping them access resources that will help them will have a significant, positive impact on their development.

2 More Keys to Sales for Startups – Process and Metrics

2 More Keys to Sales for Startups – Process and Metrics

Sales

Sales is the fuel that makes the startup engine run.  In my previous post I focused on hiring the right sales talent and motivating them.  However, having only highly motivated, talented people is like having a speed boat with no rudder . . . it can get you somewhere quickly but it may not be where you wanted to go.  The right sales process and metrics coupled with talented, motivated people can be a winning combination that yields the revenue and traction that startups need.

  1. Right Process – The best sales talent on the planet saddled with a poor sales process will underperform everytime.  The process itself is very important and, when done properly, can yield success even with a less than stellar sales team.  Major elements of a good sales process include:
    • Identifying true prospects who are ready to buy – Talking to folks who aren’t ready to buy is a waste of sales resources.  Many prospects won’t tell you “no” but they also won’t tell you “yes”.
    • Establishing credibilityThere has to be some level of trust in the service/product provider before someone will buy.  Use your understanding of their business, previous sales, channel partners, etc . . . to establish the necessary credibility.  Do your homework on prospects before you engagement them.
    • Appealing to their major pain points(operations, costs, complexity, etc . . ), desires, or greedSolve their challenge and you win, but first you have to get them to reveal their true challenges and goals.
    • Showing them how your product/service alleviates their pain, makes them feel better, or puts money in their pocket better than any other alternativesSaying your product is better is not enough . . . they hear that from sales people ten times per day.
    • Closing sales at the proper strike pointIf the prospect has their check book out when you contact them, feel free to close the sale on the spot.  However, don’t expect to close a sale until the prospect is satisfied with most, if not all, of the elements of the process previously mentioned.  Learn how to read prospects.

Sales processes vary from company to company and you have to figure out what works for your product. Find similar products and services in your market or other markets, study how they sell, and learn how to differentiate your product/service.

  1. Right Metrics – Having the right people and the right process are great but if you aren’t using the right metrics to track results, you will not optimize your sales or be able to figure out why something isn’t working as you had expected.  A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is a great tool to help with this. While there are many flavors of these systems from freemium models to Salesforce (considered by many to be the mother of all CRM systems), almost anything is better than the Excel spreadsheet you’ve been using.  Any basic CRM system will allow you to track prospects, their contact info, what stage of the sales cycle they are in, pertinent info on their family, friends, relationships, hobbies (information used to develop a relationship), notes from your conversations, next steps you need to take with them and when you need to contact them again. When set up properly, the metrics that can be generated with these systems can help you track what is working and what is broken in the process and why so you can make changes in the process and/or messaging. Several of my startup and small business consulting clients use Zoho, Insightly, and Pipedrive.  The best approach is to do a little online research, ask your fellow business owners what they use, sign up for a free trial for the most promising applications, test drive them and select the one that will best fit in your company culture with your users.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Talent and motivation are not enough.  Processes and metrics are not enough.  It takes all four elements of the sales process working in unison to yield success.  Approach sales as a sophisticated engine in which the key components must all work together for optimal performance.  If a key component is out of sync, optimal performance is undermined.  It is a constant process of tracking and refining.

2 Keys to Sales for Startups – People First

2 Keys to Sales for Startups – People First

Sales

Sales is the fuel that makes the startup engine run.  Many young entrepreneurs believe that lack of funding is the biggest barrier to their early success.  Wrong!  For most startups, their lack immediate success is either that they are seeking product perfection before entering the market, they have a poor product for their target market, or they have a lack of sales.  Finding the right people and keeping them motivated are critical.  Also critical is getting the sales process right and using the right metrics to measure performance.  In this post I’ll focus on the people.

  1. Right People – I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.  Hiring people with the skill, attitude and proper level of aggressiveness that fit your company culture and target market is vital to your success.  Jim Collins sure got it right in his book Good To Great when he wrote that we need to “get the right people on the bus”.  Part of his premise is that even if you don’t have it all figured out, the “right people” will help you get there.  A final point here is that, just because someone has been successful in sales in other environments, doesn’t mean he/she will be successful in sales in your company culture.  If the sales person has an aggressive, transactional, independent style, he/she will not likely be successful selling your product if it requires education and relationship building with prospects, the sales cycle is a bit long, and your process is somewhat regimented.  The opposite is also true.  This is simply a bad fit and it won’t yield the revenue volume you seek.  The hiring process must use a combination of interviews, mock selling scenerios, information gathered from questions about personality, aptitude, temperment, sales style and other culture matching data.  Psychometric testing instruments can also be helpful in the hiring process.
  2. Right Motivation – So we have the right sales folks, but how do we keep our sales team motivated?  Finding great people is a most important first step but it isn’t enough.  Only if we continue to motivate these talented folks will we be able to sustain a high performing sales team.  A number of studies have identified recognition, competition, skills development, and money as motivating factors for sales personnel.  Also, working in a positive, encouraging environment and knowing that their effort is making a difference are also motivational elements.  In order to promperly incentivize your team members, you need to know your team members, their interests, hobbies, goals, etc . . ..  I like having both individual and team performance goals, if possible, because I want the individuals to not only do their best best but help others so that the performance level of the entire team rises.  Sometimes it is best to set short term goals to build confidence and momentum.  Supplement your weekly and monthly goals with daily or midweek goals and reward achieving these mid-term goals with unique recognition or a special gift card.  I also think competition spurs performance in most sales people so tracking everyone’s progress on a tally board could also be motivational.  Your training regimen should also be integrated with these milestones since it is unfair to expect someone to reach certain performance levels without the proper training.  A final word on incentives. Rewards need to be somewhat unique and tailored to the interests of individuals and the team if possible.  Also, there needs to be a sufficient budget for performance rewards for the sales team.

THE TAKEAWAY – Managing a startup sales team has some unique challenges.  If you are an old school VP of sales, you will likely have to change your management style and be open to a wider variety of motivational elements. If you are a young startup entrepreneur or founder, you may be great with creative motivation, but you may also be challenged by the hard realities of managing people and firing them if they continuously underperform.

Technical Skills Build Products, Soft Skills Build Companies.

Technical Skills Build Products, Soft Skills Build Companies.

Uncategorized

I few weeks into the ARK Challenge Accelerator in late 2013, Joshua, our teen entrepreneur, creator and cofounder of Overwatch, went to his first real business meeting with a branding company. The branding company guys were familiar with the product space and were enthusiastic. Joshua was psyched about the meeting because it was the first step to legitimizing the product and he knew that branding would be a key to success.
When I spoke to Joshua after the meeting, he was still pumped up. He described the meeting as a success. The branding guys were very engaged and already throwing out ideas. Joshua could not have been more satisfied with the meeting. He repeatedly said, “Dad, they were so excited to work with us”.

As I waded through the enthusiasm I began to ask questions about the meeting. “So who will be in charge of your project”, I asked. “I’m not sure”, replied Joshua, “We spoke with Mike (not his real name)”. “Ok, what are they going to produce for you”, I inquired. “Well, we talked about a logo, branding materials, business cards, website . . . you know, all the stuff we need for branding”. I could see where this was going, so I continued. “When will they deliver all the branding stuff”, I asked. “They said it would be a few weeks and they’d let us know”, said Joshua. “They were really excited, Dad”, he added. “And what was the cost estimate”, I inquired further. I was pretty sure I knew the answer to this one at this point. “They said they would let us know, but it wouldn’t be much. They were really excited to work on this project”, he said.

When this interchange concluded, I was not happy. How could anyone go to a meeting with a vendor and come away having no idea what who was in charge, what they were going to deliver, when they were going to deliver it, and how much it would cost? Baffling. How could Joshua not know to ask these questions?

Easy . . . he was seventeen and no one had taught him about project management, running a meeting, or the key elements of business communication. Sure, he communicated well for his age and he could pitch with the best of them, but these other skills were not intuitive. Thinking about it later, I probably didn’t acquire that knowledge and experience until I was in my late twenties. Some say I’ve still got a ways to go.

This one was on me. I just didn’t realize that, as bright was Joshua is, there is so much in the business world that he has not been exposed to and can’t learn from YouTube or Linda.com. These things are learned through instruction and practice.

I’m sure that my frustration was apparent as I told him to never leave another meeting without know Who, What, When, and How Much. I felt like I had let him down by not giving him some guidance ahead of time. However, it did serve as a wakeup call for me as a business advisor to him and others, to never take these so called “soft skills” for granted with young entrepreneurs.

THE TAKEAWAY – Young Entrepreneurs: Learn and practice the skills of communication, project management, and decision making just as you do your product development skills. Technical skills build products, soft skills build companies.

Adapt and Learn: 3 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Sports

Adapt and Learn: 3 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Sports

Adapt skills

The ability to learn and adapt is key for young entrepreneurs.  Most entrepreneurs I know don’t have the knowledge and skill they have because of their love and aspiration for a broad liberal arts education.  Their desire for knowledge and skills development is typically driven by their desire to build a product or create a new process.  Much of their learning is DIY and OJT and most of their skills development was NECESSARY for them to build and create and driven by a passion for what they were doing.

For our entrepreneurial son, Joshua, we first saw his ability to learn and adapt through team sports.  I believe sports, and other team activities, can be a great teacher of many attributes and skills needed by young entrepreneurs.  Here are a few examples that observed with Joshua:

  1. Post to guard – Because he was tall for his age, Joshua played post positions in basketball.  This meant he stood around near the basket and waited for someone to throw him the ball so he could take a shot from no more than six feet away.  When he was around 8 years old he was redrafted onto a new team that had few players with any experience.  While Joshua usually played close to the basket due to his size, he was the only one on the team that could dribble the ball from one end to the other without drop kicking it into the cheap seats.  He was pressed into service as a guard which forced him to get much better at his outside shooting and ball handling skills. His desire to win and passion for the game meant he had to put in quite a bit of practice to learn the skills necessary to play his new position.  While developing these skills met an immediate need, it also became the foundation for his athletic ability up through high school.
  2. Learning from losing – Not surprisingly, the team was not very good and Joshua got his first taste of his team losing more that they won.  While it was challenging at times for him to keep a positive attitude, he learned a great deal about fighting through challenges with a team.  While this experience pushed him to improve his basketball skills, it also taught him valuable lessons about teamwork, leadership, and dealing with failure.  All lessons that would later serve him well on his entrepreneurial journey.
  3. Broken finger – In the 5th grade Joshua broke his finger in while playing with a friend and team mate on a trampoline.  It was the middle of basketball season and the finger he broke was on his shooting hand.  He had to quickly improve shooting and dribbling with his opposite hand.  His desire to play and support his team made learning those skills quickly a necessity for him.  Again, he adapted.  Those skills served him well in sports far beyond that season.  The lessons he learned about figuring out how to adapt, and putting team over self, will guide him for the rest of his life.

This ability to adapt and learn out of necessity is the basis for our young entrepreneur’s  general  knowledge of business and technology, and his ability to build products.  His knowledge base and skill set today has been driven by his desire to build and create specific products.  His understanding of coding, electronics, microprocessors, product development and business has built up over the years out of his desire to jail break an iPhone, build a phone charging station, create a wireless audio system for his grandfather, develop his own websites, build a voice activated controller, and design a waterproof, underwater speaker to use at his friend’s pool.  Today, the smartphone app and hardware that are the main products of his companies were all conceived and built as a result of the knowledge and skill he developed out of necessity.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Most entrepreneurs do not grasp the breadth of skill and knowledge required to be successful. For many young entrepreneurs, most knowledge and skill develops from the necessity to create and build.  This organic, “as needed” skill development is a great start but does not account for the soft skills, business knowledge and experience required to build successful products and companies.  The proactive, purposeful development of skills and knowledge over years is required to build out the vast entrepreneurial skill set.  Start now and have a plan.

5 Keys for Growing Into the Startup Founder Role

5 Keys for Growing Into the Startup Founder Role

Education Entrepreneurship Leadership Preparation

A startup founder needs a vast skill set to be successful.  Many startup founders are in their late twenties to mid-thirties.  By that time they have typically gained some experience from being responsible for projects, selling, communicating with co-workers, bosses, customers or vendors, developing plans and strategies, developing and managing a budget, and maybe even managing others and hiring and firing people.  If you are a young entrepreneur in high school, college or somewhere in between, you likely have not had the opportunity to learn from these experiences.  Reading about the theory of management and how business works doesn’t count.  While some of the principles apply, the execution is far more complex and you can’t always Google the answer.  Turns out – soft skills are really important.  I’m still not sure why we call skills “soft” that are critical to success and sometimes hard to learn.

A great idea, a large market opportunity, and a great story are compelling but ultimately mean nothing without the ability to execute.  Successful execution for a young startup founder requires clawing your way up the learning curve by combining experiential learning, quality mentorship, research  and, as Jim Collins says, “getting the right people on the bus” (“Good to Great”, Jim Collins – a must read for young entrepreneurs).  Like most everything else entrepreneurial, it is like building the plane while you are flying it.  If you use all the resources at your disposal you will, hopefully, finish assembly and learn how to refuel while in-flight (funding) or learn how to land before you need to.

So how does a young startup founder get the experience they need to fulfill their executive role?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Get a job working in a startup – Yea I know, part of the reason you want to be an entrepreneur is so you don’t have to work for anyone else. I hate to break it to you but everyone works for somebody else in some way.  Ultimately, business owners answer to shareholders, customers, or the bank.  Get over it, keep the big picture in mind, and go to school in a startup.
  2. Get a job in any business – Sorry, I used the “j” word again.  Learn about how a business operates and perform some of the functions like project management, selling, customer service, etc . . . and don’t say you don’t have time.  Prioritize and make time.  It’s part of accelerating the learning curve.
  3. Identify trusted mentors – They can help you learn the details of certain aspects of business by shadowing them or having in-depth conversations about best practices.  In addition, they might also give you some guidance that will keep you from making a costly mistake.  I often say that I wish I could have learned some things in a less expensive manner along the way.  I probably would’ve had I listened to the advice I was given.
  4. Research topics – Watch videos, attend webinars and seminars – you know, the same level of energy and extensive research methods used when you wanted to learn how to code, make something or buy an expensive piece of electronics.
  5. Use all your contacts – Use your contacts and the contacts of your mentors to identify the right people to help you move forward. Figure out a way to engage them, get them committed to the cause and “get them on the bus”.  Young entrepreneurs cannot do it alone.  Even if you could, you don’t really want to.  For me, success is even sweeter when experienced with team mates achieving a common goal in challenging circumstances.

The Takeaway – Your technical skill and product knowledge are important but insufficient to turn a good idea into a successful company.  You need the skills and knowledge required for execution and operations.  As with software development, you can’t be good at all the languages so get some help to fill in the gaps.  The founder role, especially the CEO/COO functions, require a vast skill set.  It’s a journey to get there.  Have an intentional development plan, execute the learning processes and you’ll grow into the role.

3 Ways a Gap Year Can Pay Off

3 Ways a Gap Year Can Pay Off

Education Preparation skills

There is much discussion these days about the value of a gap year.  A gap year is a term used to describe a year, granted by the university that has accepted a student, between leaving high school and entering college that students can use to work, do projects and generally experience the world before officially entering college. Many institutions of higher education offer a gap year and some, like Harvard, even encourage it.

For me, GAP is an acronym that stands for Get A Perspective.  Left up to me, a GAP year or two would be mandatory and here is why:

  1.  Helps pinpoint gifts and passions – Those who read this blog frequently (thank you so much to all three of you) know that I place a high priority on starting the discovery process early in life to identify your gifts and talents. Unfortunately, a purposeful path of discovery is not the norm and most teens find themselves unaware of their gifts and talents at a time when the education system requires them to choose a college major and a career that will put them on a particular track for the next 50 years.  It is not surprising that most of us spend 4-6 years, and leave college with a sizeable debt, pursuing a major that is mostly unrelated to our eventual career.  A 2013 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pegs that mismatch at 73%.
  2. Provides opportunities to serve – My observation is that most teenagers are pretty selfish and serve as the center of their own universe.  There are a number of scientific studies that attempt to explain this phenomenon in terms of neurons, receptors and hormones but basically it comes down to “everything ain’t connected yet”.  Natural maturing processes will eventually change this situation but I believe a good dose of refocusing priorities and real world decision-making could jump-start the maturation process.  I’m not talking about backpacking across Europe to “find yourself”.  I’m talking about taking a year or two to serve others, solve real world problems, and figure out your gifts and talents.  A few examples include waiting tables and saving money to go on several mission trips, working in a startup, pursuing multiple paid internships, volunteering at non-profits, programs like City Year, or even military service.  This period should not be a random event but a purposeful pursuit of discovering passions and gifts, and developing skills while serving others.
  3. Figure out what you don’t like – This may be as important as figuring out what you do like.  It is important to sort out what you seem to have a passion for but aren’t that skilled at, what you are naturally skilled at but don’t care about, and what you absolutely never want to do again.  There were not great choices for summer jobs in my small town growing up but I learned some very valuable lessons working as a laborer during the construction of coal-fired power plant.  These kinds of experiences motivated me to go to college because I did not want to be doing this to support a wife and kids when I was 40 years old. Spending time with a relative who was a lawyer and internships in college working in local government helped me to hone in on what I thought I wanted to do.

Unfortunately, the idea of a Get A Perspective(GAP) year or two before we make big decisions about college and career will likely not catch on any time soon.  Most education institutions are still on an agrarian calendar, higher education has become a big business that doesn’t like disruption, and we have become accustomed to the SYSTEM pushing us along.  As parents, most of us are going a hundred miles an hour with our hair on fire and it’s simply more convenient to follow the formula than to engage and manage our children’s education and discovery process ourselves.  I’m not sure whether Joshua, our young entrepreneurial son, will have a few GAP years spent trying to build a startup before eventually pursuing college, or whether his GAP years will evolve into an entrepreneurial life.  I do know this, it will be on his terms and he now has an understanding of what it will take to achieve his goals.  He’s learned a great deal about himself, business and life since leaving high school a few years ago.  The decisions he makes going forward will certainly be more informed, goal oriented and long-term.

THE TAKEAWAY – A purposeful GAP year or two can make a big difference in college success.  Why do you think Harvard encourages it?  Some parents fear that if their kids don’t go to college right out of high school, they may not go at all.  I believe this period, if it is done in a purposeful way that helps define strengths, weaknesses, and interests, can result in an optimized college experience, a more meaningful career and a more fulfilling life. Get in the GAP and discovery yourself. 

 

27 Great Sources for STEM and Entrepreneurship Education

27 Great Sources for STEM and Entrepreneurship Education

Education Entrepreneurship STEM

With school starting back, and education on our minds, I thought it might be a good time to provide a list of resources that can help parents and students pursue STEM and entrepreneurial endeavors.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive list.  Find one near you and engage in the programs or volunteer to help.

  1. Y.E.S – The Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, an affiliate of Arkansas Capital, created the Youth Entrepreneur Showcase (Y.E.S.) for Arkansas business plan competition in 2005 to introduce young Arkansans in grades 5-8 to the potential and opportunities of entrepreneurship.
  1. EAST – The EAST program, a project based learning program that teaches kids coding, video production, how to use design and GPS mapping software, and develop websites, is already in 200+ schools around the state.
  1. Arkansas Innovation Hub – Nonprofit organization with a maker space (lots of cool 3D printers, microprocessors, etc . . .) dedicated to talent and enterprise development in an environment where Arkansas entrepreneurs and innovators find support for success.
  1. Art Connection – A student art program located inside the Arkansas Innovation Hub.  Students learn painting, sculpting, digital design, and much more.
  1. Noble Impact– An education initiative that exposes students to relevant experiences and tools that enable them to navigate a world defined by uncertainty with an entrepreneurial skill set and a public service mindset.
  1. STEM Coalition – A statewide partnership of leaders from the corporate, education, government and community sectors which plans, encourages, coordinates and advocates policies, strategies, and programs supportive of excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teaching and learning in order to expand the economy of Arkansas and produce higher paying jobs. There are STEM Centers located around the state.
  1. 100 Girls of Code – The mission of 100 Girls of Code is to achieve gender parity in STEM fields by introducing more young women to code and computer engineering at a young age. We seek to inspire more girls to pursue a future in STEM.  There is also Northwest Arkansas Chapter.
  1. First Robotics – The mission of FIRST is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.
  1. Best Robotics – In these project-based STEM program students learn to analyze and solve problems utilizing the Engineering Design Process, which helps them develop technological literacy skills.  Programs in Jonesboro, Harrison, Little Rock and Ft. Smith.
  1. Arts and Science and Kids MuseumsArts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas – Pine Bluff, Museum of Discovery – Little Rock, Mid-America Science Museum – Hot Springs, and the Amazeum – Bentonville
  1. Arkansas Out-of-School Network – A network of after school programs around the state.  A few notables include:
    • 4-H State Robotics team
    • Adventure Clubs of Bentonville, AR
    • Bella Vista Boys and Girls Club – strong STEM focus with NASA curriculum
    • O. Kelly Middle School (21st CCLC after school program) – robotics focus
    • The Camp Pfiefer program – environmental STEM related projects
    • The Saline County Boys and Girls Club – Benton – entrepreneurship focus, partners with 4-H
    • Horatio Elementary School – 21st CCLC – focus on Coding
    • The Audubon Center, Little Rock – focus on environmental stewardship

Joshua used online resources extensively to teach himself how to code, develop websites and smartphone apps, build printed circuit board and electronic products, and produce video.  If you confine your learning to the formal classroom, you are missing out on valuable, self-paced education.  In addition to this list of Arkansas area programs, check out this list of online sources for subject matter education and skills development from our friends at Entrepreneur:

  1. CodeAcademy – This great resource offers free interactive programming sessions to help you learn programming languages such as HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP. You can save your progress as you go with a free account. Learning to code can help entrepreneurs fix bugs if they don’t have a developer, or even go down the road of building their own website or products (such as apps).
  1. HubSpot Academy – The free certification program offers courses on inbound marketing, including website optimization, landing pages and lead nurturing. These skills are a must for business owners as they try to grow their business and online presence.
  1. Moz – If you want to learn search-engine optimization to make sure your website is as visible as possible, check out this treasure trove of resources from SEO leader, Moz. Besides having the free Moz Academy, there are also webinars (live and recorded), and beginner’s guides to SEO, social media and link building.
  1. LearnVest – The most successful entrepreneurs know how to manage their money both on a business and personal side. In addition to having extremely affordable finance classes, LearnVest also offers some of its classes for free, such as “Building Better Money Habits” and “How to Budget.”
  1. Niche consultant courses – The Internet has made for a coaching boom, which is extremely helpful to entrepreneurs who want to learn how to start or better a business in a specific niche. Some great coaches and organizations that routinely have free courses and e-books on building a business include Natalie MacNeil and MyOwnBusiness. Try searching “niche keyword” + “business course” to find one most applicable to you.
  1. edX – This free site currently has over 300 courses on a variety of topics, including “Financial Analysis and Decision Making” and “Entrepreneurship 101: Who is your customer?” These courses not only cover business in general, but can also you help learn more skills that are applicable to your industry, such as big data or environmental conservation.
  1. Khan Academy – This free learning resource was created to give everyone access to education in math, science, art, technology and more. There are over 100,000 interactive exercises to put your education to practical use. Even though many of the courses are geared toward high school students, there are several courses that would be good for anyone to have a refresher on, such as taxes and accounting.
  1. MIT Open Courseware – These are actual courses taught at MIT and offered for free on the site for viewing and reading at your discretion. The school put together an entrepreneurship page that lists available courses that are beneficial to new business owners. Courses include “Early State Capital” and “The Software Business.”
  1. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania – This university has almost 100 free on-demand college courses that are extremely applicable to entrepreneurs, including ones that cover business planning, operations and management and small-business tax.
  1. Coursera – Much like MIT’s Open Courseware, this site has 114 educational partners that provide free courses to almost 10 million users. One benefit to Coursera is that there are very specific courses that fit perfectly into particular niches, such as “Data Management for Clinical Research” from Vanderbilt University and “Innovation for Entrepreneurs: From Idea to Marketplace” from the University of Maryland. Its wide network of partners allows for a greater selection.
  1. OpenCulture – This site isn’t an educational platform on its own, but rather collects and shares free resources from around the web. Its list of 150 free online business courses is a great resource because it offers classes from iTunes U and other lessons on video and audio. The site also has lists of free audiobooks, certificate courses and other online courses.
  1. YouTube – It’s probably unsurprising to most users that YouTube is one of the world’s largest search engines, as there are literally videos on just about anything you can imagine. From TED talks to recorded presentations on building a business, it’s a great free resource on just about any topic.
  1. Alison – This platform offers free online courses from some of the most well-known names on the internet today, including Google, Microsoft, and Macmillan. With over 4 million users and over 600 courses already, it covers topics such as economic literacy, personal development and business/enterprise skills.
  1. Saylor – The Saylor Foundation offers tuition-free courses and also works with accredited colleges and universities to offer affordable credentials. Its course offerings are similar to what you’d see when working toward a bachelor’s degree.
  1. Podcasts – Even though it’s not an official course, podcasts are an amazing (and easily digestible) way to become a better entrepreneur. Podcasts can be listened to via streaming on your computer (if that certain podcast offers it) or via iTunes for iOS and apps such as Podcast Republic for Android. Podcasts such as Entrepreneur of Fire already garner thousands of listeners every episode and are a great way to learn the most up-to-date information and strategies possible. Another good list of entrepreneur podcasts include Think Entrepreneurship’s.
  1. Instructables – This online site has step-by-step projects and videos shared by folks making everything from lamp shades to robots. Joshua has used this resource extensively for inspiration to create his own projects.

THE TAKEAWAY – While the classroom is a tried and true traditional source of learning, there is so much more to learning outside of textbooks and lectures.  STEM and Entrepreneurship are best learned by DOING.  Use these online resources, join a program, or get your own team together and go BUILD SOMETHING.  Outside the classroom, even if you happen to fail, you learn.  Keep trying.

 

6 Signs You May Be Afflicted With Entrepreneur’s Syndrome

6 Signs You May Be Afflicted With Entrepreneur’s Syndrome

Education Entrepreneurship skills

Entrepreneur’s Syndrome can strike at any age but symptoms may be detected early in the young. While this condition can be cured by stifling creativity, the best treatment is to deal with the symptoms.  While I am not a doctor, I have done extensive research on this subject and feel qualified to comment on this syndrome which has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the world.  Plus, I played a nurse once in a skit at a school fund raiser.

Our son, Joshua, has always been curious about how things worked and, as he’s grown older, had his own ideas about how things could be improved. It was obvious that he saw the world around him differently than most people. While many of us fly through our day taking many of the products and services we use for granted, Joshua always seemed to have an idea for a better design or a new product. Young entrepreneurs are like that.

When he was very young, he would take apart the toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals to see how they worked. When he drew pictures for school projects, he portrayed unusual angles and multiple dimensions. Once, when we returned from a vacation, he asked if he could have the disposable Kodak camera. After downloading the pictures, it didn’t take him long to discover the power supply by completing an electric circuit with his finger. That got his attention!

He spent much of his free time, from about age eleven, researching electronics, learning how to code, building printed circuit boards, and watching YouTube and Instructibles to learn how to do things. In his early teens he taught himself how to “jail break” iPhones (a hack that overrides the built-in limitations of the phone and allows for greater customization) and sold his services to his classmates. When we discovered he was doing this, which was followed by a discussion of why it was a bad idea, I asked him how much he charged and how he knew how to price it. He replied that his pricing varied a little bit because he charged an amount that made it worth it for him, but one his classmates could afford without having to ask their parents for the money.  “Asking parents for money is usually a deal killer” he said . I knew then that we had an entrepreneur on our hands. Either an entrepreneur or a con man.

The signs that you or your loved one may be afflicted with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome:

1. Curiosity about how things work – Taking apart everything from toys to VCRs is normal.  THE TREATMENT: Get inexpensive electronics, mechanized, digital equipment, toys and appliances from garage sales and Goodwill so they don’t take apart the good stuff.

2. Seeing the world differently – Notices things others don’t.  Sees problems and solutions.  Caution: This can also lead to strong opinions, fierce independence and significant confidence. This all sounds good until, as a parent, you have to manage and direct it. I have always told my wife that our kids being skilled in communication when they were young was cute until they became teenagers and used it as a weapon. There are days when I think we should have never encouraged them to speak.  THE TREATMENT: Encourage and talk to them about their observations and thought processes.  While, as parents, we can’t allow these young, potential entrepreneurs to be disrespectful, they likely feel a bit ackward that they think differently than others and they need an outlet to help them figure things out.

3. Problem solving – There a pattern of problem solving that evolves into dealing with more and more complex projects that accompanies maturity.  THE TREATMENT: Help them think through the problem but do not take the lead or help them avoid failure.  Be patient.  If they fail, they may get frustrated, disappointed, and appear to lose confidence. Be supportive.  They will figure out what to do next.  Failure is part of the learning process.

4. Free time spent researching and learning – Those afflicted will spend some of their free time exploring the world around them to understand new technologies, and to teach themselves how to do things. THE TREATMENT: Be guarded about where, and from who, they get their information.  Some great sources are not necessarily age appropriate.  We allowed Joshua to use the internet extensively but he couldn’t have a laptop in his room until he was an older teen and he was required to be in open areas of our house where we could observe what he was doing any time we wanted.

5. A sense of economics, the value of things, and product development – In my experience, those afflicted with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome have an innate sense of value. While they may not have the in-depth knowledge of how to price a product or service, they generally have a sense of what a good idea looks like as well as profit and loss.  THE TREATMENT:  Whether it’s a lemonade stand, hacking iPhones, building websites, or building an early version of a hardware product, the afflicted must have opportunities to put their sense of economics into practice.  Insure that what they want to do is not illegal or immoral and turn them lose.

6. Communicating their ideas – Those affliced with Entrepreneur’s Syndrome generally have a personality that allows them to pitch their ideas and to get others interested in buying their product or service, or helping with developing the solution. Great ideas aren’t worth much if you can’t communicate their value.  THE TREATMENT: While our personality is a gift, good communication is a skill.  The afflicted need guidance and practice in order to properly tell their story, communicate their ideas, and get people to care.

THE TAKE AWAY:

Parents – As challenging as this affliction may appear to be, the one thing we don’t want to do as parents is to stifle the creativity and innovative thinking of our kids. The SYSTEM will do enough of that.  Our job is to provide opportunities for them to discover and explore their gifts and passion, to build knowledge and skill, and let them fail along the path to discovery.  This is the only TREATMENT that works.

Young Entrepreneurs – If you have some of these symptoms, you may be feeling different than many of your peers.  Never stop exploring and creating.  Seek out groups of like-minded people. The IDEA group – Innovators, Developers, Entrepreneurs and Artists.  TREATMENT – Solve a problem and build something.  It’s the only treatment that works.  Start today and you can lead a long and happy life doing what you love.