Innovation and entrepreneurship don’t necessarily go hand in hand. I’m inspired by technological or information innovations, but I’m very sanguine as to how one actually delivers an operable potentially profitable business. What excites me is putting the two together. Occasionally the entrepreneur is the innovator. Very often they’re not.
It’s about putting a team around you. So, if I’m looking at university-based spinouts, it’s really about assembling management expertise and entrepreneurial drive around technologies. It’s a difficult thing to do.
What interests me is bringing a business from a relatively early stage to a stage where it is profitable and saleable. I’m not necessarily good at running a large business and that doesn’t really interest me. What interests me is bringing a business, which I’ve identified as having a real opportunity, to become a profitable success.
I saw Lord Sugar, who presents the TV series The Apprentice, being interviewed. He said that you don’t say you’re an entrepreneur, other people say you’re an entrepreneur. And I think that’s an interesting way to look at it.
People are looking at starting and building businesses earlier in their careers. Increasingly, the challenge is to match youthful drive with the finance and advice essential to build successful businesses.
You have to have either the business product or the acumen. Entrepreneurship is about creating a mix of product and service, management skills and finance, which delivers across a business. You have to know your sector and really understand how you take it from A to B, and also where your skills leave off.
Sales drives everything. Sales and marketing, desire drives everything. You can create the new wheel but if you can’t sell it… One of the big issues is that too many people still think sales is not exactly a dirty word, but it’s not quite a clean word either. That’s a big inhibitor. You have to be able to sell, you have to be able to identify the strength and weaknesses of an organisation, and you have to be able to lead.
There is something in the culture of the US which doesn’t attach a high negative on failing. The key thing they do well in the US is that they have a far better developed relationship between the financing, the access to management expertise, access to legal expertise and innovation. They’re better at bringing all of these elements together.
There are a lot of people out there with great ideas. The people who have ideas are often very unworldly in terms of the reality of bringing a great idea to market.
You keep fresh by being out there. It’s not an armchair life. Patience is something you never learn, at least I don’t. Grit your teeth and grind down your molars!
“What it takes” can be read in full in vol 22/issue 1 of Business Strategy Review.
This article was taken from Business Strategy Review, for the latest business thinking from all London Business School faculty
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