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Do You Have What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur?

Photo: CCO license via pexels.com

This Small Business Week, Graham Henshaw, Executive Director of William & Mary’s Allan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center offers advice for budding local entrepreneurs that want to turn ideas into real business ventures. Henshaw says for anyone just starting on their entrepreneurship journey, it’s important to keep one thing in mind:

“Eighty to 90 percent of new ventures fail. The reason that they fail is not because they run out of money, or due to competition. The reason that they fail is that they built something that nobody wants.” His suggestions for success?

Validate the market first.

Henshaw says, “Refocus your attention on the customer and what their life is like and make certain that you have validated [this] is a really big problem for people and they’re willing to pay for a solution.”

Need Support? Local organizations like Launchpad, the Greater Williamsburg Business Incubator, can help – with programs like ‘Pitch Perfect’ on how to pitch ideas and networking events such as ‘Million Cups’ held every Wednesday, Henshaw says he would encourage people to get around other entrepreneurs.

“A mistake some entrepreneurs make is to try to develop things in a vacuum, solo. It’s better to be around other people because you will encounter the same challenges that someone else has, and they can help you make faster progress, so getting to be around Launchpad or a co-working space, any opportunity to be around other entrepreneurs that are going through the same journey is helpful,” according to Henshaw. 

If you’re just starting out and have specific questions you want answered by business owners and entrepreneurs that have gone before, Henshaw says SCORE is an outstanding network of mentors dedicated to helping entrepreneurs in the early stages. SCORE offers face-to-face meetings and workshops to help get businesses off the ground. Henshaw says that high-caliber mentorships are essential to the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

If you’re an entrepreneur in the start-up world with a great idea, Henshaw recommends participating in local competitions, like Start Peninsula to take your business to the next level:

“Competitions act as a catalyst for that entrepreneur who maybe has this idea bouncing around for some time, and this is a forum where they can see if the world thinks it’s as great as they do. I encourage entrepreneurs to do that as quickly as possible.”

Maybe your business has gained some traction and now you need support on a specific initiative. Have you ever thought of contacting William & Mary? In the Field Consultancy Program at the Alan B Miller Entrepreneurship Center, students work with local organization to solve problems using entrepreneurial methods. Students have helped companies from Copper Fox Distillery to NASA solve issues as paid consultants.

One of the biggest roadblocks many entrepreneurs face at some point in their journey is capital. Luckily, there is an organized network of credited investors right here in Hampton Roads that is passionate about facilitating new start-ups.

Henshaw states, “ 757 Angels is a network that started in Hampton Roads a couple years ago and that is the right kind of capital for an early stage venture that has validated the market opportunity, has probably prototyped it and now needs to take things to the next level.”

No matter which phase of the journey you may be in, Henshaw says there’s no roadmap for success in business, but there are two qualities in particular that all effective entrepreneurs have: hustle and coachability.

“Entrepreneurship is hard. You’re going to hit so many roadblocks and you’re going to hear so many ‘No’s’ and there’s roadmap for it either, you have to be able to chart your own course. The trait that I’ve seen that serves entrepreneurs well is hustle – not waiting around for someone to write a check but figuring out a way to do it in the meantime. That’s a big one. You also need this unique blend of being uber-confident that your business is going to change the world, and in yourself as entrepreneur and innovator but also humble enough to accept advice and support from people who can potentially change the course of the business or help open doors.”

About the Alan B. Mills Entrepreneurship Center

Graham Henshaw is the executive Director of the Alan B. Mills Entrepreneurship Center in the Raymond A Mason School of Business at William & Mary. The center’s mission is to educate, inspire and support students in developing the skills and mindset of an entrepreneur. Henshaw described the mission as a three-part model that involves the community – learn, engage and build.

In his own words: “We do most of the ‘learn’ part, because we’re a school but the ‘engage’ and ‘build’ is stronger and more effective when it involves the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Engage is all about getting students face to face with local entrepreneurs. We’re always looking for new connections, businesses and excuses to put students in front of entrepreneurs so that they can see the skills and mindset in action. To help students build, we want them to skin their knees a little bit. We want students to try out the skills and the mindset of the entrepreneurs on their own and see what happens. We involve the community in that as mentors and judges. We’re potentially embedding students in a local company to work on a specific problem with the field consultancy. Our focus is first to develop students, but the way we do that effectively is by involving the community, so we want to be an integral part of the ecosystem here locally.” 

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