The ABC hit program “Shark Tank” is a very interesting program from several perspectives. If you watch it you can learn a lot about how venture capitalists invest —what they look for and why they’ll put seed money into a project.
There’s another perspective, which covers the several entrepreneurs who have a product or service that needs money to go to the next level of success. They are the real stars of the program.
Entrepreneurs are alive and well and you’re seeing only a few per week on Shark Tank. There are many more. Here in New Hampshire dozens of business start-ups and small businesses form the backbone of our new economy.
In 2013 there were 132,044 small businesses employing 282,664 people. Also, self employment from 2010 to 2013 increased by 8.3 percent for women and 14.8 percent for men. Both rates were higher than the national average.
So what makes an entrepreneur? Basically it’s a person who sees a better way of doing something and who has the courage to put their ideas into practice. Success for entrepreneurs isn’t guaranteed even with a better mouse trap. However, there are a few things that can be done to increase success.
Success is increased with a thoughtful business plan; nothing elaborate, just a few sales and financial goals, a plan to achieve them, and a realistic timeline. With a strong focus on fickle customer behavior the business can succeed. There’s one more ingredient that can contribute to success —lots of good luck.
Meanwhile, in “Shark Tank” the people who present themselves as entrepreneurs with big ideas differ widely in age and experience in business. There’s a growing number of young entrepreneurs who have the courage and poise to stand before super successful serial entrepreneurs and ask for significant investor dollars. What preparation did they have to perform so well?
Here in Keene there is a strong initiative for preparing young people in how to develop their entrepreneurial insights and skills. It’s the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA), a nationwide program hosted by Keene State College. It’s a program and a process to assist boys and girls from middle school to high school in drawing out their entrepreneurial ideas and putting them into action.
It features facilitators, mentors, judges and investors who bring their ideas to reality and prototype in preparation for sales to the public. Local business men and women volunteer their services to teach, guide, encourage and invest in the results.
This first group of 16 is moving along in the program. In it, members can form relationships that last through college and into the work place. I’ve met with them and they are a remarkable group of bright, poised and articulate young people. They made it through a high hurdle YEA vetting process.
Each potential class member completes an application, writes an essay on their motivations, and is interviewed. They also pay a fee. The candidates learn in the program and on their own time what’s important to business success. The program fills a void in preparing very young people for the innovative and mental discipline of being an entrepreneur. They begin to see the risks and opportunities of their own ideas.
Contact with successful business owners, advisors, and investors, provides a unique opportunity for development.
From Keene, the top student business will move on to compete for more honors at the regional competition in Phoenix, then hopefully to the national competition, getting up on stage at the American Small Business Summit, in DC.
“Passion breeds success with hard work along with fun and reward”, says Meredith Speranza, a C&S Wholesale Grocers executive and the force and inspiration that brought YEA to Keene. She encourages the young entrepreneurs to “do what you love and don’t be afraid to dream big!”
One of the biggest challenges faced by young post-college entrepreneurs is educational debt. In 1995 the average per-student debt was $12,000; in 2013 it was $29,000 (in 2013 dollars). In N.H. the small business survival rate is improving; 65 percent of all businesses started in 2010 survived in 2012.
The first few years of a business are critical to success — get it right and survive. Early development and continuous learning will make a significant difference between success and sitting on a plateau.
I wonder how many young entrepreneurs have the dream of overcoming obstacles, building equity, and being on “Shark Tank” as sharks!