Educating The Entrepreneurs

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 23, 2009

Formal schooling, related work experience, and on the job training are all important parts of a business education. Conversations with several successful business owners show an interesting mix of the three.

It has been nearly twelve years since the business first opened its doors. The three founders weren’t sure how long their current jobs would last but were sure they didn’t want to work for someone else.

The business began as a small retail bakery and has since expanded to several locations with a restaurant. Now well established, the three entrepreneurs earn above average profits from their multi million dollar enterprise.

What prepared this unlikely threesome for success? Each of the three were college graduates. A biologist, an economist, and a sociologist, all three without a bit of formal business training. Their educational background was compounded by a lack of experience. None of the three had any experience in the bakery or restaurant business.

While they believe the lack of a formal business education did not hurt the venture, they know that their lack of industry experience caused them to make several costly errors. Fortunately they were able to survive long enough to learn from their mistakes.

Bill came upon his idea for a business by accident. It was ten years ago that he first purchased a used computer system to help him manage the records in his auto repair business. He soon found that the computer was creating more problems than it was solving. Frustrated, he began to repair and reprogram it to meet his needs.

Bill had graduated from the school of hard knocks. He had enrolled as a business major in an eastern college, but soon lost interest and dropped out. He opted for experience and got plenty of it.

From his efforts at repairing and reprogramming the computer in his business, Bill realized the potential demand for custom applications. He soon started a new venture in electronic parts distribution to take advantage of that demand. Within six months the new business was larger and more successful than his original enterprise.

While Bill had no formal training in electronics, he had been running his own business and had “hands on” experience with computers when he started his new venture. As head of his own company, he now sometimes wishes that he had that business degree he had started on many years ago.

David’s fluency with Spanish and English enabled him to assist his immigrant parents as a translator in their business dealings. By listening to and observing his parent’s daily business transactions, David was introduced to business at an early age.

After graduating from high school, he attended college on scholarship and received an engineering degree. While working part time, he went on to graduate school and earned a second engineering degree.

After six years spent working in a variety of engineering and management positions with two different companies, David and several co-workers decided to strike out on their own. Now, a number of years later, David is President of a 250 million corporation, the third business that he has founded.

Concerning his formal education, David believes that college gave him the basic training and fundamentals that he needed in engineering. He thinks that there is an ever increasing need for graduates with formal training in technical skills. It was his early business experiences however, that gave him the ability to take advantage of his formal training.

A consensus opinion from recent discussions with these and other business owners is that formal training, job related experiences, and on the job training all play an important role in preparing an individual for the challenges of business ownership.

Formal schooling is looked on as an important base from which to build. Many have been successful in business without extensive formal education. Many others have entered occupations totally unrelated to their primary fields of study. In retrospect however, many graduates of the school of “hard knocks”, like Bill, wish they had gotten that degree when they were young.

Job experience in a related field is unquestionably the most important ingredient. We are the product of our own experiences. We are what we have done The more we do the better we are. As the three college graduates in the bakery business can attest, getting into a business without experience is risky. Some survive to tell the tale, but many others don’t.

Whatever your preparation for starting your business, you can never be fully prepared. Why? Because the last and most important training takes place on the job. You can only get that training by getting started. The keys to success are commitment and hard work.

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