In this section:

These notes are about starting a new business. Too often people believe that big business has always been big. We forget that there is usually a story behind a large business, a story that starts with one person, or at most a few people, and an idea, an idea that solves a problem or provides a benefit.

December 9, 2017

What do we mean by entrepreneurship?

This is a blog I wrote specifically for the HR Business School (Rotterdam) but some might find the thoughts of interest.

In business and university circles we often hear the phrase “students must become more entrepreneurial.” We read articles arguing that everyone will have to become an entrepreneur in the new economy[1] and one of the key focus areas of the ‘Roadmap to the Next Economy’[2] is startup economies. The EU has a 2020 Entrepreneurship strategy[3] and, in 2014, the World Economic Forum sponsored a workshop entitled ‘Fostering Innovation- driven Entrepreneurship in Europe’, in which they put forward the structure of “stand up, startup, scale up” as a means to supporting the creation of new businesses.[4]

Asked for a definition of an entrepreneur, my graduate students will come up with familiar names; Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg and Musk. They will describe a vision of a lone wolf working in a small workshop or garage, coming up with a brilliant idea that creates a billion-dollar business.

I recently interviewed 90 final year bachelor business students about becoming an entrepreneur and most replied “I don’t have what it takes”. Only five planned to start a new business after they graduated and a further 75 said – “Maybe in a few years’ time, but not just yet.”

No-one responded “Yes” to the question: “Has university prepared you to be able to start your own business?” Most only replied “Somewhat”.

This after three and half years of study at our business school!

Are we doing a good job at HR Business School helping our students become entrepreneurs? Perhaps we are discouraging ambition by projecting the wrong image of an entrepreneur?

That would not be surprising when there are so many ideas of what an entrepreneur is. For example, ‘Business News Daily’s’ Paula Fernandes interviewed 15 company founders and received different 15 versions of what makes an entrepreneur.[5]

In a recent ‘HBR’ article[6], John Hagel III reminds us that high growth new businesses (often referred to as ‘gazelles’ or ‘unicorns’) are few and far between and argues that we shouldn’t unduly focus on them. With new technologies making production and distribution processes more reachable to smaller businesses, perhaps we should focus our students, not so much on the building of multi-million dollar enterprises but, in Hagel’s words; “making a comfortable living for themselves and perhaps a small team of people” by “designing and commercializing products that are targeted to the specific needs of small groups of customers rather than the mass market.”

One can start to see this in the rise in new small businesses challenging global players – such as specialty gin companies, artesian bakeries, boutique breweries, and bean-to-bar chocolatiers.

Most of our graduates join small businesses rather than large ones and therefore don’t see the need to be entrepreneurial, but even existing small businesses need entrepreneurs to remain competitive.

The EC writes that “Europe’s economic growth and jobs depend on its ability to support the growth of enterprises. Entrepreneurship creates new companies, opens up new markets, and nurtures new skills. The most important sources of employment in the EU are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). The Commission’s objective is to encourage people to become entrepreneurs and also make it easier for them to set up and grow their businesses.” [7]

So, as the HR Business School, what should we be focusing on? I suggest three capabilities:

Creativity and Innovation:
How can we involve other parts of the university more with our business school? How do we encourage closer collaboration between our students and those of, say, the Willem de Koning Academy, CMIT and the RDM Campus?

Problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration:
The recent Rotterdam International Case Competition, in which teams of students tackled complex business cases under time pressure, is an example of what the few participants would say was a wonderful learning experience. But why just for a select few students in the occasional competition? Could we not use this methodology as a regular feature in more of our courses?

Calculated risk taking and learning from failure:
It is often thought that entrepreneurs are risk takers, but a recent study revealed that they take carefully-considered risks and, importantly, they learn from their mistakes.[8] Perhaps we can encourage our own FU nights[9] within the HR Business School – where we invite current students and recent graduates to share their experiences of mistakes made and lessons learned?

[1] “Why everyone will have to become an entrepreneur” Paul B Brown Forbes May 13, 2012
[2] https://mrdh.nl/RNE
[3] https://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/promoting-entrepreneurship/action-plan_en
[4] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/AM14/WEF_AM14_FosteringInnovationDrivenEntrepreneurshipEurope_SessionSummary.pdf
[5] “Entrepreneurship Defined” Paula Fernandes Business News Daily, March 2, 2016
[6] “We need to expand our definition of entrepreneurship” John Hagel III, HBR, September 2016
[7] https://ec.europa.eu/growth/smes/promoting-entrepreneurship_en
[8] “Effectuation: Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise” by Saras D. Sarasvathy Edward Elgar 2008
[9] https://fuckupnights.com
This blog is written by Ron Ainsbury, associate applied research professor Business Responsibility & Sustainability, Research Centre Business Innovation, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

September 24, 2017

Will you find a job when you graduate?

I wrote this note primarily for my students at Rotterdam Business School …

One of the major concerns of students and employees is – will the Digital Economy mean less jobs to go around? This fear is compounded in the west by the export of many jobs to lower-wage countries – globalization.

This is a natural concern when looking at recent headlines:

“RBS moves 443 jobs to Mumbai from the UK”
“Mothercare looks to halve the number of stores”
“Will the rise of AI terminate our jobs?”

Even in some of the lower-wage cost countries, jobs are being lost. IBM India recently announced that at least 5,000 jobs might go – and an IBM spokesperson explained: “re-skilling and rebalancing is an ongoing process as we accelerate the benefits of cognitive and cloud technologies for clients around the world”.

The optimist suggests that (as predicted by John Maynard Keynes) that our problem is going to be how to fill the leisure time that is going to be created by day-today jobs being filled by robots of one kind or another. Indeed, Warren Buffett praises companies that reduce staffing levels: “They have followed the standard capitalist formula … of trying to do the same business with fewer people. People live better when there is more output per capita.” But are we living better? The pessimist points out that despite the rise in digitalization and use of robots most people are still working as hard as ever. The realist in me suggests that if everyone is going to benefit from digitalization, artificial intelligence, robotization, etc. – then we are going to need a radical change in how society functions

In the meantime, what are we (and you) going to do? One point of view suggest that in the future we will all be entrepreneurs – that will require new skills and capabilities, particularly creativity.

Perhaps the news from Infosys in India shows the way for those of you who don’t have an entrepreneurial bent. While annual hiring of full-time staff in Infosys India will be lowered to around 6,000 new employees in 2016-17. At the same time 11,000 employees had been moved from manual repetitive tasks and redeveloped them to positions requiring creativity and imagination. Infosys further claims it has retrained 140,000 of its 200,000 staff since 2014 – resulting in higher productivity, more creative positions. So clearly being able to develop new skills helps those at Infosys keep their jobs.

Have business schools kept up with changes? In a 2014 blog, “Business Schools have lost a staggering amount of credibility in the business community” two London School of Economics lecturers assert that many business schools have failed to develop curricula that satisfy the needs of employers who require a workforce that can evolve alongside a continuously changing world.” They point out that what businesses seek is: problem-solving, the ability to connect different aspects of business and think in a holistic way, and the courage to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity.

So – what skills and capabilities are you going to learn while you study for your business degree – that will prepare you for the world of tomorrow? Do you know how to learn and keep learning?

In the RBS Graduate Department we are evolving to help you with courses such as Critical Thinking (creative problem-solving) and giving you assignments such as those in International Project and Managing Corporate Sustainability that take you out of your comfort zone forcing you to work with people of different cultures with different ways of thinking and working.

We live in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). To survive we are going to need to be creative and imaginative. Is your degree helping you prepare?

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April 28, 2016

EMBEDDING SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS PRACTICE : A BETTER BUSINESS MODEL

This is a paper I wrote that has just been published in the Journal Of Positive Management. In this paper I set out the basis for a new research programme designed to demonstrate that by encouraging managers of small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to take a positive approach to social and environmental risks, embedding and operationalising their responses into their business strategy, they may enjoy a range of positive business benefits, as has been demonstrated by larger companies.

JPM Article

April 23, 2016

Inspiring TED Talk: Failure and success

Fear of failure is one of the factors that inhibit young people from becoming entrepreneurs. And inhibiting employees of larger companies from trying new ways of working.

This story is inspiring, not just because of the innovative solutions they are exploring – and developing – and rejecting! but the way they are encouraging trial and failure.

http://www.ted.com/talks/astro_teller_the_unexpected_benefit_of_celebrating_failure

“Enthusiastic skepticism is not the enemy of boundless optimism. It’s optimism’s perfect partner. It unlocks the potential in every idea.”

May 30, 2015

Do you have what it takes?

Do you have what it takes?

Sometimes the problems that grab the headlines just seem so far out of our reach.

There is a global food imbalance; on one side of the planet, starving millions, on the other side obese kids.

We see evidence of pollution on a global scale, resources dug up out of the ground then discarded into the ocean, rivers, and landfills, despoiling water resources and the countryside, not to mention the air.

We read of health problems in developing countries killing babies and children by the thousands.

Here in Europe we read of youth unemployment but also an ageing population often in need of special care: a demographic imbalance.

These are just some of the problems that beset our world. Sometimes these problems seem insurmountable. “What can I do?” you might ask yourself. “How can I solve the world’s food problem? How can I save the planet from pollution, or solve these health problems, or energy shortages, or youth unemployment?”

One answer might be to start using your creativity, your ingenuity, and build on what others have developed. Stand on their shoulders and use your entrepreneurial spirit to come up with your own solution. Here are a few examples of individuals who have developed innovative solutions to some of the world’s social and environmental problems. Why not follow their lead?

Food

At the age of just 15, living in Sussex, England, Tristram Stuart[1] started feeding his pigs with food waste from his school kitchen. Sale of the delicious pork that resulted augmented his pocket money. He supplemented school food scraps with waste from local stores and nearby farmers. Then he noticed that what was being dumped appeared highly nutritious. He wondered, “Could I survive on this?” and set himself a challenge to eat only food waste for a month. This he did, successfully. Thus started his interest in food waste and a global campaign to reduce food waste. While campaigning across the world he organised a number of “Feed the 5,000” events where local chefs would provide free food to the public made from food that had been discarded. Today, major supermarkets are starting to promote “ugly fruit”.

What could you do in your community?

Pollution

Nature has its own solutions to waste. Humans often shy away from maggots and cockroaches but these humble creatures near the bottom of the food chain eat up natural waste and then become food for others.

 

Vetiver is a remarkable grass that has been found to have multiple benefits, particularly in combating soil erosion, while providing useful products from its leaves and roots. The leaves are used to make thatching material for roofs and rope and an essential oil distilled from its roots is used in making perfume. Its roots also absorb substances potentially harmful to humans.

 

A cosmetic company realised it could generate a source of the essential oil for its own use and at the same time make use of its absorbent properties to clean polluted canals in Manila[2].

What natural solution can you apply to clean up the environment in your home?

Low-tech – Health

Charities donate expensive medical equipment to developing countries. Often these end up either not being used or broken after a few months because advanced technology can not be repaired: the skills needed to do it are not available within remote, rural communities. Jonathan Rosen pondered this question. He noticed that everywhere he went there seemed to be mechanics who could fix a utility vehicle – so why not make an incubator solely out of vehicle parts![3]

Low-tech – Education

Another challenge faced by communities in less developed parts of the world is the lack of electricity. It’s hard for people in remote areas to keep up with news – with limited access to electricity. And schools and teachers can be far away. So – develop a wind-up digital radio and cassette player[4]. Now remote schools can be given cassettes with educational material and people can listen to radio stations providing news – and more educational content[5].

Is there a low-tech, low-cost solution that you can apply to address a problem?

 

Youth involvement

Rockcorps gathers together young people and offers them tickets to an upcoming popular concert – in return for four hours of community work.  The principle they have uncovered is simple:

  • If you give away something for nothing – it has little value.
  • If you buy something – your enjoyment increases.
  • But if you work to earn – the pleasure derived is highest.

Now, thousands of young people have worked on community projects and earned a great experience.[6]

Do you have a creative idea to tackle the unemployment problem in your community?

Love shoes – Life shoes? No Lyf shoes!

ALY KHALIFA was getting a headache visiting a shoe factory – heat and volatile chemicals. He wondered: “Why do we need to make shoes this way – harming the health of the workers and polluting the environment?”

He then put together:

  • Very old technology: Japanese gateways built with interlocking wooden joints
  • Very new technology: 3D printing

… and came up with LYF shoes: design your own look, 3D print components, all components made from recycled and recyclable materials.[7]

What great ideas could you combine in an innovative way to tackle an environmental or social problem?

You don’t have to be a giant corporation to change the world

The technology revolution is here – you can build on knowledge in a way that previous generations couldn’t. The power of the internet gives you access to the latest technologies such as Green chemistry, Biotechnology, Alternative energy, and Nanotechnology – to name a few.

There are plenty of resources available to assist the budding entrepreneur such as Angel clubs; Incubators; Charitable grants; government and university subsidies – and Crowd funding. Investors are just looking for the next smart idea.

There is no shortage of problems in today’s world – what we need are solutions. What the world needs now is your creativity, your imagination, and your ingenuity. So – which challenge will you take? The world is waiting for your smart idea!

 

 

[1] http://www.ted.com/talks/tristram_stuart_the_global_food_waste_scandal

[2]http://www.sustainablebrands.com/digital_learning/event_video/marketing_comms/new_standard_clean_messaging_case_hana_water_billboard

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/health/16incubators.html

[4] http://www.freeplayenergy.com

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqE9vheaGZk

[6] http://www.rockcorps.com

[7] http://lyfshoes.com

August 3, 2012

European entrepreneurs

The Economist of July 28th has a very readable brief on European Entrepreneurs. Contrary to popular opinion, President George W Bush never did say anything about the French and entrepreneurs!