Of course it can. There are some who would say entrepreneurs are born, not made, but those folks overlook the fundamental behaviors of successful entrepreneurs – most notably – to actively identify and manage risk.
I’ve spent decades discussing risk with entrepreneurs, and contrary to the romantic hollywood-inspired notion of all entrepreneurs as Vegas-style risk takers, it seems there are at least two categories – some entrepreneurs (successful?) search out points of risk in an opportunity and set about to manage the risk, while other entrepreneurs just don’t see risk and plow forward blindly. Even this is a dangerous generalization, but one that is more useful.
I was having lunch in “The Lab”, a UST Entrepreneurship classroom and student development incubator, with Kate Herzog (MBA 2009). Kate is the founder of House of Talents (http://houseoftalents.com/), a business she incubates from our Lab. During our discussion she noted, “Some days my business just moves so fast…I never sit down. Who would have thought it would be this way? But I’d never trade it back for my old corporate job. I get so much joy from running my own business.”
Most of you have heard some statistic about the high failure rate of new businesses. I admit, those statistics are a bit intimidating. If someone told me that there was a 6 out of 7 chance (I hear that statistic a lot) of my new business failing within the first two years, I’d be considering a different career. What fascinates me most, though, is the implicit assumption by researchers and media alike that these statistics are somehow an outcome of a natural law – that starting a new business has an extremely high level of unmanageable risk and uncertainty. I couldn’t disagree more. My vast anecdotal experience suggests that 4 out of those 6 failures result from poor choices made by the founder – not some unfathomable invisible force, like gravity, set upon us by the earth’s proximity to other large planets.
Entrepreneurship, like art, has very few laws that it must abide by, the least of which is some natural law of failure. There is risk and uncertainty for sure, but most of it can be managed in a way that moves your odds of success from 1/7 to something more like 5/7.
Moving from idea, good or bad, to a sustainable business is the goal of every entrepreneur, but this is a very difficult task. Ideas don’t matter much. I call this the “Twinkie Theory.” If I put a group of folks in a room and told them I had an idea for a golden sponge cake filled with whipped cream, they would most likely say, “Hmmm, no one needs that. It’s not healthy.”
Twinkies are arguably a bad idea, but Hostess makes a great deal of money selling them. Its a sustainable business. Likewise, I’ve come across numerous ideas and you might think, “That’s a great idea!!!” but never had a chance at being a sustainable business.