Thoughts on Entrepreneurial Education

In December, I will complete the required coursework and earn a master’s degree from Western Carolina University’s Master of Innovation Leadership and Entrepreneurship program. Over the course my graduate work I have been asked many times if a master’s degree is worth the money if I really needed a master’s degree to be an entrepreneur, what prompted me to continue my education, and why I chose a Master of Entrepreneurship degree over an MBA.

As I wind down the program, I wanted to share my perspectives on these questions and offer other thoughts on entrepreneurial education.

My motivation for pursuing a graduate degree.

When I started the program in January 2017, my primary purpose was to earn the credentials to teach courses as an adjunct in higher education. My goal was to teach the basics of licensing and intellectual property protection to those students, like my summer interns from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), who were on a path to creative careers but seemed to have little knowledge and understanding of licensing options for generating revenue and the importance of aggressively protecting their creations.

It was apparent to me that those with aspirations for careers in the creative arts are missing education in the fundamentals of business necessary to support themselves in those careers. I saw this not only in my student interns but also in my interactions with working artists and creators some of whom have been out of school for many years. I wanted to teach students how to establish a better business foundation for extracting long-term value from their future creative careers.

Two years later, my desire remains fundamentally the same; however, my vision is different. The coursework for the master’s program led me to think more broadly. We live in a world where corporate loyalty to employees is virtually nonexistent, and many individuals are pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors—some out of desire, others out of necessity. Moreover, the Internet enables everyone who wants to start a business, a way to find an audience, sell a product or...

The Founder’s Identity Crisis

There are just a few things you need to launch a business.

You need a vision (the ability to spot an opportunity or solve a previously unsolved problem), confidence, desire or passion, and a high tolerance for the probability of losing everything.

Fundamentally, this is all you need. These four things will get your business off the ground and, probably, help you land your first few customers. You don’t need much money to make this happen, and when it does, you’ll become a startup founder.

Growth, however, will bring new challenges.

Growth means you’ll probably need more employees, maybe a partner or two, a board of directors, and likely investors. You’ll need to learn new skills—what I call “adding tools to the toolbox”—so your business can scale and so you can become more effective as a founder. You’ll need to learn how to become flexible, how to be accountable to others, and become comfortable leading rather than dictating. You’ll need to improve your communications skills. You’ll need to define, develop, and maintain a culture, and figure out how you’ll deal with internal, and external conflicts (Eisenmann, Howe, & Altringer, 2017). These basic skills will carry you far, particularly if you are self-aware and introspective, and understand your shortcomings. With these “tools in your toolbox” you’re on your way to “Chief Executive Officer (CEO)-material,” but you’re not a CEO.

This point in your growth is where you get yourself into trouble as a founder. You want that CEO title because it gives some prestige and respect. While you may be the highest ranking individual in the company, overseeing the corporate decisions and managing operations, it’s disingenuous to claim the CEO title when you have only a few employees, and you’re flying by the seat of your pants, which is usually the case in a startup. You’re not fooling anyone with the title, let alone an investor.

When you take on investors, you must become a CEO; not just call yourself the CEO. The desire to have the CEO title without accumulating the skills necessary to be the CEO is the fastest way for...

Interview: Lynda Liner on Entrepreneurial Recruiting

The following is an interview with Lynda Liner, Senior Executive Recruiter with Victoria James Executive Search, for my Entrepreneurial Planning graduate course. Lynda and I have known each other since 2015 when she recruited me for a position in a small business. We discuss entrepreneurial recruitment for A-Players.

Q. Please share with me a little about your background and experience recruiting.

A. Thank you, David, for the invitation to share insights into the recruiting industry.

My early introduction to recruiting was joining a well-known international retained executive search firm as Assistant to the Administrative group that allowed me to learn the industry literally from the bottom up and benefitting from support from mentors while advancing and working each layer of recruiting: research, strategy, candidate development, interviewing, client management – total experience and education in Best Practices and Values I continue to apply today. The CEO of the recruiting firm gave me advice I’ve never forgotten, “Always remember, recruiting is a contact sport.

Things happen when you engage with people.”  And has influenced my dedication to the best possible experience and service to our clients and our candidate professionals.

Q. Your areas of expertise, as I understand it, are in the sales and marketing disciplines. In your experience, how important is it that entrepreneurs find the right talent for roles in these disciplines in a startup? Why do you believe this to be true?

A. The “right” sales and marketing talent will ultimately be responsible for the forward success of an organization. A start-up would initially focus on sales and marketing as the backbone and frontline of an organization and primary management partnership to establish a solid foundation on which to build the organization’s mission, philosophy, culture and simultaneously developing a strategy and action plan for their product or service.

To confirm the importance of identifying the right talent for sales and marketing, in my experience, having placed numerous marketing professionals in middle to senior management roles, I’ve observed large and small companies, from start-up and established, realize positive outcomes, e.g., increased revenue, brand awareness, acquisition, other - as a result of successful key...