The Big Small: The Entrepreneurial Path Creates Key Skill Sets and Traits

Author: Bryan Ritchie and Nick Swisher

Mccloskey 2018 Presentation A student entrepreneurial team gives their presentation at the 2018 McCloskey New Venture Competition Finals

In this third article in a series called “The Big Small,” Bryan Ritchie and Nick Swisher discuss how pursuing an entrepreneurial path builds key character traits and skill sets that makes them extremely valuable to society and prepares them well for whatever role emerges in their future, regardless of success.
Producing Their Own Value
Those of us who occupy job positions within organizations necessarily provide value to our employers when our work is performed to satisfaction. Value is inherent in the job position itself. Entrepreneurs, by contrast, don’t follow this model. They must create their own value to society and to the economy as neither what they offer personally nor the businesses they launch are initially or inherently valuable. In fact, it may take many years for this value to form. Yet, when it does, it is often outsized compared to the rest of us. Entrepreneurs create new industries, launch revolutionary new products, found businesses that employ thousands of people and, most importantly, change the world (think Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Thomas Edison). Many seasoned entrepreneurs, whether successful or not, also gain a set of traits and skill sets that make them very likely to succeed in future endeavors. The passion, courage, grit, confidence, optimism, agility, empathy and real-world wisdom that many entrepreneurs gain, not to mention the on-the-job experience of daily wearing multiple hats, makes them extremely valuable to society and to our economy. 

The Entrepreneurial Path Creates Leaders

Entrepreneurs are often leaders in their fields and their communities as well as their companies. Their startups are based on the conviction that they have something to offer that will solve problems, accelerate success, and improve people’s lives in a way not otherwise available. Their mission-driven dedication to add value in some particular way gives meaning and purpose to the long hours and lean finances so likely in the beginning. (In the process, they add value to the overall economy as an employer, purchaser, tenant, etc.) Their ability to articulate their vision attracts partners and colleagues as well as customers. In many cases, that passion overcomes a lack of previous public speaking experience and helps the person grow as a compelling elevator-pitcher and storyteller. 
That passion also stimulates a curiosity to learn more about the broad range of skills required for launching and sustaining a business, far beyond the comfortable field of expertise where the entrepreneur found the idea in the first place. Running a startup is excellent training for dealing with a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, expertise, and cultures, elevating appreciation for each individual’s inputs as well as the innovation that arises from creative synthesis and synergy. 
The entrepreneur knows that their success depends on assembling and unifying the right team. The myriad demands of a startup – accounting, legal, marketing, sales, purchasing, hiring – are beyond any individual’s expertise. The entrepreneur brings the product or the process, the idea, discovery, or invention, and the vision for how it might be applied for commercial and social benefit. The startup team members as well as the founding entrepreneur likely wear several hats each to cover the required activities in the lean beginning. They understand that the startup’s success depends on each individual’s success, and they take a more collegial approach than one might find in a large, established corporation where leadership might be more hierarchical and top-down. This reality trains the entrepreneur to adopt a service-leadership role that values the aims and advancement of each person as well as the group as a whole. The entrepreneur’s necessary optimism about the future also generates a forward-looking, positive leadership approach that focuses on possibilities rather than problems and engages the whole team in decision-making. 

Failure Builds Character

The challenges that a startup is likely to face will also help the entrepreneur grow in the right kind of humility – acknowledgement that the first idea isn’t the best and willingness to try something different. Failure for the entrepreneur will be a positive stepping-stone to success when it triggers the wisdom and agility to learn from the experience and pivot to more promising approaches. Antidotes to the “I’m always right” mentality bring more openness to new ideas and connections that can multiply success in the long run. This capacity to learn from failure and practice empathetic listening to potential customers and others is the root of design thinking that is producing a much wider range of promising potential solutions today. 
A Safe Place to Become an Entrepreneur 

The IDEA Center at the University of Notre Dame is just as much committed to building up the leaders of tomorrow through entrepreneurial education and applied practice as it is to creating startup companies. Programs such as the McCloskey New Venture Competition, ESTEEM and the new combined minor in entrepreneurship with the Mendoza School of Business provide a safe place for students to step into entrepreneurial waters for the first time. Even if the outcome isn’t a thriving startup company, which is more often the case than not, what is learned and gained by the student on the entrepreneurial path is often far more valuable than any early monetary gain they might receive. This is because the skill sets, leadership, and character traits they acquire going through the entrepreneurial process later makes them invaluable to society and to our economy regardless of the role they choose to fill.