Entrepreneurship: What Makes for Success and Can We Assess for It?

Entrepreneurship: What Makes for Success and Can We Assess for It?

What is Entrepreneurship and What's the Hype?

Entrepreneurship is defined as "the process of designing, launching and running a new business, which typically begins as a small business, such as a startup company, offering a product, process or service for sale or hire, and the people who do so are called ‘entrepreneurs’" (1). The financial crisis of 2008 led many people, particularly younger workers, to distrust traditional career avenues (such as the finance industry) as weakened job security made such jobs much less appealing. As a result, entrepreneurship has been on the increase ever since.

A report from the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity shows that 550,000 Americans launch new businesses each month (2). The growth in entrepreneurship - or, as the Kauffman report defines it, “adults switching into self-employed business ownership” - is due to a number of factors, both cultural and economic. Technological innovations make entrepreneurship more accessible to a wider swath of people.

On a practical level, it’s easier to start a new business than it has been in the past. In many cases, the technology needed to launch an app or website is relatively inexpensive and highly accessible. Funding has eased up in recent years, making it easier to borrow money or crowd-source. Millennials also want more than a paycheck; they want meaningful work. The research continues to show that many younger aren't just looking to cash in — they are looking to make an impact and to solve problems.

Organizations, too, look for and highly value an entrepreneurial mindset for some roles internally - thinking entrepreneurially is highly prized and training and development professionals are called upon to design programs to build these skills and mindset in employees to benefit the businesses' capacity for innovation, product development and growth.

Entrepreneurship has become highly attractive as a career choice for younger workers. Currently, more than two thirds, or 2,000+, U.S. colleges and universities now offer courses in entrepreneurship due to intense demand from college students.

We all know, however, that many people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs; in fact, MOST of us probably aren't. What makes for success as an entrepreneur? In addition to a novel idea or business proposition, is there a profile for entrepreneurial success?

Enter, the use of Employee Assessments

Keyboarding - Assessment

Assessments have been used for decades in business as a part of the recruitment, selection and development processes with candidates and employees to determine job and culture fit and as an aid in the development of core competencies. With the recent rise of entrepreneurship in the U.S. there is a need by angel investors, VC's, and others to use assessments to profile individuals who seek funding to start new businesses, or to put into critical roles/assignments.

The success rate of new entrepreneurs in establishing profitable, sustainable businesses is critical and due in a large part to the skills, competencies, personality, and even Achilles heels of the person in charge. Some assessments have advanced to the point that they can profile the exceptional strengths and potential blind spots that individuals possess that can help or hinder success as an entrepreneur. In addition to consideration of the soundness of a business plan, the individual him/herself should also be considered in an objective, detailed way. Using an advanced assessment, investors as well as employers can gain an appreciation of the entrepreneur's style, strengths, liabilities and vulnerabilities and make better informed decisions related to funding, candidacy, and even enrollment in special programs. Likewise, the potential entrepreneur him or herself can learn a great deal of him/herself; looking in the mirror can jumpstart self-awareness and in some cases, the need for behavioral change.

Harrison Assessments has studied entrepreneurial success for the last 25 years and uses a paradox methodology to ascertain the suitability for entrepreneurship as well identify the factors that could hinder an entrepreneur. It uses a unique paradox methodology that distinguishes genuine strengths from strong characteristics. Harrison Assessment's world-wide research has revealed the following paradoxical issues related to successful entrepreneurs.

Balancing Paradoxical Behaviors related to the risks of entrepreneurship

Entrepreneur - Risk

Success in complex jobs - whether entrepreneurial, or not - is increasingly dependent upon flexible, versatile skill sets. For new business owners, one such paradox involves being willing to take risks while at the same time, managing those risks with sufficient consideration to predict potential threats, problems and obstacles. Balancing a welcoming attitude toward opportunity (i.e. risk) with a hearty respect for potential pitfalls of plans and strategies is one of the keys to success. A strong appetite for risk without sufficient time spent in due diligence and you have impulsivity that jeopardizes the chance of success. Too much emphasis on the potential problems, on the other hand, can delay progress and result in excessive caution - that is, missed opportunity enabling some one else gets there first.

Add in a healthy dose of optimism and you have the start of a firm foundation for the successful entrepreneurial mindset. An assessment based on paradox methodology can measure an individual's risk appetite as well as that person's tendency to sufficiently analyze potential threats. Again, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur based on this criteria alone.

Capacity for Innovation: The Entrepreneur's Steady Diet

Entrepreneur - Innovation concept

Another pre-condition for success of an entrepreneur is in the innovation arena. The paradox inherent in successful, sustainable innovation involves "blue sky thinking" (i.e. creative experimentation) combined with perseverance. True invention is the by-product of both of these qualities - great ideas AND the stick-to-it-tiveness to march forward and achieve the goal. Without creativity, we may keep marching but it may be down the wrong road; without perseverance, we may not complete what we started. In fact, many creative people do just that - they have one great idea after another without brining any of them to fruition. The inventive mindset ensures that energy is invested at very high levels to maintain creativity AND perseverance. It is essential to understand how a person balances these factors in order to achieve better odds of success.

Strong Motivation is not Enough: Interpersonal Skills Count, too...

Another paradox critical to entrepreneurial success involves the drive to achieve and people skills. A successful entrepreneur certainly needs to be highly self-motivated. No one else is in a position to generate drive the results that will be necessary for a successful startup. Success is highly dependent upon personal accountability, the willingness to embrace difficulties that will inevitably occur along the way, and clear objectives. At the same time, in order to succeed an entrepreneur needs to effectively interact with others, handling inevitable conflict, building high performing teams, negotiating win-win solutions and inspiring others to achieve the mission. Strong ambition without strong interpersonal skills will result in the alienation of the key partners and stakeholders. On the other hand, strong interpersonal and collaboration skills without sufficient drive and energy to achieve results will also sabotage success. Thus self-motivation and interpersonal skills is one of the key paradoxes that need to be carefully understood.

De-railers Count, too...

Entrepreneurship Derailers Chart

It is also essential to measure a complete range of potential "blind spots" that could hinder success. In the image left, several "traits-to-avoid" are shown that can cripple success if extreme. In some cases, like this one, a single result can better inform the individual of where he/she may need to devote some time and attention. We are all capable of change if properly motivated. Change starts with self-awareness, then reflection, and finally, the motivation to get started with a plan to make some personal changes. An aspiring entrepreneur is not doomed to failure based on a single blind spot. Nor should VC's or investors decline support when a result is found that can be improved upon given time and proper attention. Assessments inform as well as predict and a good assessment will help an individual come to appreciate his/her strengths as well as areas in which he/she can improve.

Entrepreneurial Success Can be Measured and Potential Success Predicted

Considering the risks related to entrepreneurship, we need improved tools, systems and methods to increase the chances of success. A good assessment holds up a mirror for us to see what we are best suited to pursue. It also identifies and clarifies the personal changes that will enable us to be more likely to succeed.


1 Definition of Entrepreneurship, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entrepreneurship

2 The Christian Science Monitor, Why Entrepreneurship is on the Rise, Aug. 5, 2016


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