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HOW TO: Introducing Entrepreneurship

Avatar photo by Casey Woods, Executive Director | February 21, 2018

The Main Street staff works with a lot of entrepreneurs. Our close contact with start up and locally owned ventures stems from the facts that most small businesses look to locate around other small businesses, most economic development initiatives simply focus on “big guys”, and entrepreneurs have a wide range of needs that are unique to the entrepreneur and business type that can only be “solved” through an entrepreneurial agency. Because of our close work with entrepreneurs, Emporia Main Street staff judges a lot of entrepreneurial competitions. A LOT. These competitions are well intentioned efforts to introduce potential small business owners to entrepreneurial concepts that can benefit them in the “real world”.

Yes, we harp on entrepreneurial development a lot, because the development of quality businesses that meet local needs and create community create growth is important. For businesses, developing an entrepreneurial mind set within staff can allow entities to quickly take advantage of opportunities or mitigate threats. For organizations, an entrepreneurial focus can create solvency for base issues, improve cash flow, or mitigate expenses. Appropriate entrepreneurship techniques in education can mean the difference between students simply doing a “class project” and students learning the basic skills of entrepreneurship.

To recap Entrepreneurship 101: businesses are designed to make a profit. The profit produced emanates from a market consisting of individuals that are willing to pay for goods or services produced. Goods and services represent a want or a need that customers are willing to pay for, at a price point that allows a business to create profit. Business expansions (start ups or existing business expansions) respond to opportunities or mitigate threats within a market. This definition creates an issue with most entrepreneurial competitions. Contestants are generally asked to pick a business type and then research it in the hopes that there are sufficient market opportunities and a profit potential. If they pick incorrectly, students generally stay with their original concept because of time constraints.

The educational realm should take a page from the business and organizational world in the creation of entrepreneurial foundations. When entrepreneurs within business and organizations are presented opportunities or threats, they are generally asked to create a plan that takes advantage of opportunities or mitigates threats. The plans produced can create profitability for businesses, operating capital for organizations, or can decrease expenses for any entity.

Presenting students with opportunities within a market area, or threats that an area is facing as a function of the entrepreneurial process can force them to find business solutions to stated problems. Offering students a singular threat or opportunity in a case statement can provide them with a chance to creatively address one opportunity or threat via the entrepreneurial process.

Let’s take a look at this process in action. Businesses and organizations are familiar with the drill. Let’s say that we have an upcoming holiday (for the sake of argument, lets say we are talking about Easter). A business presenting an opportunity to staff may say something like “Let’s brainstorm some ideas on how we can capitalize on the Easter holiday.” Depending on they type of business, staff members should have a variety of different answers-

-A bookstore will concentrate on religious themed books for adults, and Easter bunny books for kids.

-A business that sells candy will concentrate on things to fill an Easter Basket.

-Clothing stores may focus on outfits for church.

-Miscellaneous retailers may promote sales with customers drawing eggs for discounts.

-Photographers would focus on the opportunity to capture families (or just kids) in their Easter best.

-Organizations may play on the concept of an egg hunt or other holiday icons to raise funds or awareness.

The point is, each member of a business or organization could probably come up with multiple ideas of how to take advantage of Easter because the scope was limited. If you asked the same people how to increase sales or foot traffic in general, you would probably receive fewer answers that were much less actionable. In training students to think like an entrepreneur, limiting the focus to a specific case can highlight opportunities and encourage better development of creative ideas. So, instead of instructing students to come up with any business concept under the sun, maybe we should ask them to develop business concepts that solve for problems like:

-Rural health care availablity

-Health/Obesity

-Access to quality food

-Energy needs

-Recycling/material reuse

-Vertical integration of agricultural products

Or, educators can ask students to talk about problems or opportunities that matter to them. Concepts may emerge that could be highlighted in a competition type format, but the idea of forming solutions to a variety of potential issues can spur entrepreneurial discussions about business types/concepts that can last throughout an educational session.

Threat mitigation from an entrepreneurial standpoint may be more difficult to mitigate, but successful businesses solve problems for the consuming public. Threats to an area for student discussion may include things like:

-Student debt mitigation

-Population loss in rural areas

-Retraining intersects for jobs lost to automation

-Housing programs for veterans

Or, educators could talk to students about “social good” elements to business types that could entice a younger generation of entrepreneurs to get involved AND practice becoming good corporate citizens.

The goal of entrepreneurial education should be to embed the entrepreneurial mind set in students through best practices approaches, and then to apply those processes through several lenses of opportunities or threats presented. Emporia Main Street loves the opportunity to talk to students about entrepreneurial concepts EARLY in the process. Studies for entrepreneurial curriculum, like the KIDZ BIZ Concept, have stated that we should talk to students about entrepreneurial concepts as early as 5th Grade. If you are a teacher or professor in the area, and you would like someone to talk to your students about entrepreneurial concepts, please contact Emporia Main Street. We are happy to talk to our next generation of business leaders.

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.

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