W04.1: Entrepreneur Bootcamp

Entrepreneurs, IP and Emergence

Now that you’ve taken your first steps as a venture analyst, we want you to lace up as a venture creator.   The territory is the same, but the skills and perspectives are remarkably different.  Let’s start with motivation.

An “entrepreneur” is someone who undertakes to create or rebuild a venture, motivated by an idea for how to reach a specific market or audience with a new product or service, with a committed but uncertain expectation of generating sufficient economic or social value to justify the venture’s existence.  You’re an entrepreneur in spirit if your first question, when struck by an idea, is “how can I generate original value from this?”.

More generally, an entrepreneur is a champion of disruptive change in the world.   And its not just about business and people seeking to make money.  In fact, the role is as old as humanity itself, characterized as the “trickster” in mythologies everywhere: the supernatural being, motivated by both greed and goodness, who enacts all disruptive change in the world.   Society then, as now, was dutifully cautious, even hostile, because while change is understood to be necessary, the unpredictability of its impacts are always worrisome, and the benefits of change are seldom evenly distributed.

The concepts of original value and disruptive change are what distinguishes entrepreneurs from other kinds of organizational leaders in the world.  You can easily be a CEO, superintendent, executive director, etc, without being an entrepreneur if your primary mandate and motivation is about management.  Every organization in the world is dealing with continuous change, so every good organizational leader needs to anticipate and respond to such change.  You’re an entrepreneur if your primary motivation is to create change: you want to generate the wave, not just ride it.

The nature of “entrepreneur” is worthy of healthy debate in the context of the MET program because education accurately prides itself as deeply resistant to change, and therefore not welcoming of entrepreneurship.  Is this a fair assessment?   Is it healthy for education?  What do you think?

The less-familiar term “intrapreneur” is an entrepreneur who works inside an existing enterprise.  Persuading your organization to do something new – especially something disruptively new – is at least as difficult as making it happen independently.   Consequently it’s often a vexing strategic question for intrapreneurs whether they should try to realize their idea internally or take it outside to start something new.  The culture of education is again somewhat unique here: intrapreneurship can often be the most productive avenue.

And in 522 we recognize and celebrate the “innovator” as an entrepreneur who conceives the original idea as well as champions its realization.  The distinction is important because most entrepreneurs are remixers rather than composers – they take ideas from elsewhere and put them to work.  Likewise there are inventors everywhere who come up with amazing ideas but don’t have the skills or inclination to take them to market.

Inventors tend to think that creating the original idea is the hardest and most valuable part of innovation, while entrepreneurs think that finding a way to apply ideas successfully is much harder and more valuable.  Perhaps this is why relatively few individuals are equally successful at invention and entrepreneurship, making true innovators quite rare.  When countries like Canada try to stimulate an “innovation culture” they would love to find a way to cultivate more innovators, but as nobody knows how to do this yet it usually means separately stimulating the invention process (typically at universities) and the entrepreneurship process (typically in small companies), and striving to find ways to connect the two effectively.  It isn’t particularly efficient.

Original ideas are so important that society has developed ways to identify and manage them.  When an idea is truly original – in a legal sense – it is considered “intellectual property” or simply “IP“, which makes it the hottest commodity around.   The methods and strategies for mobilizing IP  through copyright, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, etc, are once again beyond the scope of 522; the core understanding we wish you to have is that originality is a formal, actionable quantity for ventures.   It is certainly possible to launch a successful venture without IP, but it won’t grow substantially without developing some.   And it is certainly possible for a venture with lots of IP to fail (post mortem, such assets can remain incredibly valuable, as is the recent case of the hundreds of millions of dollars earned by selling Nortel’s IP).

Finally, we want to introduce the concept of “emergence“. When we first launched this course in 2002 the technology world was dominated by “convergence” – new ventures driven by the unprecedented integration of traditional processes enabled by the rapid expansion of information and communication technology, primarily centred on the Internet. Convergence is still accelerating, but it has spawned the even more explosive dynamic of emergence – largely unpredictable, significantly social phenomena arising out of the incredibly rich and complex flux of connectedness, freedoms, and capabilities that convergence has already delivered. Abundant emergence examples include wikis, the blogosphere, Flickr, YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter.  Given the unpredictability of emergence relative to convergence, it isn’t hard too understand how the recent MVP and crowdfunding processes discussed in A Game with Three Pitches have come into being.

Emergence is clearly an especially transformative agent for learning, possibly on a scale we can’t imagine yet, hence our focus on emerging markets.  What we love about emergence is that it levels the playing field.  It gives every hopeful entrepreneur the same chance for success as the largest, most powerful enterprise.   The only way to improve your chances is to participate more actively in pursuing ideas, solving problems, chasing opportunities, and launching ventures.  To get you into the right frame of mind, you might enjoy either of the podcast series Startup or How I Built This.

An idea you have in the next few weeks of 522 could easily be the next big thing!  Make it so!