Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Grab guidance wherever you can

Entrepreneurship has always been part of the American landscape, but it seems—finally—to be achieving the level of respectability that previously has been reserved for the traditional occupations.

Proof of that may be found in the Thiel Fellowship, offered by the Thiel Foundation, which awards $100,000 over two years to 20 people under 20 years of age to pursue innovative scientific and technical projects, learn entrepreneurship, or build a company. But it comes with a catch. If they’re in college, Thiel Fellows must drop out. It’s an attempt to encourage people to dream—and act—big. Sort of like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, both of whom dropped out of college to pursue their ideas.

Competition for a Thiel Fellowship is strong. Many apply and few get one. But the message is loud and clear to potential entrepreneurs: follow your dream. Do whatever it takes. Think big. Act big. Nothing was ever given to anyone who achieved big things – like creating their own business.

Writing about Bill Gates’ success, Jim Collins has pointed out that, in many ways, Gates was not terribly unusual. After all, many kids from upper middle class backgrounds attended Ivy League colleges, were good in math and computers, and knew how to program Basic. Many could have done what he did, right? Instead of taking the traditional path, and staying in college, Gates did what the overwhelming majority, probably nearly everyone else, wouldn’t. He dropped out. He was driven—to an exceptional degree—to pursue an idea. The timing was right for many reasons, but without taking the plunge he did, he likely would not have created Microsoft.

There are many kinds of entrepreneurs, all of whom are driven by a desire to make a change. Their company is the way that change will come about. No entrepreneur gets it right from the start. There are many paths to get there, but they’ll all have to take a plunge of some sort at some time. Most need some guidance, and the successful ones grab it wherever they can.

For those who have an idea, or think they may have an idea, for a new business, the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition is hosting an open meeting on Oct. 17, 2012, where the winners of the 2012 competition will tell what they went through to compete. There’s no charge to attend. The advice is also free. Check it out.