Entrepreneurship a “series of failures”: Babson study

September 29, 2011

Failure shouldn’t be a dirty word for entrepreneurs.

That’s one of several new findings by Babson College, in collaboration with The Business Innovation Factory, a nonprofit research group, as part of an in-depth look at American entrepreneurs and their attitudes toward business.

“We found that entrepreneurship is just a series of failures,” said Heidi Neck, an associate professor of entrepreneurship and director of the Entrepreneur Experience Lab at the Boston area college, which is known for entrepreneurial studies.

“You need to prepare for failure, you need to tolerate failure and you need to learn from failure,” she said. “Maybe we need to start talking about it as intentional iteration.”

The Lab recently completed the first phase of its examination of 250 startups in several areas around the country, including Boston; Austin, Texas; and the San Francisco Bay Area, part of a longer-term look at their experiences on a day-to-day basis.

“This is a really deep dive,” Neck said. “It’s grounded in ethnographic methods, meaning we observe them, we interview them in detail.”

Despite differences in product and industry areas, many operators of small businesses have more in common than they realize, said Neck. Her research found startups, as dissimilar as social media ventures and donut makers, sometimes sharing basic philosophies and underlying operational practices.

“When we put people in boxes, it limits their accessibility,” said Neck, noting that in order to “democratize” entrepreneurship, “you really need to break down some of these walls and some of these cliques.”

The importance of face-to-face relationships for entrepreneurs, despite the preponderance of social media channels like Facebook and other forms of virtual communication, was another important finding in the first phase.

“Nothing replaces the physicality we call place,” Neck said. “You still have people migrating to Boston to be with similar entrepreneurs or to Austin to be with similar entrepreneurs. These people end up mentoring each other.”

Among other findings, Neck said the research showed an emerging trend toward entrepreneurs juggling multiple projects in a portfolio of ventures simultaneously.

“They’re experimenting in these different areas to see what works,” she said.


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For over 10 years, the Denver IDEA Cafe has met each week to hear people share their startup experience and to brainstorming. We are now part of the new, free Small Business Chamber of Commerce, helping local chambers across Colorado and beyond to start similar groups. http://www.SmallBizChamber.org

The findings of this research is very much in keeping with what we have found, and our guiding light, the research of Dr. Amar Bhide http://bhide.net: One thing leads to another, and life is full of surprises.

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