Week 1 – Exploring Entrepreneurship

Upon hearing the term “entrepreneurship,” my mind immediately jumps to the popular examples of successful companies like Facebook or Amazon which serve millions of customers across the world. With some reflection, however, I realize the concept extends way beyond a startup’s visible results that are often used to define entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is more about the process, than the results. It is the pursuit of a new approach to tackling problems and meeting the changing needs of consumers. Sometimes this pursuit results in the development of a new company, but more often, entrepreneurial ideas are implemented within existing businesses to expand into new markets, reach additional customers, and reduce operating expenses. At its core, I believe entrepreneurship is about challenging the status quo and improving processes, which can take many forms.

In my own life, I have many opportunities to think and act in an entrepreneurial way. As a financial analyst, one of my main responsibilities is to clearly present information to executives. The recent implementation of new tools and technologies has increased my leaders’ expectations. As a result, I must continually strive to improve the communication of financial information by anticipating questions and providing better, more interactive visualizations. I cannot rely on my predecessor’s documented procedures, but rather must think innovatively to address my customers’ evolving demands.

I hope this class will help me view the world differently, through the lens of an entrepreneur. A new perspective and insights from successful entrepreneurs, will benefit me when I seek to implement a new startup of my own. Although I do not know exactly which industry the startup would relate to, the transferrable skills in this class will prepare me to disrupt any field. In the long-term, I look forward to scaling up a small venture to tackle a specific challenge and make a significant impact in an industry.

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Donna Harris is a “serial entrepreneur,” having started four different companies. As a co-founder of 1776, Donna fosters a startup community to help other entrepreneurs make valuable connections across the D.C. ecosystem to grow their businesses. Prior to 1776, Donna gained experience supporting other entrepreneurs in her role as Managing Director at the Startup America Partnership. Through her other start-up ventures and leadership roles, Donna gained experience in the government, health and human services, and technology industries.

At first, Donna went down the entrepreneurial path to avoid the stresses of her job at Oracle with its growing sales quotas year over year. While at Oracle, she noticed weaknesses in its delivery of software training which inspired the idea for her first start-up. She sought to provide more effective, internet-based training for Oracle customers. Although the company was not a large success, it sparked a passion for entrepreneurship and provided some important lessons that she could leverage in future endeavors.

For example, Donna emphasized a couple key themes for a successful startup—inertia and scalability. She described the challenges in gaining momentum when trying to change the status quo, especially in well-established industries. Inertia is necessary to gain support, overcome regulatory obstacles, and acquire resources. I agree with Donna’s insights. From my work experience, I have observed how quickly some of the best ideas are forgotten when they do not gain support from enough influential people. Websites like Kickstarter help aspiring entrepreneurs gain inertia to cross over “the tipping point” and reach a critical mass of people. After the seed stage, the focus shifts to developing a plan to scale the idea. While allowing an entrepreneur to reach a greater consumer base, scalability also helps reduce per unit costs which is critical to long-term profitability.

Within the healthcare industry, inertia can be achieved by seeking physician endorsements. For example, many skin care products advertise “dermatologist recommended” and the medical checklist process spread throughout hospitals after a prominent physician, Atul Gawande, advocated for its usage. In terms of scalability in healthcare, it is important to consider the reimbursement policies of Medicare/Medicaid/private insurances on one’s ability to profitably diffuse a product or medical tool. Disruptive ideas in the healthcare industry must engage support from key authorities in the field and take the industry structure into account when developing a growth plan.

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