Aspiring entrepreneurs: What will set you apart?

As our current cohort of aspiring entrepreneurs reach the half-way point in the 12 month programme, I have been thinking about what they have learned in their quest to launch a start-up and to share with you some of the traits that successful entrepreneurs need to have to really make a difference.

We, at the NEF, have developed an intensive Fast Track Learning & Development programme where we try to teach both some of the “hard” or “technical” and the “soft” skills that will set our NEFers on the right path to eventual success. As more and more young people consider entrepreneurship as a valid career path, in this very crowded field, what can set you apart?

1. Mind-set: The first thing you need is a strong mind-set. The journey is full of ups and down, and what will take you through is your own mental strength, resilience and your attitude towards risk taking. It could be daunting to give up a steady job, and everything that goes with it, to fully concentrate all your energy to your business idea. Are you ready to sacrifice things? Are you ready to get something done? Are you ready to fail? If yes, then just do it, don’t wait! As I like to say “Entrepreneurship is not a state of age but a state of mind”! Alexis Grabar, founder of AviaMediaTech, uses two images: a boxer and a mountain climber “you need to be able to take the hits and get up, but while the going may be tough, you are aiming to reach the summit”.

2. Environment: who is around you? Are you meeting like-minded people who can provide you with the right support or with whom you can share your ideas? Did you know there is a sport theory that says “you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”? By bringing together aspiring entrepreneurs, all sharing the same ambition and enthusiasm about enterprise creation, we can observe new teams dynamic that will benefit everybody.  So, make sure you surround yourself with talented, motivated people that can become your supporters.

3. Skills & Knowledge: how much and what knowledge do you need upfront? What are the key skills you need that will set you apart? This is an important aspect regularly mentioned by our aspiring entrepreneurs. Being able to learn new skills and practice in a “safe” and “supportive” environment has proven invaluable to them. There are a lot of skills one could look at acquiring, and they will certainly vary depending on your background. I would say some of the key skills you should demonstrate would include (and note these are skills we cover in our programme):

– increase your business acumen and be able to identify market gaps

– know how to develop a Business Model Canvas

– understand what a Minimum Viable Product is

– learn about Marketing and Finance

– understand key pitching techniques

4. Money: do you remember the song by G-unit “Money Makes The World Go Round”? Of course, we all would agree that in the world of start-ups, money and access to finance is a critical element for success. However, Paul Hawken (author of “Growing a Business”) seems to have a different view: “Money does not create anything at all, much less ideas and initiatives. Money goes where those qualities already are.” What Paul is saying is that money should not be your only priority and you need to understand the relationship you want to have with money. It might be foolish to become an entrepreneur because you want to be rich, and neither is money going to solve all your problems. It is about finding the right balance, the right capital that will help you make that first step into the market. Sophie Mirman, Founder and Director of Trotters (Childrenswear & Accessories) has a strong view on this: “Neither borrow, nor over-expand, and do not take the company public”.

5. Passion: Above all, passion is what will set you apart. If you live and breathe your business idea you will certainly make a difference. How often do we hear investors say that they will invest not only in the business idea but in the team presenting the idea! Without passion you will miss things. “If you just work on stuff that you like and you’re passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out.” —Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder.

I highly recommend you read individual blogs from our NEFers to see what they think of their journey so far. We have also developed a NEF directory for further information on all the help/resources available to budding entrepreneurs like you. Hopefully you will find something in it to set you apart!

I wish you good luck and I look forward in sharing more insights soon.

Véronique Rapetti, Learning Director, NEF