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Top mistakes by budding entrepreneurs
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February 19, 2007

Your dream is to launch your own business. And you may have many questions on how to kickstart your venture.   

Like for instance, what are the mistakes you must avoid? Are there any management courses dedicated to training budding entrepreneurs? What will be your biggest challenge in today's business climate?

During a recent event at IIT-Bombay, Patrick Turner, Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise at INSEAD, answered some of these questions.

Funded 40 years ago in France as the European Institute for Business Administration, this, one of the world's largest business schools, slowly extended its roots to Asia. It has, since then, been recognised simply as INSEAD.

The school currently has two comprehensive and fully connected campuses in Asia (Singapore) and Europe (France), with 143 renowned faculty members from 31 countries, over 880 MBA participants, 56 Executive MBAs, over 7,000 Executives and 64 PhD candidates.

Turner offered some solid advice to budding entrepreneurs:   

What are the common mistakes aspiring entrepreneurs make?

I suppose the most frequent mistake I come across is concerned with over-ambitious timing. The only certainty of any business plan is that it is going to turn out wrong, in the sense that it will not turn out exactly as planned.

This usually manifests itself in sales that take longer than expected to materialise, and possibly product development, which exceeds time and budget targets.

These things are potentially dangerous, because if the financing of the new venture has been closely based on the business plan timing, then clearly any deviation from this timing will land the entrepreneur in cash difficulties in a very short space of time. It is very important at the beginning of an enterprise to be as frugal as you possibly can, but also to give yourself headroom.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

This is a very broad subject that I could talk about for hours, but I will restrict myself to three essential points.

1. Learn as much as you can from the experience of entrepreneurs who have gone before you.

2. Do as much research as you can into the business area you are going into, in order to establish that what you think is a great idea really does constitute an entrepreneurial opportunity.

3. Keep absolutely at the front of your mind at all times, including when you are in the planning stage of your new venture, the crucial importance of staying cash positive. Everyone knows the old phrase 'Cash is king.' It's true. Don't forget it.

Does it make sense to do a special course? If so, what would you suggest?

This opens up a whole topic of whether entrepreneurship can be taught. The answer is, of course, that the principles of entrepreneurship can be taught. If they could not, that would make entrepreneurship the one and only human activity impossible to teach, which is an absurdity. In fact, entrepreneurship education can help people understand how to go about validating an idea to determine whether it is a viable commercial opportunity, how to go about planning and launching a new company with all that this entails, and then how to run it, including the pitfalls and danger areas and how to avoid them.

But it can do much more than this. It can positively influence an individual's perception of the risks entailed in becoming an entrepreneur so he realises that the risks perceived can be managed in such a way as to radically reduce them. This on its own is enough to make many people consider becoming an entrepreneur, where they would have been afraid to do so before.

So, yes, it does make sense for budding entrepreneurs to get some training if they possibly can. In my view, the most useful things they can learn are how to research a new business idea to verify if it does in fact constitute an opportunity; the things to watch out for when launching a new company (team formation, financing needs, etc); and finally, the basic essentials of how to run a business.

What are the challenges that today's small and medium level entrepreneurs face?

I could almost write a book on this but, obviously, there is no room here, so I will just give you what to me seems to be the biggest challenge they face.

In times long gone, firms could happily carry on doing what they were doing in the way they were used to for years, without having to worry about a possible loss of business. These days, however, things are moving so quickly that it is a real challenge for SMEs to maintain a culture of innovation, and firms that do not evolve become sitting targets for their competitors.

What makes INSEAD so special? Does it offer scholarships to Indian students?

There is only one scholarship exclusively for Indians (and Chinese) students -- the INSEAD Louis Vuitton Scholarship. However, Indians are also usually eligible for other scholarships, including:

~ Asia Enterprise Fund

~ Alumni Fund Women's Scholarship

~ Alumni Fund for Diversity

~ Eli Lilly

~ L'Oreal

~ Syngenta Scholarship for Emerging Country Leadership

~ Needs-based Scholarship

For more information on all these scholarship, click here.

As for what is special about INSEAD, I would say our main differentiating factor with regard to other top tier business schools is the amazing diversity in our student body.

More than 70 nationalities are represented, and no single nationality is more than 14 per cent of the whole. In fact, right now, the biggest single national group is comprised of Indian students.

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