Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Entrepreneurial Economy

In case you haven’t heard, entrepreneurship is all the rage…and should be.

In a recent opinion column published in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, Jonathan Rowe, the Director of the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center, stated the importance of entrepreneurship: “For Southeastern North Carolina, 73 percent of our registered businesses have less than ten employees and, according to the North Carolina Division of Labor, 60 percent to 80 percent of new jobs each year come from companies with less than 25 employees or less than five years old.” These statistics clearly encapsulate the need for entrepreneurs and startups in our region; they also mean we, as a community, must provide the proper training, education and support to ensure their emergence and fruition.

If you decide to start your own business, no one is going to hand you a blueprint that will determine the roadmap for success. There are however, a few characteristics that set successful entrepreneurs aside from the rest.

Entrepreneurs must be innovative, committed, determined, passionate, and have an ability to understand their target market and why that market must have their product…oh yeah, and successful entrepreneurs need a little financial capital too.

The News and Observer recently published a report on a Duke Alum who demonstrated such tenacious entrepreneurial spirit. A novice at Microsoft, Kimberly Jenkins went to her boss with what she thought was one heck of a pitch—sell Microsoft products to Universities. Steve Ballmer, CEO, ran the idea up the ladder to Bill Gates; neither was taken with the idea but decided to let her go with it…the N&O reports “Within a year, Microsoft’s new educational products division was responsible for 10% of the company’s domestic revenue”. Jenkins is a beautiful exemplar of someone with determination and passion, and who decided to take a risk because she knew what market to target.

We hear countless stories about entrepreneurs, young and old, who have launched successful start-ups across our region…and most of these start-ups are smaller in scale, with the occasional emergence of a Fred Eshelman—an incredible story of an entrepreneur who established a start up that blossomed into a high-growth company called PPD, with offices in 42 countries and more than 10,500 professionals worldwide. We need more of those types, and we may be on our way.

Universities across the state are already realizing the importance of entrepreneurial activity to the regional and global economy. The UNCW E-Center is growing at an incredible pace, offering mentorship, competitions, regular networking events, education, and even real financial capital. Efforts are underway at both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill to invest in interdisciplinary entrepreneurial education (see News and Observer article link below), but efforts must go beyond just educational programs. Our region must first understand the importance of entrepreneurship and what resources are needed to foster such an environment.

Peter Drucker, the renowned business management guru and philosopher said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Now is the time. Let us create a prosperous future, a creative future, a future that will buzz with economic wealth and a better quality of life.


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