Passing the real tests in entrepreneurship

After two years of 20-hour days in start-up, I honestly believe that starting and running a successful company is a linked series of tests – almost daily tests of personal ability, skill, agility, determination, worthiness and limits. Theory is for the classroom. The real tests begin outside of the classroom.

Every day, entrepreneurs are faced with circumstances so unique to them that new or novel strategies, tactics or actions have to be developed to deal with them. Business schools teach theory that mostly apply to big companies – companies with the benefit of resources, people and support. In small business, theory does not help us create unique solutions to problems we hadn’t planned on. Instead, our survival depends on the entrepreneur’s ability to respond to new information and to execute correctly.

For some, facing new challenges every day is the joy of running a business. For others, it is simply too overwhelming and one of the factors associated with the high rate of business closure.

I get up every morning knowing that something somewhere will challenge me, make me stretch, make me work harder that day. I also know that the more tests we pass, the more incremental successes we have, and the more confident we become in our abilities and skills as entrepreneurs. This is the beauty of experience. Relish in your success every day knowing you’ve just passed another real-life test of being an entrepreneur.

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Entrepreneurial inspiration – Anita Roddick and The Body Shop

If you’re Canadian, you’ve likely heard of The Body Shop. You probably know it for its line of innovative and forward-thinking beauty products and its socially-conscious campaigns. While The Body Shop of today may not seem an obvious choice for small business inspiration, what if we told you that founder Anita Roddick started with little more than a great idea and a need to support her family?

Roddick was born in Littlehampton, England, as the third of four children. She grew up working in the café her parents owned, developing a strong work ethic and learning about the inner workings of a business at the same time. This set the stage for her entrepreneurial spark. As for her sense of empathy and goodwill towards others, she credited the discovery of a book about the Holocaust, at the age of 10, with this shift in her thinking.

Roddick was trained as a teacher and studied in a kibbutz in Israel. Afterwards, she took to traveling the world and worked in many different countries. When she returned home to England, she met Gordon, her future husband. Together they explored entrepreneurship, returning to Roddick’s roots by opening a restaurant and then a hotel. Soon enough, they began to feel the pressure of small business ownership.

It was during this time that Roddick had her A-ha! Moment – why couldn’t skincare products be packaged in refillable containers and marketed without making women feel horrible about themselves? And, more importantly for Roddick, how could this make money for her family?

Roddick opened the first Body Shop in 1976 in Brighton with just 15 products and using her hotel as collateral. Ten months later, The Body Shop was so successful that a second location had been opened.

The success of The Body Shop was due largely to Roddick’s own principles and experiences. Her travels around the world taught her about the kinds of products women in pre-industrial communities used to clean and care for their bodies. Her childhood, during World War II, taught her the value of reusing and reducing waste. The Body Shop was green before it was popular to be green – and customers responded. In 1984, The Body Shop went public and continued to spread across England and, soon, around the world.

Believing that “businesses have the power to do good,” Roddick lent The Body Shop’s support to a number of social and environmental issues. The Body Shop was one of the first businesses to prohibit animal testing and promote fair trade. When the company became a subsidiary of the L’Oréal Group, Roddick continued to monitor their work closely, making sure that operations were being run in line with her and her company’s core values.

In 2003, Roddick was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She passed away four years later at the age of 64.

Anita Roddick started The Body Shop with no training or experience, which we obviously don’t recommend. However, her unique vision and passion helped her to create a business that proved commercial success doesn’t have to come at the cost of personal values – something we’re sure many small business owners can aspire and relate to.



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Should developing countries help less developed countries?

I have been participating in USAID’s Global Pulse 2010 online worldwide collaboration of minds for the next 24 hours (the event has been going for two days now) with individuals who have been invited to share their perspectives on global social issues, entrepreneurship and development.  The thread I’m keen on is Pursuing Grand Challenges defined as:

No one person or nation can solve today’s problems alone. How can we collectively identify grand challenges and apply science, technology, and new collaboration models to address them?  Over the next decade, what do you see as the biggest challenges the international community faces? These could be anything from global health to internet freedom/security to improving urban infrastructure. How can we work together to both build collaboration models that address these challenges and create concrete solutions to them?

The current relationship between economically have countries (Canada, USA, western Europe) and poor countries is not great. We would expect that in the current Global Era, with better and cheaper ways of communications, these relationships would improve – but in reality it is deteriorating. I do not think the problem is failure of foreign policy. The real problem is Expectation Gap – what is each partner expecting from the other? Are these expectations based on reality? How can we abolish this gap?

Pot-stirrer that I am, I posted this to the community:

Perhaps the real question is: what should be the engagement between rich and poor countries? Should economically rich countries even be active in development – and in what ways? There are many options for engagement – foreign policy, micro-finance, technology sharing and so on, but to me the question becomes one of philosophy rather than pragmatism. Should we be there? Why? Should we not take care of social problems in our own country first before we head off to save the world? And, point of clarification, we are all “developing” countries to some extent, are we not?

Should we “developed countries” assist “developing coutries” and if so, how?  Do we have the right?  Morally or ethically? What do you think?

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Welcome to the GoForth Institute entrepreneurship blog

Do you want to know how to start a small business? Are you looking for for advice and training to grow a business you already have? If so, welcome to the GoForth Institute entrepreneurship blog! GoForth Institute offers Canada’s first and only national entrepreneurship education, delivering training for small business owners at all levels.

If you’re thinking about starting a small business, ready to start your business, in the early stage of entrepreneurship or wanting to grow an existing business – watch this space. We’ll cover all kinds of topics related to entrepreneurship: small business tips, news, advice and updates on GoForth Institute’s small business training and events. It’s your source for unique entrepreneurship discussion and insight!

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