One of the core values at the UNeTech Institute is “striving for excellence through failure.” We value this concept, in part, because so many of our portfolio businesses are anchored in scientific research principles, and we know that in order to find scientific answers, researchers must often find the wrong answers first.
In his June 15 article for inc.com, writer Marcel Schwantes offers five common mistakes made by new entrepreneurs and tips to avoid them as laid out in Mari Tautimes’ new #KeepGoing: From 15-Year-Old Mom to Successful Entrepreneur and Entrepreneur. Are these tips right for UNeTech entrepreneurs as they begin their startup journey? Let’s find out.
Tip 1. Being an entrepreneur vs. having the entrepreneurial spirit.
According to Schwantes, there is a big difference between being an entrepreneur and simply having entrepreneurial spirit. “People that have the spirit should absolutely work in entrepreneurial companies and might even make for good leaders or team members,” he writes. “But that doesn’t mean they should be starting their own businesses.”
This tip rings true at UNeTech, where our entrepreneurs often are not our inventors. Many of our inventors acknowledge they do not have the drive or the time to lead the businesses for their inventions, and instead, they ask us to recruit folks who can commit to that leadership and vision.
Tip 2. Wearing too many hats.
A big mistake many entrepreneurs make early on is trying to operate completely independently, without surrounding themselves with wise counsel and capable employees or vendors with the right skill sets,” Schwantes writes.
This is why UNeTech exists. As an incubator, we provide support services to our inventors and entrepreneurs so that they do not have to wear so many hats. Our organization offers support with communication strategy, federal grant making, private funding, prototyping, customer research, business and financial strategy, and networking.
Tip 3. Complicating the business plan.
This tip is a complex one to breakdown. Schwantes suggests a simplified two-page business plan over a 10-page plan, says “the most important thing is that you have a plan, or you probably won’t have a business for long. Too many entrepreneurs want to make up a lot of it as they go along.”
At UNeTech, we teach the business model canvas, a detailed document that can be used to create a business plan. The business model canvas breaks down: key partners, key activities, key resources, value propositions, customer relationships, channels, customer segments, cost structure, and revenue streams. Each of these items can be fleshed out into either a simplified business plan or a more complex plan.
Tip 4. Hiring the right people.
This tip is definitely one UNeTech addresses with entrepreneurs throughout their time in our incubator. Schwantes writes, “First-time founders tend to hire people who are excited about their business idea, not those who have the skill to help bring that vision down to the ground and execute on it with discipline and accountability.”
At UNeTech, we advise our entrepreneurs to hire reliable team members based on skills and experience. During their time with us, we provide the services of not only our full-time staff members, but we also assign a number of student interns and fellows to work on a wide variety of projects for our entrepreneurs. Interns and fellows might design business logos or websites, conduct customer research, create business strategy reports, or design prototypes. Working alongside these student interns helps our entrepreneurs see both the value in hiring solid team members and also in harnessing the power of well-paid student employees.
Additionally, we focus on the importance of team diversity. Studies show that diverse teams often think more logically, find more creative solutions, and are more adept at identifying errors in logic. In fact, this study from Gartner found that inclusive teams perform up to 30% better in high-diversity environments. Our entrepreneurs are encouraged to think carefully about the identities they hold, and about how to bring on other identities to their leadership teams.
Tip 5. Ineffective marketing.
This is a crucial tip for all entrepreneurs and startups. Many entrepreneurs have no marketing or communications experience and enter the startup world with little to know idea how to present their new business to their community. The trickiest part can be determining when to launch a web presence and how to tell their story to the outside world.
Should you launch a website before you have a prototype but still need funding? Should you wait until your product is available to the public? But then, what will you show funders in the meantime? And if you do launch a website to show funders, what will you put on it? Prototypes? Customer research? How should you frame it? Should it be like a pitch to the funder? Or should it be like a pitch to a consumer?
At UNeTech we advise entrepreneurs on all these issues through the communications team. From branding to logo design to social media. Our job is to advise our entrepreneurs how to tell their stories in the most effective way possible. Sometimes that means holding their hands every step along the way while other times we simply offer our advice and they take the lead.
Overall, these tips are perfectly in line with the type of education we offer at UNeTech. Schwantes even writes, “if you do make one or more common mistakes in the beginning, it won’t end your business as long as you learn from them.” So it seems his mindset is in line with ours, that failure is sometimes needed to lead to excellence.