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THE HOYOS FILE: They don’t call it Shark Tank for nothing

Pat Hoyos

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SAYING IT IS THE EASY PART: we need more entrepreneurship. Getting it is the hard part.
Recently, I moderated the UWI Cave Hill’s Open Campus February lunchtime lecture, which was actually a panel discussing entrepreneurship.
The most interesting themes that emerged during the audience-participation session were whether entrepreneurs are born or made, and what good are discussions like these about entrepreneurship when no one seems to have any proven formula for creating it.
If you asked me whether entrepreneurs are born that way or can be trained, I think it is mainly the former, but here I am talking about the innovator/creator who is trying entrepreneurship in order to get his/her product to market.
However, if it were all so easy to do, why do we still have shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank in the developed countries?
Because even the established entrepreneurs (dragons and sharks) need the basic innovation on which to exercise their skills.
As for the university fostering debate on the topic, more power to the Open Campus, because by doing so they are admitting they don’t know something. They are not saying, “Come here, we have the answer for you on how to take your little idea and turn it into the next McDonalds.”
They are saying, we know entrepreneurship can lead to economic growth and success not only for the people directly involved but the wider society, so let’s discuss how we might be able to foster its growth.
For although there are innovators and inventors who have been great entrepreneurs as well (like Edison), most of the entrepreneurship success stories I have read involve someone seeing something that somebody else has created in its early form and thinking out a future for it way beyond what its creator-entrepreneur ever had in mind.
That was the case with Ray Kroc, the guy who found the McDonald brothers serving burgers in their own store out in California. It wasn’t the burger that attracted Ray; he was impressed with how the McDonalds had organized their product’s manufacture and delivery into component parts that could be rolled out on a massive scale. But he wanted to take it farther than they ever had in mind. And he did, inventing the template for today’s fast food business.
Entrepreneurship, which original referred to people like contractors who carried out an enterprise by merging capital with labour and materials, now refers to the person who stands between the innovator (even if it happens to be himself or herself in the beginning) and the marketplace, taking the whole thing to a new level.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both fit this definition, for although Gates was a fairly good programmer, all of his major products, starting with DOS, were invented by others. Jobs was an average code writer whose brilliance lay in his ability to create a virtual reality for a product based on instincts that many have called genius, and turn that imagined market into a real one (most recently with the iPhone and iPad, conservative sales estimates for which were laughed at but overnight blew through those modest targets and now set the standards for their markets, at least for the time being.
I think that we should change how we view entrepreneurship, separating the invention of the product – the better mousetrap – from the creative vision that leads to the roll-out of that product
to its target demographic. That is where the entrepreneurship truly lies and where the economic growth is created. Often the inventors themselves make poor entrepreneurs.
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to first invent the product, but what you must bring to the table is your vision and plan for taking that product to the next level and way beyond as it meets with success.
That is why the folks who come up with sometimes seemingly corny inventions go on Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank TV shows and brave the likelihood of scorn being poured on their heads in front of millions of people – because they are looking for investors with both money and the know-how to take their idea to the next level, indeed to the limit of where it might go.
Currently, I think we make the mistake of referring to those who try to come up with their own ideas for products and services as the entrepreneurs when they are really the creators in search of entrepreneurs who can take their product to market in a big way.
Until they find such partners (and sometimes they never do or can’t bring themselves to give up control when they do), they become entrepreneurs in their own cause. Often that can only take them so far and no further, because they lack the capital, the management and marketing skills, and even the outsider’s vision needed to go on to the next level.
This is where venture capitalists, the angels with “seed” money, the growth’ funds set up by governments and the stock markets come in.
But the person with the idea may be worried that these people will provide help but end up taking control of the product. This is where we need more education, more rules of the road, so that the creators and innovators can get up to speed on what happens when they enter these turbulent waters.
Perhaps if we can educate people more about those relationships and how to better protect themselves, we will be able to help nurture creativity and entrepreneurship in Barbados.
They don’t call it Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den for nothing.