The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is the largest foundation in the world dedicated to Entrepreneurship. With an endowment of over $2 billion, the foundation deploys its resources to the study of entrepreneurship, innovation and the improvement of educational opportunities. Its vision is to foster “a society of economically independent individuals who are engaged citizens, contributing to the improvement of their communities.”
The Kauffman LABS for enterprise creation
In keeping with this vision, the foundation recently launched Kauffman LABS for Enterprise creation which seeks to “identify and mentor founders building high-growth, scalable enterprises” and to “study the science of this experience in the process.” Basically, they want to identify people that are willing and able to build companies that will one day have a meaningful impact on our economy and overall society. Once identified, they will provide the enabling environment necessary for these future business leaders to achieve their vision via an intensive program that offers a combination of training, mentoring, networking and more.
The call for applicants to the first “Lab” was held earlier this year. According to this article, over 1,400 applications were received and only around 2 percent were selected to attend a “boot camp” to serve as a final evaluation to select the individuals that will be invited to participate in the first Lab, which begins in 2011.
I was selected as one of the finalists and invited to attend the boot camp. While I can’t disclose details of the boot camp, I can say that I left with invaluable lessons that have impacted my view of business in fundamental ways.
Doing the Same Thing in Different Ways Can Yield Better Results
When I started my current company, I had an established process for generating and testing new product ideas that had worked for me and yielded the intended results. I expressed my creativity in the actual products I created, but largely took for granted the steps required to create them. By virtue of the fact that I wasn’t willing to challenge my creative process, I was limiting myself. Injecting creativity into your existing business processes can have a meaningful impact on the outcomes.
By changing “how” I create, I can improve “what” I create.
Business Success Really Does Come Down to People
As a small business owner, my focus has generally been on establishing “processes” that are efficient and help our company achieve its intended goals. The mantra of “business success comes down to people” is something I have heard thousands of times, to the point where I simply tune it out. Isn’t it obvious that you need people to run a successful business? But sometimes it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. In my quest to create great processes that could compensate for staffing shortfalls, I failed to realize that having motivated and talented individuals working with you is the critical factor that can compensate for any other type of shortfall. The right people working with limited resources on an undefined idea can still accomplish great things.
A business leader must focus their energies on finding the right people and give them sufficient freedom to do what they do best.
It is Amazing What You Can Accomplish Under the Right Conditions
Many times business owners get into a rut when their company is producing sufficient sales to cover its expenses and generate a modest profit. It’s not growing at a rapid pace but it isn’t shrinking either. After several years in this position, it’s very easy for an owner to become complacent. This numbs their senses to opportunities for growth and can lead one to reject worthy projects that may have a modicum of risk.
When a company is struggling for growth and is facing the real risk of closure, a sense of urgency is created which leads owners to become more aggressive and efficient. The survival instinct kicks in. If your company isn’t fighting for survival then you need to artificially create that sense of urgency by other means.
It is the sense of urgency that can push companies to grow.
Visit Kansas City!
All of the finalists left with a great appreciation for the Kauffman Foundation, its dedicated staff and its visionary leadership. And for those that haven’t been to Kansas City, Missouri where the foundation is located, it’s a charming city with an impressive number of great restaurants!
Mike Periu is the founder of EcoFin Media, LLC an independent producer of financial, economic and entrepreneurial content for television, radio, print and the internet. Over the past ten years he has started three companies and advised over 50 companies on financial strategies including fundraising. Mike also hosts regular small business webinars on a range of topics relevant to business owners.