Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience


Communities or Cliques?

In talking with entrepreneurs, we heard about and observed over and over again the importance of community and peer groups. Entrepreneurs find great value in drawing on shared experience, learning from others facing similar obstacles, or getting help from those that ‘get you.’ Within a community, there is also an amazing sense of benevolence where people are very willing to help each other; very much a pay-it-forward attitude. For instance, we encountered entrepreneurs who were only a few months into a particular venture that were already opening their space to and mentoring younger, aspiring entrepreneurs. Yet for all the openness and accessibility evident in entrepreneurial communities, they could just as well be described as cliques—exclusive, segregated groups that require specific qualifications for membership. While this segregation can prove beneficial (a community where entrepreneurs can share common interests, views, purposes, and patterns of behavior), it can also be pejorative and perpetuate differences between sectors and groups that belittle some entrepreneurs in favor of others, and prevent broad sharing of innovative approaches to support entrepreneurs. 


  1. What can we do to facilitate more productive cross-discipline interactions?


  2. How can we create linkages between entrepreneur communities so learning can be more broadly shared?

  3. How can we connect various cities and regions in the national entrepreneur landscape?

  4. How can we democratize entrepreneurship? Can we expand our definition of communities beyond startups to include entrepreneurs of all kinds, sizes and work situations? 

Known vs Unknown Models

Known vs Unknown Models

One way to map the relationships between different types of ventures is by looking at their basic business models and then breaking them out according to known or unknown products and known or unknown delivery channels (known or unknown to the marketplace). When plotted on a simple 2x2 matrix some interesting relationships begin to emerge. Small business startups generally tend to congregate towards the bottom left quadrant. While they are creating something new with their ventures, they tend to be working with known products or services and known methods of delivery. The upper right hand corner is home to a few truly innovative companies that are creating new products and delivering them through new markets or platform. It’s no surprise that there aren’t many ventures located in this quadrant. What’s more interesting is the close relationship between some ventures that initially seem to be entirely different.

The Donut Shop and the Web Start-Up

The Donut Shop and the Web Start-Up

Sublime Donuts of Atlanta is a relatively new venture founded by Kamal, a career baker in his late 20s who, while working at an industrial-scale bakery, saw a small, defunct donut shop for lease and decided to follow his dream of building his own business. His donuts are by no means ordinary; they’re unique, gourmet donuts that have caught the eye of the local foodie scene. But in general, the founder is working with a known product (a donut) and a known means of delivery (a donut shop); he’s squarely in the known/known quadrant.

Around the same time, two guys in Silicon Valley, who had been working for a large discount travel website, launched a new web startup to sell discounted lift tickets to ski resorts via an online marketplace. On one hand, this seems to be a rather novel business–no one else is building a platform for discount lift tickets online. On the other hand, lift tickets certainly aren’t new and, at this point in time, selling discounted services and products through online marketplaces is also a relatively established business model and method of delivery. The internet startup finds itself much closer to the known/known quadrant and the donut shop than might have seemed true at first glance. This is not to downplay either startup or suggest that there aren’t differences, but it does suggest that more points of commonality exist between seemingly disparate ventures.

Seeing the similarities

Seeing the similarities


Michelle talks about business planning resources, and how they don't cater to women entrepreneurs.

Startup Chicks

More similarities than differences across companies; many face the same basic set of issues and annoyances.

Entrepreneurs are noticing across ventures there are often more similarities than differences and these similarities are underappreciated. Working to see the similarities opens up new avenues for improved entrepreneurial support.

First, support services often tend to be either too general or too specific. They’re aimed at everyone and therefore not very useful or they’re specific to a particular group. Many entrepreneurs pointed out that there are a common set of challenges that all startups face and a set of services and resources that all startups need. As Radhika, CEO of a customer buying pattern analytic software startup in Atlanta put it: “Most companies need the same things: HR, insurance, fax and email, web site, basic marketing, et cetera....These simple things can be shared or easily provided, like a company in a box. Then the entrepreneur can focus on the idea.”

Second, recognizing similarities opens up new opportunities for learning across different sectors. This was made clear by the participants in the remote study. The study participants comprised a broad range of types of startups, from consumer products, to nonprofit social ventures, to consultants. When asked to reflect upon what they learned from participating in the study, many entrepreneurs admitted being surprised by the similarities in their experiences and by how much they learned from engaging with other types of entrepreneurs. “I think the real gain to be had is from the others in the community, and the opportunity and possibility of gaining insights into the experiences and thought processes of others. There is a lot to be learned from others who are in the trenches, even if they are fighting a different sort of battle.”