Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience

Experiences of
New Venture Entrepreneurs

How do new venture entrepreneurs actually experience entrepreneurship? To discover the answer, we engaged over 250 entrepreneurs from familiar hotspots and their lesser-known counterparts across the United States.

The Actual Experiences of Entrepreneurs

As we engaged the participants in this study, several insights emerged around the actual experiences of entrepreneurs. Identity as an entreprenuer is not something that comes immediately to all people—many building businesses don’t think of or refer to themselves as entrepreneurs. Turns out for many, identifying as an entrepreneur is less important than identifying with the entrepreneurship path. It’s critical that people see the creation of their own opportunities as a viable and attainable possibility for themselves.

Once the path is seen, the motivations and entry points are diverse—a diversity not accurately represented by the search for a single definition of what an entrepreneur is and who can be one. Entrepreneurs everywhere understand the need for community and peer groups in the practice of entrepreneurship. The openness and pay-it-forward culture evident within these communities is deeply engrained. Yet, for all the openness and accessibility present in these communities, cliques do exist—exclusive, segregated groups that require specific qualifications for membership. Segregation can prove beneficial (entrepreneurs can share common interests, views, purposes, and patterns of behavior), but 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 one another.

Entrepreneurship Remains Place-Based

Despite the rise of social media and mobile technologies, entrepreneurship remains place-based. Many people startup and practice where they live, drawing from their local resources. Others choose location with intent, based on a place’s entrepreneurial reputation or its “feel.” All cite the need for face-to-face encounters. Places develop ecosystems over time—interactions of people, organizations, and infrastructure—which combine to heighten or diminish entrepreneurial activity. But ecosystems provide much more than resources. They define the entrepreneurial culture of a place. Places where this culture is local, visible, and accessible in the day-to-day interactions of entrepreneurs make it much easier for people to identify with the entrepreneurial path, but new ecosystems who merely copy risk the creation of an entrepreneurship monoculture.

Entrepreneurs are literally surrounded by stories—it’s the universal language of entrepreneurship. Stories convey lessons learned and allow entrepreneurs to create and communicate the intangible, but many do not have the necessary storytelling or story decoding skills to avoid pitfalls and misdirection. All entrepreneurs hear stories about failure. Businesses will fail, and accepting this, and learning from others about that experience or steps to prevent it is a central component of being an entrepreneur. But, the predominant use of the term ‘failure’ is really framing another important aspect of entrepreneurship that’s little understood and discussed in entrepreneurship circles. The practice of entrepreneurship requires iteration and experimentation, but many are simply not wired for iteration.

Learning Is Inseparable from Doing

In some ways, nearly the entire entrepreneur experience can be understood by looking deeply at what and how they learn. An entrepreneur’s education is largely informal. Precedents and proxies bridge gaps in individual experience but practice is key—learning is inseparable from doing.

All entrepreneurs find fundraising, networking and team building to be a challenge. While money is now more accessible than ever before, navigating the money landscape from self-funding to venture capital is still one of the most taxing elements of the entrepreneur experience. Networking is another space where some entrepreneurs excel and others struggle. A mechanism for building social capital—a trusted network of people through which you gain access to knowledge, resources, talent, and any number of things—the lack of social capital can thwart even the most passionate entrepreneur. In the pursuit of a great idea or funding for a venture, many entrepreneurs tend to overlook the value of their teams and the impact that teams have on the viability and success of their venture.