Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab

Elements of the Entrepreneur Experience

Introduction

The Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab, a partnership between Babson College and the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), is a platform that puts the voice and experience of real world entrepreneurs at the center of an ongoing effort to design, develop and test new education and support solutions for entrepreneurs of all kinds. By deeply understanding the experiences of entrepreneurs and engaging them in the conceptual development of wholly new experiences, the Lab is developing solutions through the lens of entrepreneurs themselves and in the process, creating a platform for experimentation.

The need for a new narrative

At the heart of the Babson/BIF collaboration is a belief in entrepreneurs of all kinds—that we all can learn to practice entrepreneurship, and do so in various contexts. However, our current definitions of entrepreneurship and our well-intended but insufficient support systems won’t get us where we need to go fast enough. The rhetoric is out there, our economic future depends on entrepreneurship. But today’s narrative mythologizes super heroes—entrepreneurs who are born, not made; geniuses with the brilliant idea working alone in the garage; stars achieving fame and unimaginable fortune literally overnight. They’re fearless, iconic, and irreplaceable. Their celebrity status so well-known around the world, we call them by name. Mark. Bill. The late Steve Jobs.  They’re the few, but their story becomes the single story(1) of entrepreneurship—a stereotype that few can personally identify with, and one that does little to represent the realities of today’s entrepreneur experience.

In the United States, 12.3% of the population is a nascent entrepreneur or owner of a business less than three years old—roughly 22 million people between the ages of 18-64.(2) This says nothing about those thinking and acting entrepreneurially inside organizations. Who are they? Where and how do they experience entrepreneurship? If, as recent studies suggest(3), this number is in decline, how can we encourage more people to choose an entrepreneurial path? The Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab aims to address these issues by focusing on the realities of entrepreneurship today through the lens of entrepreneurs themselves.

Extending entrepreneurship to the many, not the few

Our work starts with the understanding that we need a new, more expansive narrative of what entrepreneurship is and can be. We can no longer think our way into an uncertain, unknowable future—we have to act. We know that action is at the root of entrepreneurship and that entrepreneurship, a powerful word, when practiced can and has changed the world. We see how many individuals throughout our nation practice entrepreneurship, yet don’t even realize they do. We want to develop a deeper understanding of the entrepreneur experience in order to help extend entrepreneurship to the many, not the few. In our work, we develop empathy not only for the new venture entrepreneurs (NVE) but also for those individuals employed within organizations—the entrepreneurs inside (EI). We tell the stories of Entrepreneurs of All Kinds—those individuals or groups who think and act entrepreneurially, who can transform opportunity into reality and create economic and social value for themselves and for others.

Laying the foundation for systemic experimentation

In our first phase of lab activity, the Babson/BIF Lab team engaged new venture entrepreneurs from well-known entrepreneurial hotspots and their lesser-known counterparts throughout the United States to create a first person, national characterization of the new venture creation experience.(4)  We recognized an interesting phenomenon beginning to develop—many individuals and institutions consider entrepreneurial thinking and acting as a vital life skill. In our second phase (the focus of this report), the team sought out entrepreneurs creating value inside a diverse mix of organizations. Insights emerging from the work reveal opportunities for intervention and innovation. We are now working to identify and establish experimentation environments in the domains of new venture creation and organizations. This work will lay the foundation for systemic experimentation, where programs and services for today’s entrepreneurs and future generations of entrepreneurs can be developed and tested within an integrated, real world environment.

(1) “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie )

(2) Total early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA); Percentage of 18-64 population who are either a nascent entrepreneur or owner-manager of a new business as reported by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) using data from the Global Entrepreneurship Research Association (GERA). http://www.gemconsortium.org/visualizations

(3) Lynn, Barry C. and Lina Khan, “The slow-motion collapse of American Entrepreneurship.” Washington Monthly, July/August 2012

(4) Elements of the New Venture Entrepreneur Experience