Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

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Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

I never knew my grandfathers. My father lost his father when he was in high school, and my mother’s father died when I was three. I don’t remember him at all. As a baby, she said I was very attached to him. When I was older and showed signs of ambition and independence, she often said I was a lot like him. He was an entrepreneur. He owned a successful printing company that employed many residents in the Pennsylvania town my mother grew up in. He was also an excellent marketer. I have a wonderful promotional calendar from 1939 that features my mother as a baby and says, “Call my daddy for fine advertising signs.”

There is evidence that supports the belief that entrepreneurship runs in a family. One study found that children of entrepreneurs are 30% to 300% more likely to become entrepreneurs when compared to children of non-entrepreneurs (Parker, 2009). Another study found that 37% to 48% of the tendency to become an entrepreneur or to be able to identify business opportunities is genetic. That last bit is important, I think, because it highlights how the best entrepreneurs are curious and open to new ideas. My parents were not business-minded; they were academics. Both were interested in learning and always curious. So, I feel like I’ve inherited the entrepreneurship gene from my grandfather and the need to continually learn from my parents.

“Children of entrepreneurs are 30% to 300% more likely to become entrepreneurs.”

I started my first business when I was 8 or 9. I made homemade donuts and sold them to my neighbors. I was relentless. I showed up at their door every day until they bought my donuts. It was my first lesson in guerilla marketing…persistence and continuity.

My birthday is in August, so the summer after 10th grade, I could not get a job because I wasn’t yet 16. I really wanted to earn my own money. So, I started a kids’ birthday party planning business, featuring me and two of my friends (who also had summer birthdays) as clowns. This was before clowns became scary. We called the business Kidz Entertainment 3. We were a full-service party planning service, bringing everything we needed, including decorations, games, and even cake. I did most of the planning. We showed up at a client’s house, decorated the party area, welcomed the guests, and entertained them with clown antics and games. I was not a natural entertainer, but luckily my friends were. It was a lot of fun but also a lot of hard work. Kids are hard!!! And I was not very good at planning out costs versus revenue. This experience was my first lesson in the importance of understanding your pricing model and ensuring an ROI on everything you do.

Kidz Entertainment 3 lasted just until we all turned 16. I got a job at the local fancy hotel restaurant as a busgirl. I appreciated the steady paycheck and the tips. But I was already planning my next move into the kitchen to learn catering skills. My desire to be my own boss had not been extinguished, just delayed. I knew I would start a new business soon.

It took about a decade but that decade was well spent working and learning. When I did open my next business, a coffeehouse, I was a seasoned food service manager. I had helped run several food service establishments including restaurants and coffeehouses. What I didn’t understand was market trends and positioning. My love of coffee overshadowed the clues that the small town where I based my coffeehouse was not ready for espresso-based drinks. This was the late 1990s, before Starbucks was on every street corner in the Midwest. My coffeehouse was a precursor for the Central Perk-style coffeehouse made famous in Friends, large cups, couches, board games, folk singers on the weekends, and real espresso-based coffee drinks. While my customers loved the atmosphere and events, they weren’t so sure about the coffee. I added other items like frozen drinks and sandwiches to appeal to my customers. We were open for about two years. We closed partly because a very large bookstore chain opened up down the street and offered the same kind of atmosphere with the added bonus of books, music, and videos. The coffee didn’t much matter. It was a hard but important lesson to learn. I closed my coffeehouse and went to work at said bookstore as the community marketing coordinator.

I took the lesson to heart and spent the next 15 years working in marketing roles. I wanted to learn everything I could about how a customer’s experience and perception affect business success and how a brand can shape those experiences and perceptions. Working in and leading marketing departments in corporate retail and nonprofits gave me plenty of experience. It also unlocked a new passion, working with mission-driven organizations in identifying their brand and finding their voice.

Now, I’ve embarked on my next entrepreneurial venture as a brand and marketing consultant for nonprofits and faith-based organizations. I believe it’s the perfect next step for me at this stage in my life. It’s amazing to me how our genetic makeup, upbringing, education, experiences, and life lessons combine to lead us exactly where we should be.

I think that entrepreneurial spirit can be inherited but success takes more than that. Entrepreneurship is a process of learning, life experiences, and timing. It’s hard work and a commitment. It’s understanding when to pivot strategies or change expectations. It’s knowing when you need help and having the courage to ask for it. Like a love of learning, entrepreneurship requires life-long nurturing to be fully realized. How can you nurture your entrepreneurial spirit today?

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