What qualities make a great entrepreneur?
- 14 July 2011
- From the section Business
Is hard work or innovation the key to being a successful entrepreneur? Or perhaps it is all about something else? The BBC hears from entrepreneurs and other experts from around the world.
"Innovation is a word that's thrown around without much thought," says Lebanese entrepreneur Sarah Karam, 26.
She believes entrepreneurs should focus on meeting the needs of consumers and that fine-tuning existing models to fit different markets is just as important as creating something groundbreaking.
"It's not about the complexity of an idea or how 'innovative' it is," she says.
"It's about doing it well and providing a great service."
The main work of an entrepreneur is to make things happen, Ms Karam believes.
"A lot of people have great ideas, but it's about actualising those ideas and not just talking," she says.
"Some of the best ideas are the most simple.
"Just fixing a problem or finding a gap in society that is not being met, and that can even be delivering food. It doesn't have to be about re-inventing the wheel."
Problems of the poor
Indian telecommunications pioneer Sam Pitroda has dedicated his career to bringing innovation to the people at the lower end of the pyramid.
Mr Pitroda believes the simplest innovations are often the most important for this group.
"It's not about real big inventions, it's about using inventions to do routine things that we do everyday," he says.
"A lot of opportunities are going to be in the space of applications to do things differently."
The success of some entrepreneurs may provide an incentive for more intelligent young people with ideas to focus on solving the problems of the poor.
Mr Pitroda laments the fact many of the brightest science graduates end up in the well-paid finance sector.
"The best brains have been busy solving the problems of the rich, who really don't have problems to solve," he says.
"As a result, the problems of the poor really don't get the right kind of talent."
Cesar Salazar, 27, created his first company while an undergraduate in Sweden.
His current venture, Mexican VC, focuses on funding and mentoring Mexican start-ups.
He believes a lack of natural resources and available markets encourage innovation.
"Sweden does really well on generating wealth from ideas, and you see that for a country of around nine million people they have a lot of successful global brands," Mr Salazar explains.
"As they have few resources to exploit, they've had to focus on exporting ideas."
The US benefits from the scale of its home market and is therefore not as innovative in comparison, he believes.
And while the American risk-taking culture and the relatively good access to funds in the US encourage entrepreneurial activity, he believes the country has room for many more entrepreneurs.
Shaping the future
On the demand side, a readily available market can also hinder innovation, and Mexico's reliance on consumers in the US has provided few incentives for the generation of ideas.
But now competition from Chinese manufacturers of cheap goods is pushing Mexico to focus more on ideas and to question not only how it does things but what the country should be doing in the first place.
Mr Salazar sees innovation as being a fundamental part of entrepreneurial activity. Hence, he believes entrepreneurs are crucial to both the economy and to society as a whole.
"Entrepreneurs are going to shape the world's future," he says.
"They are building the next generation of products and services for a complex and very challenging world."
Furthermore, the very nature of entrepreneurship itself leads to innovation.
"Entrepreneurship is all about trying things out and experimenting," says Mr Salazar, "and you're going to fail a lot of times."
The view that experimentation and failure are important is echoed by graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
With his background in both technology and art and design, John Maeda has been closely involved in the development of ideas from a range of angles.
Innovation is about failing productively, he believes.
"When you can fail productively you get to experiment, and basically it's a good experiment," he says.
The close relationship between entrepreneurial activity and innovation raises questions about which comes first.
Do business people adapt good ideas in response to market opportunities, or are the best innovations motivated by market opportunities?
John Maeda believes our world has been too market driven and this has resulted in inauthentic ideas.
Too much focus on the desires of markets hinders free and creative thinking, which are fundamental to innovation.
He believes it is the way artists think that needs to be embraced when undertaking innovative processes.
The artistic process is naturally innovative as artists produce and try again until they get somewhere. They take risks and these are essential in the generation of ideas.
"Regardless of age, all the best innovators are very playful thinkers," he says.
"They've managed to not lose that part that is the artist and the creative soul.
"My favourite moment is when you see children draw pictures, because at some point they go crazy.
"They'll draw a horse with 18 legs and 17 eyeballs and it's purple and that's great.
"But then one day someone says, 'That's not the way to draw a horse, it's got four legs and two eyes and is never purple'.
"At that moment we've shut imagination down as we've become truly market driven."