Q&A

Professor Bart Clarysse - Chair in Entrepreneurship 
Sabrina Kiefer - Venture Coach and Business Plan Manager
Imperial College Business School

 

What would be your best piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur?

Read our book! And be willing to test your assumptions; at the start, be open-minded about how the business needs to evolve and when you may need to change course.

What was your main intention with the book?

To provide an accessible, practical guide to build the foundations of a successful business. It is especially relevant for businesses trying to introduce innovations or new technologies, where you have a combination of markets and industries which are changing quickly on one side and others which are slow to adopt innovations on the other. How do you navigate that maze to find the right customers and business partners for your idea, or shape your idea so it will appeal to your target?

We also wanted to convert some highly relevant research about entrepreneurship into practical advice and guidelines, and complement this with real-life start-up stories which bring these guidelines to life.

Who is it aimed at?

It is primarily aimed at those who are new to the entrepreneurial journey, who may have a basic idea for a business but are still figuring out how to execute it, and it is even more particularly aimed at those who want to start a business with an innovation or technology angle. However, experienced entrepreneurs may also pick up a few tips

Most of the stories in the book are about European start-up companies. Why?

Well, most books on entrepreneurship are from the US and discuss the experiences of US companies. However we work in Europe, where there is also now a recent history of technology and innovation entrepreneurship, and it is picking up speed with examples like ‘Silicon roundabout’ in London, the planned East London technology hub, and even success stories on the continent such as TomTom in the Netherlands and Vente Privee in France.

Although the main advice in the book can be applied to start-ups in many different places, we felt (and students and readers have told us) that there was a need to tell the stories of European entrepreneurs and show that there are role models here as well.

What do you think of shows like the Apprentice?

We wouldn’t say that the show truly reproduces the experience of being in a start-up. The contestants are clearly ambitious, but don’t have a particular business idea to start with, nor do they choose their own team members. They are thrown a series of challenging tasks to demonstrate their resourcefulness, which is certainly interesting, but at the end of it the winner goes to work as an apprentice to a man who today is more of a corporate boss than an entrepreneur. The others go back to their day jobs.

Our advice would be that if you want to be entrepreneurial, start at the ground level and go work in a start-up.

Who, in your opinion, is a ‘smart entrepreneur’?

Well, at the most basic level, we chose that title to imply that you would become a smart entrepreneur by following the advice in the book! That means gathering the insight you need to mould a product or service offering and a business model with a good chance of succeeding, not to assume that you can just implement the first idea that comes into your head.

But the word ‘smart’ also implies the technology angle, in the way people talk of smart phones, smart grids, and so on. There are many smart people who may be brilliant engineers or scientists, great technicians, but don’t have knowledge or experience about how to bring their ideas to market and build a commercially savvy business. 

A smart entrepreneur also tests his assumptions and learns from mistakes along the way, and we hope the book will provide some scope for learning from and avoiding other people’s past mistakes.

What makes a start-up better than the rest?

One with smart entrepreneurs in it! To be successful, a start-up has to be able to adapt to an evolving business and market environment and offer what that environment really wants and is willing to pay for. This may mean that the start-up has to modify its business plan or its products somewhere along the journey. A smart entrepreneur can start with an idea that’s not very good, but acknowledge that it’s not very good and change it into a better idea. The book contains examples of entrepreneurs who have made such changes, and aims to give readers the tools to make important decisions as early as possible. But the world of technology and innovation can be unpredictable, so a start-up team needs to know when to stick with its convictions and when to be adaptable.

If you have a question for the authors, please contact: entrepreneurship@imperial.ac.uk