Adventures in Entrepreneurship

In place of a traditional full-time internship, I developed an independent project while completing a part-time internship with INSEAD business school’s social entrepreneurship programme. Work at INSEAD’s green and mostly sunny Fontainebleau campus  was energizing and clearly defined. I wrote a report, collected and organized data, and profiled prominent members of their social entrepreneur alumni network, finding myself consistently inspired by the variety of creative approaches that social entrepreneurs bring to generating change and solving problems. My own project progressed less smoothly, its open end and loose definition creating challenges (and learning opportunities) at every turn.

I proposed to pursue the project because I’d identified a need. International high schools in Paris require their students to complete community service projects in order to graduate. Parents and guidance counselors struggle to find these opportunities for students for many reasons, among them the challenge of navigating a foreign system. I saw the possibility for a service that connected students seeking community service projects with associations and NGOs that would welcome volunteers, and aimed to build it this summer.

I found myself in June still wondering where to begin. I turned to established wisdom, reading about entrepreneurship and asking colleagues at INSEAD engaged in research on the subject. I saw recurring patterns, and became acutely aware of what my project was missing. Following are three widely agreed-upon characteristics of successful entrepreneurial projects:

1. Passion.

Successful entrepreneurs are passionate about bringing their service or product to the market. An entrepreneur needs to be convinced in order to be convincing; financial motivation is not enough.

2. A team.

Successful entrepreneurs rarely work in isolation. Ernesto Sirolli (author of How to Start a Business and Ignite Your Life) says that every business needs three distinct personality types: a product person (to develop the product or service), a marketing person (to sell it), and a financial person (to make sure the business stays afloat).

3. A plan.

Once you’re committed to your project and you’ve built a team, the clearest way forward is to set time-bound objectives and to plan methodically backwards from them.

No wonder this was so difficult. I was not passionately motivated to build a service that had for its objective to help privileged students gain access to high-end universities. I was working alone and erratically, without fixed goals or a timeline.

Thanks to people I met and work that I was exposed to throughout the summer (particularly, Ashoka’s Empathy Project, I began to believe in the service’s value. I started to think of it as a means for developing skills (i.e. empathy, self-confidence, and adaptability) that are not necessarily cultivated at school but that are critical to success in later life. With the ability to speak convincingly about the project, I recruited people to help me move it forward. I used project management tools to set objectives and to meet them, establishing initial partnerships, naming the project (Interact) and creating a logo and website, and engaging a communications campaign.

Placing a hold on this project to re-enter the academic world has allowed me the distance to consider my next steps. I am not yet sure of the form it will take going forward, but I know that I will apply the lessons I drew from navigating the trials and tribulations of its initial development to whatever I do next.

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Cet été, j’ai travaillé à mi-temps au sein du centre de l’entrepreneuriat social de l’école de commerce de l’INSEAD. En parallèle, j’ai pu développer mon propre projet entrepreneurial. Cet article résume ce que j’ai appris à travers cette aventure qu’est de l’entrepreneuriat avec, entre autres : la nécessité d’être passionné par son sujet, le fait de savoir s’entourer d’une équipe, de mettre en place des objectifs précis tout en réfléchissant aux outils qui permettront de les atteindre.

by Elisabeth Cramer

Crédit photo 1 : http://interactparis.com/

Crédit photo 2 : http://blog.horizonentrepreneurs.fr/18910-devenez-entrepreneur-social-revue-du-web-60/

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