Yesterday, 11 local entrepreneurs began the latest installment of our CO.STARTERS at The Skillery business development program, which'll have them learning basic business building blocks, testing ideas, getting feedback and meeting with mentors and speakers who’ve achieved entrepreneurial success over nine weeks. As with past CO.STARTERS cohorts, we have a broad mix of participants — folks who are just starting to explore a new business idea, others who’ve already launched and are looking for ways to grow and strengthen.
As our cohort works and studies, we’ll be sharing corresponding thoughts, experiences and tips about entrepreneurship in a weekly Starting a Business blog post series, beginning here. We’re hoping it’ll give other potential entrepreneurs some ideas to ponder and encouragement toward exploring their passion further. A big part of our overall goal at The Skillery is to support Nashville’s creative entrepreneurs in varied ways, from offering a comfortable place to work to learning opportunities, even just a few things to think about here on our blog.
On to our first installment: approaches to starting a business, for newcomers. There are almost as many ways to approach starting a business as there are kinds of small businesses. But there are a few things you can do to set yourself up with a strong foundation, and a firm understanding of where you’re hoping to go, and what you need to do to get there. Here, four common approaches that have pluses and minuses for different businesses/personalities:
4 Business-starting Approaches for Newcomers
Find a local incubator
Incubators are typically open-ended seats at a table within a business development center. These centers can be focused on a particular industry (there are ones geared toward food-based businesses, upstart tech companies, businesses that are specifically aimed at scaling and more), or they can be more broadly supportive of business growth.
Company founders are given an opportunity to work on their businesses while surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs, mentors, advisors and business resources. An incubator might help you find angel investors, fine-tune presentations for venture capital companies or work with you via in-house loans. If you’re aiming big — less a local coffee shop, more, say, a tech gadget you’re looking to take global — an incubator can be an ideal place to grow (and outgrow that incubator, in most cases something they encourage).
Apply to an accelerator
Business accelerators, which have become wildly popular in the last five to 10 years, are highly competitive programs that rapidly pull a company through a short, finite business development process, while giving them access to mentors, investors, and, often, a small amount of seed capital to get started. In most cases, companies are accepted in exchange for some amount of equity in the business, based on their likelihood of raising additional capital, and, eventually, hitting it big.
Unless you have plans to scale your business to something quite large, an accelerator probably isn’t the right fit. But again, if your aim is broad, accelerators can be invaluable.
Get educated, then DIY
Any entrepreneur will tell you: It takes guts to go for it. And beyond guts, it takes immense amounts of work, dedication and sacrifice, not to mention a certain amount of luck. Getting all of that in place can be a little easier (and less intimidating) when you feel prepared, and confident that you’re launching something smart, backed and supported by data. Which is where business education comes in.
Your options are many, and ultimately, what’ll work best for you depends on your lifestyle, your financial situation, the type of business you’re building, the type of person you are and the type of entrepreneur you want to be. There’s great value in dedicating yourself to years of schooling and getting an MBA, but that also isn’t everyone’s ideal path. That entrepreneur aiming to take a tech gadget global might really feel drawn toward an MBA program. The Nashville artisan aiming to take their ceramics business to the point where sales can support a shop (and an artisan) might lean toward something more approachable.
The latter case is specifically why we launched CO.STARTERS at The Skillery — we wanted to arm budding entrepreneurs building small, creative businesses with a strong foundation, through a hands-on program that’s focused on their specific business.
Plenty of entrepreneurs come into business-building totally green, taking a piece of passionate inspiration and running with it. And tossing caution to the wind can work. But almost invariably, winging it means you’re learning all your valuable lessons the hard way (usually the expensive way). We’re big fans of “just launching something,” but we’re also fans of launching something with the benefit of preparation, some degree of business acumen and having the help of mentors/experienced entrepreneurs at the ready.
There are loads of other approaches — franchising, licensing, buying an existing business, joining an existing startup as a cofounder. And the best approach for you depends, ultimately, on you.
If you’re ever looking for guidance or support, that’s what we’re here for — as an easy bit of exploration, try coming by one of our free weekly Office Hours sessions, and ask a seasoned entrepreneur/independent pro some of your burning questions. And stop back here next week, when we’ll talk about five important questions to consider before launching your own business.
Already launched your business? Have a story about an approach that you prefer? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.