And more advice from Donna Marie De Carolis, PhD, Founding Dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship
The Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship is the nation’s first independent (not in a business school) and degree granting school of entrepreneurship in a university. Entrepreneurship is much more than the process of starting a company. Entrepreneurship is a habit of mind and an attitude; a skill set applicable to pursuing innovation in business, personal, and career contexts, and an approach to life built around innovative thinking, calculated daring, and proactive behavior. Our curriculum and programming is designed to empower our students to think and act innovatively through unique courses and experiential programming.
1. Perspective on Failure from the Dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship.
It depends on how one actually pictures failure in your mind. I am an academic entrepreneur. My whole goal here is to produce graduates to be the entrepreneurs of their lives, their life, career, and profession. That's what we do. We believe that entrepreneurship and education empower everyone. And to be successful, without a doubt, you need to go through things that do not work out. We call these things failures, unfortunately, which has a negative connotation. What we try to do with our students is to orient them. We have a course called Ready, Set, Fail. In that course and throughout all of our curriculum, failure is a learning experience. The word failure is such a negatively charged word, and it is not the opposite of success. It is a compliment to success. We encourage failure, but we also encourage our students to think of that word as a step to the next thing that they are going to do.
Close is the first independent, outside of a business school, entrepreneurship program that is degree-granting in the nation. Most entrepreneurship programs are tucked inside a business school. I think entrepreneurship is taught in the wrong building. When you think about the entrepreneur, you don't think about the person who knows how to do spreadsheets, coding or manages receivables, you think about the person who is resilient, seeks out opportunities, solves problems and takes risks. An entrepreneur is someone who is a leader, who is a visionary, and who is creative.
The reason we are outside the business school is because OUR CURRICULUM IS DESIGNED TO EMPOWER THE PERSON TO BECOME ENTREPRENEURIAL, TOGETHER WITH LEARNING THE PROCESS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP. THIS IS DIFFERENT THAN THE TYPICAL BUSINESS SCHOOL APPROACH. What makes a new venture or a new initiative is the person. Sometimes I get pushback that you can't teach someone to be an entrepreneur, and I say that is not true. Are doctors born, not made? Are lawyers born, not made? We teach leadership; we can teach entrepreneurship. People can acquire the skills of problem-solving, creative thinking, and being resilient. This is what is exciting to me as an academic. We have created a program where we are deliberately immersing students in starting something over and over again.
I don't want to graduate the next Bill Gates, that is not my goal. I want to graduate the student that knows how to start something, that can gather the resources, that can de-risk the opportunity, that can communicate with people, and that can bring something to fruition. These are a tool kit that requires the process of entrepreneurship but requires the person to have the attitude that failure, or things not working out, is a big part of that. If you ask me what's the value proposition of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, I would say that we graduate students that understand that life is full of options. It is about managing your options. And, if things don't work out, what are the tools and what are the things that you can rely on that you learned as a process as well as your character and attitude to get through anything in life.
2. Be disruptive.
When I founded the school, I was a lone wolf. I separated from the business school to do this degree. It is very disruptive in higher education to do something like this. A lot of entrepreneurs are not business people. The business school in any university is a tough path because there are pre-requisites. One of the reasons that we started the school is because it is this idea that we are creating a curriculum that develops the person as well as teaches the process. Also entrepreneurship is not just about business. There are artists, engineers, designers, writers, educators and maybe they wanted to go into the business school but were afraid of the math. That should not prevent someone from starting something or running a company. We are attracting students who would have never thought of majoring in entrepreneurship.
3. Don't ignore your gut feelings.
When I started this school, I started from scratch. They announced me as Dean, and I woke up the next day, and I was the Close School of Entrepreneurship. I had to build this thing out. I had the rest of the university to help me, but I had to build the curriculum, the staff, the website, everything. The most important thing that I learned is that you can't ignore your gut, particularly in the experience that I had in hiring. I think as a new venture that your team is the most important asset that you have. You almost have to hire the people you have had some experience with that you know can do the job. Sometimes somebody shows up, and they look like they are the right fit. They have the right experience, they present well, they have the right connections, but there is something in your gut that is saying this isn't right. I had to terminate people a couple of times because I didn't listen to my gut. When they came on board, they just didn't fit with the culture. You want diverse opinions, and you want people who are challenging, but they just did not fit in, and they weren't helping us achieve our goals.
4. Don't bury feelings about a business failing.
You can't bury that feeling of things not working out. You can't say "well this didn't work out; I am just going to move on." You have to feel those feelings. You need to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and maybe to feel sorry for yourself. But what I learned and always try to do, is give myself a time limit. Sometimes you need to process a loss. You do need to move forward, but you do need to give yourself that time to handle the loss and feel bad.
5. Do a formal review of a failed business/project for lessons learned.
Once you say, okay now let's move on, I think you need to do what I call an "autopsy" of why it didn't work out. You look at what didn't work, so you know what not to do next time. There are many instances that you learn something along the way. It may not be useful today, but it is a skill you may need a year from now. With innovation, there is always something you should learn, and you should celebrate that.
6. Don't forget to plan daily.
Planning is extremely important. Not just planning for the big things, a business plan, a strategic plan, a marketing plan, a social media plan, and so on. Daily, when I look at my calendar, even down to meetings, I think about the agenda. Who you are meeting with and what are the essential things. This helps tremendously because, as an entrepreneur, you are thrown in so many different directions. You don't have time to reflect sometimes. You go from one thing to the other, and they are not related. I try to give myself the evening or the mornings to look at my calendar and think about the end goals. Why am I here, what are the outcomes, what are we going to get from this meeting, how does it help the company, and so on. Planning not just for the big things but the seemingly small things as well I find extremely important.