Home » NEWS » Economic Development » SUMESH ARORA — Entrepreneurship: is the glass half-full or half-empty?

SUMESH ARORA — Entrepreneurship: is the glass half-full or half-empty?

SUMESH ARORA

SUMESH ARORA

The standard ‘glass half-full or half-empty’ saying is commonly used to emphasize the difference between positive and negative thinking, or optimism and pessimism, respectively.  Positive thinking is generally associated with the glass being half-full, and negative thinking with it being half-empty.  The expression has even come to define personality types which are often referred to as ‘glass half-full’ or ‘glass half-empty’.

So what does entrepreneurship have to do with the state of the glass anyway?  I think this expression is a great way to explain the personalities of entrepreneurs.  Regardless of whether entrepreneurs see the glass as half-full or half-empty, their focus is on first realizing that there is something missing in the glass and then secondly turning their attention to how they can fill that glass.  They are also thinking of how to make a profit by filling that glass to the top.

AURORA Glass-of-water_4CIn other words, a partially filled glass is a metaphor for a market opportunity which can be exploited for gain.  An entrepreneur sees a glass with the liquid at the midway mark as a problem which needs to be solved and becomes focused on developing or finding a solution for that problem.  Hence, a key trait of an entrepreneur is the ability to spot a problem or a need first, and then start thinking of ways to solve that problem or fulfil that need.  A lot of people will think of the glass as just a routine object and pay no particular attention to it as they about their normal business.  An entrepreneur on the other hand, is observant and looks at things critically and will do market research and seek data to validate his or her assumptions.

In his book “The Guide to Entrepreneurship: How to Create Wealth for Your Company and Stakeholders” published in 2015 by the CRC Press, Michael Szycher, Ph.D., describes entrepreneurship as the process of seizing an opportunity to introduce new products or services in an effort to transform inventions and innovations into monetary value.

According to Dr. Szycher an entrepreneur is someone who establishes, organizes, manages and assumes the financial risk of a new business venture and he lists the following 11 traits of the entrepreneurial mindset:

1. Exceptional leadership qualities

2. Tolerance for risk, chaos, ambiguity, and uncertainty

3. High creativity characteristics

4. Overwhelming desire for achievement and peer recognition

5. Ability to identify big market opportunities

6. Willingness to accept and learn from failure

7. Unshakable motivation to excel

8. Fiercely independent

9. Challenged by new opportunities

10. Ability to create an organization supportive of their vision and mission

11. Value achievement over money

I have found this book to be very useful personally and have made it a required textbook for a class I teach at the University of Southern Mississippi in the College of Business.  The class is called Entrepreneurship and Technology-Based Economic Development.  One of the things we do in this class is to pair the economic development and MBA students with entrepreneurs we work with at Innovate Mississippi.  Each student interviews the entrepreneur and then delivers an  “elevator pitch” in the classroom as if they were part of that entrepreneur’s company.  We turn the classroom into a “Shark Tank” of sorts and the students get to vote on which company they would invest in after hearing all the pitches.

I would like to share with you a quick story about one of the entrepreneurs in the Innovate Mississippi portfolio.  His name is Jeremy Chalmers and he is a cofounder of Ridgeland-based VRM Telematics, LLC, a company which makes a device to curb distracted driving.  Jeremy embodies the ethos I mentioned earlier about entrepreneurs’ quest for filling the glass when they see one with room in it.  For Mr. Chalmers, the problem was distracted driving due to cell phone usage, which causes thousands of unnecessary deaths each year.  The death toll in 2014 alone was 3,129 according to the United States Department of Transportation’s website www.Distraction.gov.  The National Safety Council observes April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month to draw attention to this epidemic.

In Jeremy’s words: “In 2009 I was listening to CNBC in my car and a Virginia Tech study was reported  on that said texting while driving increased the risk of a crash by 23 times.  At that time I had a daughter with a learner’s permit and started to think about how I might be able to keep her from incurring that risk.  As a practicing attorney, I also recognized the legal liability that cell phone use created for employers.  My first idea was to detect cell phone use and then jam the signal with a “smart jammer.”

Even though Mr. Chalmers knew that jamming signals was illegal, he naively believed that the law could be changed to carve out an exception because distracted driving was becoming a serious issue.  He found a company with a patent on an in-vehicle jammer and joined up as its general counsel.  He filed a petition for rule making with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and even traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with members of the Senate Commerce Committee who had jurisdiction over the FCC.

Eventually he started his own company with a couple of partners and they developed a legal device which detected cell phone usage when the vehicle was in motion.  The VRM Telematics team of investors, entrepreneurs and employees share a common vision to create and promote solutions to end distracted driving.  The “Sentinel” (website www.DriveWithSentinel.com) is a first-of-its-kind innovative solution designed to modify the behavior of drivers, especially teenage drivers.  This cellular phone service based system is marketed to parents, especially those with novice drivers, and who want the peace of mind knowing their children are practicing safe driving habits and arriving safely at their destinations without texting or speeding.

Looking at the list of entrepreneurial characteristics above, we see that Jeremy Chalmers can check off practically every item on that list.  Their product represents a big market opportunity with over two million kids across the country receiving a driver’s license for the first time each year.  Additionally, they are establishing relationships with driving schools and driver education services and insurance companies to demonstrate the benefits of their technology and generate sales of their product.  Jeremy’s passion lies in reducing or eliminating distracted driving which dictated the initial selection of signal-jamming technology and the subsequent move to a totally different mobile phone-based technology.  Many entrepreneurs make the fatal mistake of being too closely married to a technology they have developed even though the market is signaling otherwise.

I hope this example illustrates the mindset of an entrepreneur and their approach to visualizing a glass half-full.  Serial entrepreneurs are individuals who have become successful at filling one glass after another till they overflow and then let their team manage the business while they go searching for the next opportunity.  Along the way they may have tried to fill a glass with water which had oil in it, but they realize soon enough that water and oil don’t mix, and try to move on to the next one as quickly as possible.

» Dr. Sumesh Arora is Vice President at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.  His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development.  Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.

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