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5 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs

IE Business School is teaching MBA students how to launch their own startups. Allison Rohe, deputy director of IE’s Venture Lab, says five skills are essential for every entrepreneur


Mon Jan 4 2021

Some of the largest Fortune 500 companies began as startups. The entrepreneurs behind Facebook, Amazon, Apple and more, have shown how launching a startup can change the world and bring huge personal rewards.  

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Google cofounder Sergey Brin are among the top 10 richest people in the world. Moreover, both entrepreneurs created companies which provide lifechanging solutions for millions of people.

For any business leader, thinking like an entrepreneur—innovating, handling pressure, being flexible and open to change—is the key to career success.

BusinessBecause spoke to Allison Rohe, deputy director of IE Business School's Venture Lab, the school’s startup incubator program, to find out the five skills every entrepreneur needs.  

1. Empathy

Entrepreneurs need to be able to connect with people. Empathy—the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes—is essential, as entrepreneurs have to identify with their company’s target market when trying to understand the problems their customers face.  

A better understanding of the potential customer and their problems means entrepreneurs can provide more focused on specific solutions, making their ideas more desirable to more people.  

“There has to at least be a perceived human connection with the customer, so the customer opens up and expresses real feelings about their frustrations and their problems,” Allison notes. Once established, entrepreneurs can begin creating their solution.

2. Problem-solving

Entrepreneurship is about providing solutions. To be successful, a startup has to address a problem and the more people who struggle with that problem, the better.  

Online rental marketplace Airbnb, recently valued at around $60 billion, focused on making accommodation accessible to everyone. BusinessBecause’s top MBA startup for 2021, Out of Office Spaces, provides workspaces for professionals having problems working at home during coronavirus.

The key for entrepreneurs, Allison explains, is to constantly ask: “What exactly is the problem that we are dealing with? And is it a problem that people would pay to resolve?” If the answer is yes, then you have a solid idea to build a business on.  

3. Persuasion

The perfect solution can’t sell itself, and often people may not even realize that the product or service on offer is needed in their lives. Without entrepreneurs being able to persuade people to invest in them or their idea it is difficult for their startup to succeed.  

Internally, ensuring every business partner and employee is capable of selling their solution will help entrepreneurs make sure their startups can reach their maximum potential, Allison says. 

Inspiring employees to believe in their idea is where the entrepreneur’s own persuasiveness is tested.  Ensuring everyone believes in the importance of their solution and the difference it can make to people’s lives means entrepreneurs can also be confident they have an effective sales team, with everybody believing in what they are selling.  

4. Risk-taking

Charles Phillips, founder of Infor, the third largest enterprise technology and software company in the world, left his role as CEO of tech giant Oracle to start the company, which now serves 70,000 customers across 200 countries.  

Founding startups requires entrepreneurs like Phillips to be prepared to take the risks needed to be successful. “They need to embody that framework and way of thinking, that risk needs to happen in order for change and innovation to occur,” Allison says.

“It’s about them saying: ‘Ok, this is it, I am going to take that leap of faith; it’s just do or die, I am going to take a shot at it.” 

Entrepreneurs need to be prepared for things to work out differently to how they had planned. Being comfortable with the inevitable ups and downs that come with starting your own business is key, as it’s impossible to get the rewards without first taking risks.  

5. Self-belief 

65 IE Business School students created new businesses after completing the Venture Lab program in 2019, where students are taken through the entire process of launching a company, from forming ideas to hiring their first employee.

Choosing this path rather than the security of a job at an established firm requires people who believe in themselves, while the process of forming an idea and bringing it into reality requires that students have faith in their solutions.  

Allison says this level of self-belief is growing among students today, having seen increasing numbers of International MBA graduates at IE deciding to launch startups in recent years.  

Where older and established firms may be more set in their ways, students now are beginning to see entrepreneurship as a better way to channel their new and creative ideas. “They want to have a hand in making an impact and driving the change they feel needs to happen,” she says.   

“They are finding they cannot do that within an organization, and so they have this growing awareness and desire to make a change, and to do it in an entrepreneurial way.”

While more IE Business School MBAs are considering launching their own startups, many get hired by top multinational firms and consulting companies like Amazon, EY, Microsoft, and McKinsey after graduation.

These firms value business school graduates for their ability to think like entrepreneurs; their strategic mindsets, versatility, and ability to innovate and handle complex challenges.

Whether you decide to become an entrepreneur or pursue a more traditional career path, the entrepreneurial skills you’ll develop at business school will stand you in good stead.

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