Hooked on Being Entrepreneurs, Four Start-up Founders Describe Their Unique Pathways

Like athletes training for a marathon, entrepreneurial-minded individuals may spend years in corporate jobs while building their knowledge, skills, network and courage until the day they are ready to make the big break and launch their own start-up ventures. The pathway to entrepreneurship is different for each person, said four seasoned start-up founders, speaking at one of the three panel discussions featured at 2013 Entrepalooza: Accelerate You.

While personal backgrounds and aspirations may vary, most entrepreneurs share many of the same attributes, including passion, self-knowledge, independence, optimism and stamina. During their hour-long talk, the panelist offered some down-in-the-trenches advice to “corporateers” who have their sights set on leaving their day jobs to embark on entrepreneurial ventures.

  • “Take small steps and start preparing to be an entrepreneur while you’re working at standard corporate career jobs,” said Rich Sheridan, BSCS ’80, MSCS ’82, the CEO of software developer Menlo Innovations. “My entrepreneurial journey began long before I ever launched a company.”
  • “Be able to take a leap of faith,” advised David Klein, the CEO and co-founder of CommonBond, a venture-backed company that connects student borrowers and alumni investors. “Know how to manage your self-doubt and understand the relationship to risk. Personally, I thought that remaining a corporateer was more risky than pursuing an entrepreneurial career.”
  • “Take off your headphones and look around you,” suggested Justin Adams, BSEE ’01, MBA ’09, who left General Motors to work in the Michigan start-up space and is now the CEO of AlertWatch, a developer of patient-monitoring software for hospitals. “I knew something was wrong at GM, and I needed a change.”
  • “Do your homework and get honest feedback from customers about whether your entrepreneurial idea is realistic,” remarked Nora Schultz, MBA ’95, who honed her food industry knowledge and skills at the Campbell Soup Co. before launching Naturally Nora, a natural foods company. She sold her company to a leading food corporation after running it for four years. “It’s all about regret,” she added. “If you don’t pursue your entrepreneurial idea, you will always regret it.”

The sense of elation, autonomy and self-determination that comes with being an entrepreneur more than outweighs the roller-coaster ride and saw-tooth salaries, the panelists agreed. None of them would ever return to the corporate world. “Once you’ve started and built a company, you want to do it again and again,” Schultz explained. “I’m trying to figure out what my next start-up venture will be.”

Read more from the Zell Lurie Institute’s Fall Report.

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