Welcome back! We hope you enjoyed the first part of the Q&A series with Professor Danny Warshay. Today’s post dives into why entrepreneurship is not just for people who have “entrepreneurial spirit.” In fact, Professor Warshay doesn’t even believe in entrepreneurial spirit. Read on to learn more.
IFH: Welcome back, Professor Danny Warshay. Thanks for joining us again. Let’s dive in. What holds up most students from pursuing their entrepreneurial interests?
DW: First of all, there’s the unfortunate dynamic where much of entrepreneurship has traditionally been discriminatory and inhibiting to many portions of our population who are as capable as any to identify and solve problems, and yet, funding has only supported certain types of entrepreneurs who only look a certain way or only went to certain schools. Part of the hold-up is just that: there’s a contextual friction that has inhibited big portions of the population from diving into entrepreneurship.
Beyond that, sometimes people think you have to be born an entrepreneur. Nothing could be further from the truth. I certainly know that because I’ve been teaching entrepreneurship and if you had to be born an entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have anything to do in the classroom. You don’t have to be kissed by the spirit of Steve Jobs. There’s no weird, esoteric blessing you need to be an entrepreneur. Extroverts, introverts, left brain, right brain, poets, scientists… everyone can be entrepreneurs. Everyone has the innate capability to be an entrepreneur. What many people are lacking is the structured process for doing that.
IFH: We hear you don’t believe in “entrepreneurial spirit?” Can you share more?
DW: What gets in the way of someone making French dessert pastry? You don’t say “you weren’t born a French pastry chef.” No, you have to learn the process of making French pain au chocolat or some other flaky pastry. You have to know there’s a beginning, middle, and end to making French pastry. You can learn it, you can master it, and then you can do it. Entrepreneurship isn’t any different.
In the world of entrepreneurship, sometimes people are told you have to have the entrepreneurial spirit. But, you wouldn’t tell someone building a bridge you should have a “bridge-building spirit.” And if the bridge doesn’t hold up the cars and trucks, you should be persistent and have a little more bridge-building spirit. No! There’s a structured process to building a bridge.
So shouldn’t we have fundamental principles stitched together into a structured entrepreneurial process? That’s what the “See, Solve, Scale” process is that I write about in my book: it’s the three fundamental principles involved in identifying the problem you want to solve, solving it iteratively on a small scale first, and then eventually layering resources on your small scale solution so you can scale and have big impact.
You don’t have to look any further than your own startup Intern From Home, which is doing such a good job. At first, in the beginning of Covid, you were in the “See” stage and did some bottom-up research. You identified a consequential problem that needed to be solved. You then solved it on a small scale to begin with. And now you’re in the scale stage where I’m told you’re at 600+ schools and growing exponentially. Intern From Home is such a good example of this “See, Solve, Scale” process in action.
IFH: Can you tell us about some of the alumni you’ve taught who have benefitted from your lessons?
Three of the iconic entrepreneurs who I highlight in the book are Ben Chesler, Emma Butler, and Gwen Mugodi.
Ben learned the “See, Solve, Scale” method in my class and he identified a consequential problem of food waste. He found that 40% of all produce from US farms is discarded. Why? Not because there is anything nutritionally wrong with it, but because it doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look like a classic piece of fruit or vegetable. What happens to that supply of ugly produce? It gets thrown out. The way Ben discovered that is he and a couple of eventual colleagues went to farms and did some bottom-up research in the “See” stage: they saw big piles of discarded produce and they developed a solution to that in the form of a company called Imperfect Foods which now does several hundred million dollars in revenue while addressing the issue of food waste, with the underlying principle they’re addressing being climate change. Ben used each of the three steps of “See, Solve, Scale” to start to address that problem and grow the company.
Emma is what I might describe as a reluctant entrepreneur. She says that when she walked into my classroom, she was literally shaking. She was so nervous because she felt as a visual arts and French concentrator that she had no business being in an entrepreneurship course. She slowly realized that she was exactly who I wanted this course to empower. She learned the “See, Solve, Scale” method and discovered a problem that her mother was facing through an unfortunate disease she has called fibromyalgia which makes it difficult to dress herself. She realized that problem plagues lots of women who have different shaped bodies and she focused her efforts to solve that problem through a startup created Intimately which has now raised over $1 million in seed funding and has been written up in press around the world like Forbes, Vogue, and Entrepreneur.
Gwen didn’t know much about entrepreneurship when she walked into my office. She discovered that there’s a serious problem plaguing young people in her native Zimbabwe and neighboring African countries. She found many students to be illiterate because the materials used in schools to teach kids how to read were not written in native African languages and so they’re not effective. She created a startup called Toreva which is a publishing and media platform to teach young people in Zimbabwe and neighboring African countries how to read in their native African languages.
I couldn’t be more proud of students like Ben, Emma, and Gwen, and there’s a long list of other students I’ve taught who are working around the world to expand their efforts to solve consequential problems.
IFH: Thank you for sharing such inspiring stories and insights. We deeply appreciate the work you’re doing to make sure that entrepreneurship feels like an inclusive space for students and founders of all backgrounds.
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