Scott Miramontes, Team Columbia 2
While I was excited about the idea of traveling across the US, my main motivation for joining MBAs Across America was to gain exposure to entrepreneurship across a variety of industries and cities. I had never started a business of my own or worked with a startup, so I was anxious to learn about what it actually takes to build a company from the ground up. After six intense weeks of working closely with five different entrepreneurs, I learned that both the challenges and the rewards associated with entrepreneurship can be immense.
There were several challenges that became all too familiar as we moved from one project to the next. For example, I quickly learned that entrepreneurs are often forced to act on very little information. In business school, we studied cases that included pages of data to help us form a recommendation. In reality, most startups don’t have the resources to produce or pay for this kind of data. To overcome this challenge, my team was forced to get creative. We interviewed consumers in parking lots, analyzed social media chatter, collected price data in grocery store aisles, and cold-called industry experts. It became very clear that both creativity and persistence are essential qualities for an entrepreneur.
Another challenge was lack of time and, as a result, the need to develop clear priorities. We started each project by asking our entrepreneurs what keeps them up at night with the intention of better understanding their priorities. However, each entrepreneur had over a half dozen answers to that question, and the answers sometimes even changed from day to day. We found that one of our greatest contributions during each week was our ability to take a structured and objective look at each business to help its owner develop clear priorities. I learned that without discipline, entrepreneurs can easily fall into the trap of trying to do everything and failing to execute well on what really matters.
A third challenge that came up as we got to know our entrepreneurs was the lonely nature of being an entrepreneur. Forgoing a steady job and paycheck to tread a new path can be downright scary, and many of our entrepreneurs were doing it completely on their own (at least initially). I believe this is probably the number one reason that more people don’t start businesses of their own. Self-doubt, fear, and uncertainty can be powerful obstacles. Each of our entrepreneurs talked openly about these obstacles and their ongoing journey to overcome them. These stories were incredibly inspiring to our team and left us with a strong feeling of admiration for each of our entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs struggle with limited resources, they never have enough time, and they are forced to sacrifice stability that many of us take for granted. But they find the journey incredibly rewarding. Craig Howard, the founder of Howard’s Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch, is able to do what he loves every day, cooking and chatting with customers about the latest projects in his vegetable garden. John and Courtney McKee of Headframe Spirits have been able to combine their love of spirits with their love of the city of Butte by sponsoring local events, restoring a historic bar for their tasting room, and keeping all of their manufacturing local. Rehan Choudhry, the founder of the Life Is Beautiful Festival, regularly receives letters from attendees who have been inspired by the positive messages and sense of community present at the annual event. Entrepreneurship has empowered these people to follow their passions, forge deep connections with their communities, and change people’s lives. With this context, it becomes very clear why entrepreneurs are willing to sacrifice so much to build something of their own.