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Entrepreneurship Education: One Size Does Not Fit All

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To serve as many clients as possible at an affordable price point, companies strive to find the right balance of product features to appeal to the masses. Not surprisingly, they usually find that one size does not fit all. In fact, those companies that can nail "mass customization" -- the ability to provide unique and special features on core products to appeal to niche markets -- find the answer is part art, part science. Such is also the case when serving the educational needs of entrepreneurs.

We know entrepreneurs come in any number of varieties. Some are idea people, true innovators who are also able to execute on their ideas. Some are serial in nature, starting company after company, often with a mixed bag of successes and failures. Some are turnaround people, taking over established organizations in need of makeovers to survive. The list goes on. In recognition of the diverse mix of modern entrepreneurs, the Kauffman Foundation created a website, www.willitbeyou.com, to direct individuals to the resources and programs most appropriate for the stage of their companies.

As president of Kauffman FastTrac®, an organization dedicated to providing the education, tools, resources and information to help entrepreneurs start and grow successful companies, I've discovered that our core offerings do, in fact, appeal to a broad cross-section of people. I recognize, however, there are audiences with distinct characteristics who could benefit from additional emphasis on specific topics.

To start to address their unique needs, Kauffman FastTrac selected three groups of entrepreneurs for which we've compiled useful information and created special curricula: women, U.S. military veterans and baby boomers.

  • The Female Entrepreneur
    The 2011 American Express OPEN report, "State of Women-Owned Businesses," indicates the number of women-owned firms is growing steadily. Between 1997 and 2011, when the total number of businesses in the United States increased by 34 percent, the number of women-owned firms grew by 50 percent, a rate 1½ times the national average. While that fact is encouraging, sales growth for women-owned firms averages 53 percent, trailing the national average of 71 percent.

    Based on my firm's interactions with female entrepreneurs, we have discovered that women tend to struggle with particular subjects: fundraising, establishing boards of directors/advisors, creating strong professional networks and negotiation skills. It seems a reasonable goal to provide women in entrepreneurship the information and resources needed to address such pain points. Acquiring or improving these important skills will help women grow their firms, which currently account for 29 percent of all enterprises according to the American Express OPEN report, and increase their contributions to the workforce and economy.

  • The Veteran Entrepreneur
    According to July 2012 U.S. Department of Labor statistics, unemployment among post-9/11-era veterans approximated 9.5 percent versus general population unemployment of 8.2 percent. Meanwhile, a March 2011 report from the SBA Office of Advocacy indicated veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than people with no active-duty military experience. It makes sense since veterans possess leadership skills, decision-making abilities, power to mitigate risk, and experience in leading and engaging with high-functioning teams.

    Proudly, my colleagues and I have been part of two very important recent initiatives to help increase the success rate of veterans pursuing entrepreneurship. The TechStars RisingStars Patriot Boot Camp was held in July for 75 participants, all of whom were veterans creating technology firms, and our own FastTrac Veterans Initiative will train approximately 800 veterans to start and grow companies by the end of 2013.
  • The Boomer Entrepreneur
    It's no secret that Americans are feeling healthier well past traditional retirement age, living longer and, let's face it, not ready to retire According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 25 percent of workers in a 2012 study indicated the age at which they expect to retire has changed in the past year. In 1991, only 11 percent of workers said they expected to retire after the traditional retirement age of 65. By 2012, that percentage had grown to 37 percent.

    With more baby boomers opting to remain in the workforce, options such as entrepreneurship as a next career path become more realistic. The 2011 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found the percentage of firms created by Americans ages 55-64 grew faster than any other age demographic, up 6.6 percent to 20.9 percent in 2011 compared with 14.3 percent in 1996. To increase their odds of success as first-time entrepreneurs, baby boomers must factor in financing options, social media platforms, and intergenerational thinking when embarking on business ventures. They also should research various firm options, among them true startups, franchises and takeovers of established firms.

Certainly, the variety of audiences requiring access to information about targeted topics is substantial. At FastTrac, we plan to address the unique needs of other groups of entrepreneurs in the near future. In the meantime, by providing access to information of specific importance to women, veterans and baby boomers, we hope to give these entrepreneurs a leg up on success as a new or growing company in our global economy. After all, one size never fits all, especially when you're an entrepreneur.