Entrepreneurs Profit From Good Timing: Seem Lucky? Not Quite.

09/06/2011 04:29 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2011

Hurricane Irene took a heavy toll on the East Coast recently, but the event highlighted the foresight of some local entrepreneurs in launching their products or businesses, including water-management businesses like floodgates and storm-water "diapers."

Want to try your luck predicting weather events? Good luck with that. Good timing is important, even vital. But shine that light a little brighter, and you'll uncover prescience and passion.

Bonnie Baskin is one entrepreneur who saw her idea for a virus-testing lab take off. One of the 45 high-achieving entrepreneurs interviewed for How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, Bonnie opened a virus testing lab on wheels just around the time the HIV virus was creeping into the spotlight, and an STD epidemic was front-cover news. "My timing was perfect... We became very busy," she said.

Good timing with a good product, but also the identification of a need at a very early point, when most others just didn't think the signs were all that important. Hospitals were unprepared to handle virus testing -- a sensitive procedure -- effectively. There was some combination of conscious attention and subconscious awareness that ultimately led her to believe it was the right time to start a business. She followed her gut and created two companies that ultimately sold for a total of $203 million.

And passion adds to the likelihood an entrepreneur will spot a need that others have overlooked. Take the combination of spotting a need, being relentlessly curious, and developing passion, and it's unbeatable. It's not hard to imagine how a weather disaster can create among the entrepreneurial minded a motivation to minimize suffering.

Take Jeff Aronin, creator of Ovation Pharmaceuticals, a business he ultimately sold to Lundbeck for $900 million. Amid consolidation in the pharmaceuticals industry about 10 years ago, Jeff saw some smaller drugs getting sidelined, including one for epilepsy. "It may not seem like a terrible disease until you see a baby having a hundred spasms a day... There are drugs that should have been available," he said in How They Did It. So Jeff left a cushy job as CEO of an established pharma company to leap into his own startup, initially a company with one employee -- himself.

Sure, like it or not, chance has its say in the course of human events, including the rollout of new products and businesses. But, as the scientist Louis Pasteur noted, "Chance favors...the prepared mind," and I would add the passionate and curious one, too.

(You can hear Bonnie Baskin describe her experiences on October 3 at the NYSE, at the New York Entrepreneurial Bash, www.entrepbash.com).