Skills, academic background, or experience? What matters the most when starting a business?

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Soft skills crossword.

Thousands of formal and informal debates have been held to try and resolve the question of what makes a great entrepreneur and what differentiates great startup founders from unsuccessful ones.

The truth is that in today’s rapidly evolving world, skills tend to matter the most – although the other two variables can also play in favor of the entrepreneur in certain scenarios.

This reality is highlighted by a recent article from the Harvard Business School, which highlights ten of the most important characteristics that successful entrepreneurs share – with none of them being directly related to academic background or industry experience.

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Meanwhile, business consultant Jasdeep Singh from CT, believes that the combination of these three elements can significantly increase a business’s chances of success because each of these variables contribute facilitating the journey of an entrepreneur.

Academic Background and Industry Expertise Reduce the Length of the Learning Curve

The first thing that Dr. Singh from Connecticut, US highlights is that industry-specific experience can be a valuable asset in managing a new business, as it can reduce the length of the learning curve, resulting in leaders who are able to make early effective and efficient decisions by avoiding a trial-and-error approach.

Interestingly, the latest resignation of the CEO of American chipmaker Intel provides a glimpse into the significant challenges that someone without a technical background has to face when managing a company in an industry they don’t fully understand.

Mr. Bob Sawn, who is now being replaced by VMWare’s head, Pat Gelsinger, came from a financial background and had little technical expertise in the highly sophisticated process of producing computer chips, as was highlighted by the former principal engineer for Intel, Francois Pidnoel.

During his tenure, Intel lost some of its competitive edge as it failed to respond to the disruptions caused by the pandemic while it also saw a slowdown in its pipeline of new product launches at a moment when competitors were threatening to take a bigger share of the market.

This example illustrates why entrepreneurs can benefit from both developing the skillset required to launch a business while also having the necessary technical background to enrich their decision-making process in regards to the firm’s long-term vision and short-term tactics.

What about Interpersonal Skills?

While a lot can be said about the importance of technical skills in launching viable startups, interpersonal skills play a key role in growing a committed team, a valuable network of allies, and a strong influence in society.

In this regard, Singh emphasizes the importance of so-called “soft skills,” which include leadership, teamwork, communication, time management, problem-solving, and other empathetic and executive functioning skills that are the true mark of a leader.

By doing so, the result becomes a cohesive effort by an industry-aware and self-aware entrepreneur to achieve a certain set of goals. The leader can build a single long-term vision and rally others to improve upon it and carry it through.

A Summary of the Ideal Entrepreneur’s ‘Toolbox’

Based on the discussion above, we can begin to summarize some critical elements of the successful entrepreneur. No one person or combination of attributes can eliminate the risk involved in starting a new venture, but this list of toolbox skills can help an entrepreneur increase their odds of success.

  • Technical skills
    • Industry-specific field experience
    • Academic background or formal training relevant to the business
    • Know-how of best practices of the industry
  • Business skills
    • Basic knowledge of finance
    • Basic knowledge of operations
    • Basic knowledge of business law
  • Soft skills
    • Active listening
    • Empathetic leadership
    • Collaboration
    • Networking
    • Problem-solving
    • Effective verbal and written communication

All things considered, Singh concludes, your IQ is perhaps as important as your EIQ (emotional intelligence quotient).

Although most literature would point to technical skills as a rather important variable in building a capable professional, a lack of leadership or insufficient experience in the field could be significant factors to overcome.

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