When you hear the word “entrepreneur”, your mind often goes to those you know or have heard about who have started their own business enterprises. While it’s true that one of the main attractions of starting your own business is being your own boss, the most successful entrepreneurs are not just proprietors. They’re innovators.
The First Entrepreneur
It’s impossible to say who was the first true entrepreneur. Some sources say that George Washington was the first American entrepreneur. He dabbled in banking.
The very first entrepreneur was likely some prehistoric man who figured out how to make sharper hunting tools or a prehistoric woman who discovered ways to make more durable loincloths. They may have exchanged their wares for firewood or edible plants, thus improving their tribe’s quality of life.
Today’s entrepreneurs’ products and services are infinitely more complex by prehistoric standards, but there are some commonalities in most innovators’ traits. They’re generally creative, hard working, competitive and not averse to risk.
Entrepreneur Versus Innovator
The term “innovator” is often associated with “inventor.” We think of innovators as people who have created a new product, a new technology or a new service. However, inventing something new is not always a criterion.
A new approach to an old problem, tapping into a new market or finding a new method of providing a product or service is innovative too. Some people on the list of successful entrepreneurs have taken a product or service that’s been around for a long time and put their own twist on it.
If you’re determined to differentiate entrepreneur from innovator, you might say that innovators often come up with things that benefit society by fulfilling a need. In some cases, the innovator even creates the need.
Entrepreneur Examples and Statistics
In this age of e-commerce, it’s easier than ever to start your own business. Without the cost of a brick-and-mortar location, fixtures, utility bills, security systems and so on, one of the biggest obstacles to starting your own business — startup costs — has been assuaged.
The other side of that coin is that an awful lot of people are starting their own businesses these days — over 500,000 per month. While the rate of new small businesses opening has climbed steadily since 2011, the failure rate is 50% by the fifth year. No one wants to be part of that statistic.
In the words of a University of California, Berkeley business student in a thank-you note to one of her professors, “Entrepreneurs are the ones that make things happen. (That) takes focus, diligence, discipline, flexibility and perseverance. They can take an innovative idea and make it impactful … successful entrepreneurs are also ones who take challenges in stride, adapt and adjust plans to accommodate whatever problems do come up." Consider these entrepreneur examples that demonstrate these qualities at their best.
1. Jack Haldrup, Dr. Squatch Soap Co.
Jack Haldrup, a 30-something native Midwesterner, is the founder, CEO and owner of Dr. Squatch Soap Co., a web-based business that primarily sells one product — soap. In about six years, he’s gone from selling a few bars a week out of his kitchen to shipping thousands of bars a day from his distribution center in Ohio. He lives in San Diego now and makes around $6 million a year.
Dr. Squatch soaps will make you “smell like a man, feel like a champion.” They’re natural and organic with “manly” scents like pine tar and cedar citrus. Haldrup came up with the idea for his product after shopping for himself and noting that natural soaps with few and simple ingredients in masculine scents were practically nonexistent. He didn’t give gargantuan soap manufacturers like Colgate-Palmolive and Procter & Gamble a thought, nor did he ever intend to compete with Irish Spring.
He targeted what you might call a subniche: Guys who shop online and who want a quality, natural soap. Dr. Squatch soap looks like slices of banana bread a tad overbaked: dark brown around the edges and light brown and speckled inside. Simply packaged, they’re stamped with his logo — a suited-up sasquatch smoking a bubble pipe.
2. Zim Ugochukwu, Travel Noire
Zim Ugochukwu, another niche-targeting innovator, started a website called Travel Noire that caters to people of color who are interested in travel. Full of wanderlust herself, she noticed that websites devoted to travel most often featured white people lounging on beaches, admiring landmarks and enjoying fine dining.
Raised in the Midwest but the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Ugochukwu decided she wanted to see people more like herself on a travel website. So, she launched her own in 2013. Travel Noire features fun and informative articles like “How to Spend a Day in Black-owned Amsterdam” and “Most Beautiful Airbnbs on the Islands of Grenada.” You’ll also find “best of” lists, like the best black-owned restaurants in America.
She was on Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list in 2016 and made the Smithsonian’s Ten Female Innovators to Watch In 2018 list. She has since sold Travel Noire to the black lifestyle brand Blavity but has stayed on as their chief brand officer.
3. Benjamin Tee, Privi Medical
Named one of MIT’s Annual Innovators Under 35 and featured in Asian Scientist magazine, Benjamin Tee developed a synthetic skin that’s flexible and stretchable and senses pressure. He says that as a child, he was always curious about how things worked and liked to touch and handle things to try to figure them out.
While working on his Ph.D. at Stanford University, he developed a bandage that could read your pulse. From there, he went on to develop a synthetic skin that he hopes will help people with prosthetic limbs be able to respond to touch. He is the co-founder of a medical technology company, Privi Medical, which is based in Singapore.
Recently, Privi Medical received FDA clearance for a product that treats something no one likes to talk about, but it’s a reality for about half of people over 50: hemorrhoids. “Instalief” technology is based on using cold to reduce swelling and discomfort. It’s drug free and has an enormous potential market.
4. Jack Delosa, The Entourage
Jack Delosa is the founder of Australia’s largest school for entrepreneurs, The Entourage. It placed fourth in the best places to work in Australia. He’s also written two books on entrepreneurship and co-founded The Entourage Beanstalk Factory that provides entrepreneurial training for corporations. Delosa’s motto is “live on purpose.”
So, how did he get all of this entrepreneurial expertise? Well, it wasn’t easy. He grew up in a family that ran a government-funded, nonprofit employment agency that specialized in finding jobs for young people. One day, the government stopped funding them, and the business went belly up practically overnight.
Later, he dropped out of college to open a new call-center business with his brother, but his brother died of a drug overdose shortly before they opened. Jack decided to open the doors anyway, worked hard and grew that company as well as a second one into multimillion-dollar businesses. Today, he invests heavily in Australian growth companies and teaches other aspiring entrepreneurs how it’s done.
5. Laurie Brown, Aunt Laurie’s
After spending 30 years in corporate management in Detroit, right about the time when most people are looking to retire, Laurie Brown moved to South Carolina and started a gift-basket business that employs disabled and special needs adults through the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Center.
Her mission statement begins, “Our mission is to inspire others to acknowledge the human value in everyone. One gift at a time.” Her goal was to create a successful and socially responsible business. In addition to employing individuals with disabilities, Brown donates a portion of her profits to Leader Dogs for the Blind.
To get started, she used the free mentoring and educational services for entrepreneurs offered by the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE pairs you with a mentor who has experience in the type of business you want to enter. Brown says that managing marketing and advertising costs has been difficult, but she relies a lot on networking to spread the word about her business.
Lessons to Be Learned
What can you learn from these five innovators? They’re college age and retirement age; they’re male and they’re female; they’re people of color, a range of nationalities and they live in different countries. They have some traits in common but very different interests and passions. Consider all the lessons that you can learn.
There’s Always Room for More
Just because the market for similar products or services is already saturated, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for what you have to offer. However, you have to offer something that’s distinct from what’s already out there.
Witness Haldrup and Ugochukwu. They both identified underserved markets and took aim at them. Haldrup went about “finding innovation in the gap”. Ugochukwu was an observant member of the gap group.
When Life Gives You Lemons
Some of the most valuable innovations in history were born out of some of the most difficult times in history. Rising from personal adversity can also lead to great things. Jack Delosa rose above personal tragedies to become so successful that he’s now helping others learn how to do it.
Successful entrepreneurs learn to take adversity in stride. In his biography, Steve Jobs said, “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It’s best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.”
Parlay Your Passion
Another Steve Jobs quote is, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” All of these five innovators identified their passion and followed that lead.
Ugochukwu was motivated by her passion for travel and her desire to see more diversity. Tee is using his dedication to science to develop products that can improve the quality of life for a great many people.
Delosa didn’t set out to be the Warren Buffet of call centers, but he used the money he made from that initial business to branch into his passion — teaching others how to be successful.
You’re Never Too Old
SCORE has a term for people who become entrepreneurs later in life: encore entrepreneurs. The founder and owner of Aunt Laurie’s is in good company. The most recent figures available from the Kauffman Institute indicate that people in the 54 to 65 age range make up about one-quarter of new entrepreneurs.
That’s equal to the number of new entrepreneurs who are 45 to 54, and it’s slightly higher than those who are 35 to 44 and 20 to 34. Older entrepreneurs bring a wealth of experience to their business endeavors.
Don’t Go It Alone
There are a surprising number of free and low-cost resources available to budding entrepreneurs. If you’ve come to realize that it was not smart to sleep through your accounting class, register at your local community college to brush up.
Have a great idea but zero business experience? Look into SCORE and head to the Small Business Administration’s website. You can get personal, one-on-one mentoring from SCORE. The SBA has an amazing amount of information specifically aimed at helping small-business owners succeed.
You’re No Different
If you have entrepreneurial aspirations, you probably have a lot in common with these five innovators and any famous entrepreneurs list. There’s nothing magical about being a successful entrepreneur. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work. It also takes preparation and determination. You can do it.
- Asian Scientist: Asia’s Rising Scientists – Benjamin Tee
- Aunt Laurie's: Aunt Laurie’s Mission
- Dr. Squatch Soap Co.: Home
- Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship: 2017 National Report on Early-Stage Entrepreneurship
- Forbes: George Washington, America’s First Entrepreneur
- Inc.: To Be an Innovative Entrepreneur, Embrace Adversity
- Jack Delosa: Meet Jack
- LaunchStreet: Finding Innovation in the Gaps with Jack Haldrup
- LinkedIn: Zim Ugochukwu
- MIT Technology Review: 35 Innovators Under 35: Benjamin Tee, 33
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Definition & Facts of Hemorrhoids
- Northwestern University Research, Kellogg School of Management: Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship
- Pink Magazine: The Laurie Behind Aunt Laurie’s
- Privi Medical: Privi Medical Obtains FDA Clearance for Instalief Hemorrhoids Treatment
- Rosen Publishing: Innovation Through Adversity
- San Diego Union Tribune: How This 31-Year-Old Makes Millions Selling Soap Online
- SCORE: Aunt Laurie’s
- U.S. Small Business Administration: Frequently Asked Questions: What is the Survival Rate for New Businesses?
- U.S. Small Business Administration: SBA Initiatives
- Smithsonian: Ten Female Innovators to Watch In 2018
- The Entourage: Home
- Travel Noire: Home
- UC Berkeley Blog: Innovators and Entrepreneurs: What’s the Difference?
- Yahoo! Small Business: 16 Surprising Small Business Statistics (Infographic)