I know how to make innovation work, and I’ve done it successfully in both small and big companies. I’m Mikael Fuhr and I teach in the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program at DIS Copenhagen. These are my five lessons on how to become an entrepreneur – or intrapreneur.
1. You don’t become an entrepreneur by reading books and writing papers. You learn how to build a startup by building one! You have to feel, in your body, the thrill of a success and the frustration of a mistake. You have to find the drive to get back on the horse after a mistake. Because that’s what entrepreneurs do.
In the Innovation & Entrepreneurship course, you get your hands dirty and build startups. Not in theory, but for real. You’re coached through the steps and after four months you pitch your full-fledged startup to a panel of serial entrepreneurs and investors! Sounds scary? By now, hundreds and hundreds of students hace been coached through the semester: They all grow to triple size with pride on that last day after getting candid feedback from experienced entrepreneurs. Professionals who talk to them not as students but as fellow entrepreneurs.
The course is an incubator program (google that word): Highly structured, packed with tools and methods, with me as your coach. And of course, a multitude of Danish, Swedish, and German entrepreneurs and investors meeting you to share how they do it.
2. People think building a business is all about getting a grand idea. But brilliant ideas start with identifying significant problems. In fact, the primary reason that startups fail (and 90% do) is that they build something no one needs. They have an idea, but the underlying problem doesn’t really exist… except in their heads. Avoid that mistake by constantly testing your assumptions and ideas. Better to learn early that you are wrong than after two years of hard work, right?
3. Guess what! You don’t have to start a startup just because you’ve learned the ropes of entrepreneurship: A valuable aspect of entrepreneurship is that you learn how to spot opportunities, create solutions, and validate continuously. That skill set is also highly applicable when working within an established company, which is precisely what intrapreneurs do.
I mention this because students often come to me almost apologizing for not being sure that they eventually may want to start a startup. They just heard entrepreneurship mentioned everywhere and wanted to know more about that universe. Then I congratulate them on their constructive thinking and assure them they picked the right course. What they learn is useful wherever innovation is in demand!
4. Innovation is challenging and there are more failures than successes. But while nobody wants failures, they are often where you learn most.
That mindset has become essential to me and is key to lean startup (google that, too): The classroom a space where mistakes, doubts, and wild ideas can be shared safely. You get to use each other as your most trusted advisors to test uncertain assumptions and frail ideas from day one. Because becoming an entrepreneur takes courage, grit, open-mindedness, creativity… and more. What I don’t think it takes is any particular college degree: Nothing indicates that people with a business background, or finance, engineering, psychology, or design do better as entrepreneurs. What is clear, though, is that having a team with a diverse set of skills and backgrounds puts you on track to success. Let that be my last lesson…
5. Your idea is nothing without the right team to develop and execute it. A strong team culture is your best idea. Team before product!
Mikael Fuhr has over twenty years of experience in design management, innovation, communication, and leadership. He was a design manager and project manager in DSB – Danish State Railways, 1998-1999, Head of Design Vision Lab in DSB, Director of Design in DSB, and a Founding Partner in FUHR, 2011. Mikael has been with DIS since 2013.