Turning a crisis into an opportunity

Entrepreneurship is the flavour of the month. First, read Fast, flexible and flourishing, a profile of the recipient of the Chemistry World Entrepreneur of the year 2012 award, Paul Workman. Then move on to Going solo and learn how five industrial chemists turned into start-up entrepreneurs and set up their own business, CatScI.

So how can we define entrepreneurship? Wikipedia describes it as ‘the act of being an entrepreneur or one who undertakes innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods’. Robert Kiyosaki, a US investor, businessman and self-help author, likens it to free falling: ‘Starting a business is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. In mid air, the entrepreneur begins building a parachute and hopes it opens before hitting the ground.’ The entrepreneur is thus regarded as an engine for job creation and economic growth, taking on all the initiative and often assuming much of the risk, financial and otherwise.

Of the two cases cited above, the most remarkable for me is that of CatScI. The said group of chemists lost their jobs and decided to start their own business using part of their redundancy package. The first reason why I think what they have done is remarkable is that these individuals have not got an entrepreneurial background and have had to transition from employee to entrepreneur and completely redefine their career path. As such, they’ll have to work on developing the characteristics and behaviours, such as leadership and vision among many others, that one would expect from an entrepreneur and that may not come naturally to them.

The second is that the response to the situation they faced shows tremendous resilience in the face of adversity, managing to turn a crisis into an opportunity. I rather admire them for this. They have engineered a future for themselves that allows them to be their own boss, pursue a passion and exploit a wealth of experience and expertise. But it won’t be easy. Getting the business to make money and paying bills and overheads plus living expenses at the same time will be hard. It takes an average of 3–5 years for new businesses to become profitable so there is a long wait before they can even begin to think about recovering their investment. There is the added difficulty of the current harsh economic climate, in which credit is at an all time low and potential clients will be proceeding with extreme caution when it comes to expenditure.

The third reason is that they have successfully avoided a common mistake that entrepreneurs often make, which is the belief that they can handle all of the start-up’s operations by themselves and try to do it alone. While often cost-effective, this may not the best use of their time. Entrepreneurs may frequently find they lack the necessary knowledge to be able to make informed decisions, for example around legal issues or securing funding. Therefore, the decision to team up with others in the same situation, with complementary knowledge and the hunger to ‘make it’ will hopefully prove to be a good one and allow this group of new entrepreneurs to successfully build the vital parachute that will ensure a safe and secure landing for CatScI.