BY: ANTHONY AYALA
The Judd Leighton School of Business hosted its eighth speaker in the Entrepreneur Lecture Series on Nov. 5. Alan Steele, an IU South Bend Alum, is the Regional Director of North Central Indiana Small Business Development Center. The lecture focused around starting and managing small business.
“The reality that we find is that most entrepreneurs did not receive a formal business education. So there are people out there starting and running businesses that don’t really have an educational background to be a foundation of what they are doing,” said Steele.
Steele’s organization addresses this issue through four things. One on one free consulting session. They supplement those sessions with educational programing. In addition they provide access to a variety of data and information resources. Finally they help connect clients with specialists.
“Starting a business is not for everybody. The answer I get is ‘I don’t like my boss, ‘I don’t like the company I work for.’ What we are dealing with there is someone who is disgruntled and trying to change his or her environment,” said Steele.
Steele learned early on that the first thing he had to gain a sense of was a client’s motivation. Steele says that many of aspiring entrepreneurs don’t launch because of the mindset that they have. If you want money, it would be easier to get a job. He finds that people who have a sense of mission or feel a calling are more likely to be successful.
“Where we see the divergence, many entrepreneurs once they have developed their solution they get fixated on that. Their solution becomes what is all important and I would go so far as to say they fall in love with it,” said Steele.
Steele believes that if an entrepreneur focuses too heavily on the solution they forget the problem. However, if they focus on the problem it allows a broader focus. An entrepreneur would be constantly innovating and creating more ideas. It will lead to more sustainable differentiation and allow an entrepreneur to become a market leader.
“There are studies that say that 40% of startups that fail did not conduct product fit. What that essentially means is that companies have gone to market with a product or service that is not in line with what their customer wants,” he said.
Steele believes the solution to this problem is customer discovery. Identify your target customers and go talk to them. People who advocate this type of approach will tell you that 100 interviews is what you should do to access your target market. This allows an entrepreneur to provide enough value to sustain the customer’s interest.
There is no path that takes you to doing this work. Steele believes if you are curious, like variety and like trying to help people, then working in a small business development center may be a good fit. He cautions that you don’t get rich doing it but it is rewarding.
In 2015, IU South Bend became the Center’s regional host and their offices relocated to the Leighton School.The center is one of ten in Indiana focused on helping small business owners and entrepreneurs. By Sept. 30, 2017, Steele and his staff have helped start 332 new businesses. In addition they helped companies raise more than $89 million in capital.
Steele has worked at the center for over ten years. In that time he has helped 1050 different entrepreneurs and assisted 92 businesses startups. Additionally, the center helped businesses raise 15 million dollars in capital and create 394 jobs.