Entrepreneurial spirit can’t be taught

I have been giving talks on entrepreneurship to business leaders, college students and other groups for the past few years.

The most common question I’m asked by college students is how did I know I was an entrepreneur and what classes should they take to become one themselves.

I answer them with a rhetorical question: Are you obsessed about something right now?

Is there a problem in the world or a process you see that you just can’t stop thinking about in the shower, in class and late at night?

If there is, I point out in a Jeff Foxworthy-like tone, then you might be an entrepreneur.

Santa Clara is Catholic Jesuit university located in the Silicon Valley in California, arguably one the most entrepreneurial places on the planet.

Over the past two decades, the unique blending of ideas, capital and energy there has re-shaped the type of student they attract.

“There are lots of really smart people and lots of really creative people in businesses and institutions today,” explained an admissions staffer on a recent visit. “We call them smart-creatives here in Silicon Valley. But to be a leader for tomorrow, people must be especially trustworthy and at the same time obsessive about solving a problem.”

Santa Clara “seeks to admit and develop students who have natural entrepreneurial traits and are likely, just as the Jesuits did when they formed 450 years ago, to do heroic things.”

Nearly one-third of their student body were captains of a sport in high school and more than 70 percent held leadership positions earned by a vote of peers, he added as a point of emphasis.

“They are top students, but they are also people whom others trust to lead them.”

Down the road from Santa Clara, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, the two men who transformed Google into world dominance today, offer a similar take of the modern entrepreneur in their book, “How Google Works.”

They write about a pivotal point in the mid-2000s when they launched their ambitious business plan that had, as a unique set of features, no marketing or advertising strategy, no budget, no department heads and no formal tactics.

What their plan did have, they noted, was an obsessive, entrepreneurial idea built over a transparent, open and honest platform.

It worked.

My journey in real estate with my very dynamic business partner and brother, Shawn Hoban, has been similarly obsessive and decidedly entrepreneurial, I tell students.

Recruiters today up-sell a healthy live-work balance and applicants for leadership positions they send our way often ask about that.

We have an answer, of course.

But the question itself often creates a separation for us right away because for most entrepreneurs there’s no on-and-off switch where you live in one place and you work in another.

You’re just “on” all the time.

The truth is, like most entrepreneurs, some of our ideas work, some don’t. With experience, you try to reduce the number that don’t.

As I explain to students, though, the obsession of being the best at something never goes away and in entrepreneurs it’s hard to kill.

Santa Clara University is tapping into that entrepreneurial spirit as it works to develop tomorrow’s leaders. Google became a verb in the English language because of it.

Entrepreneurship can’t be taught through a book or a class, I always tell them.

It’s a way of seeing the world and engaging in it. It’s the “it” in “it factor.”

Tom Hoban is CEO of The Coast Group of Companies. Contact him at 425-339-3638 or tomhoban@coastmgt.com or visit www.coastmgt.com. Twitter: @Tom_P_Hoban.

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