Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Entrepreneurial Mindset, Turning Problems into Profits

(2nd in a series of three articles on entrepreneurship)

Entrepreneurs naturally believe that there is a solution for every problem, and that every solution represents an opportunity to start a business and make money.  This isn’t news really, we all know it.  Think about every product or service that you’ve every purchased. You bought them to solve a problem… whether a car to get you to work, a flashlight to see in the dark or a scarf to stay warm on a cold winter night. 

And sometimes one solution can lead to another.  Take the telecommunications industry.  Over 150 years ago, Alexander Graham Bell encountered a problem close to home (i.e., both his mother and wife were deaf), and his research on hearing devices led to his discovery of the telephone in 1876.  Interestingly, soon after introducing the telephone, Bell offered to sell the patent outright to Western Union for $100,000 and the president of Western Union balked, countering that the telephone was, “nothing but a toy.”  Two years later, he told colleagues that, “If he could get the patent for $25 million he would consider it a bargain.”  And now the telecommunications industry, from facsimile machines to iPhones, represents billions of dollars in revenues and the proliferation and complexity of devices is growing. 

The underlying principle that anyone can follow is to change your thinking about problems, and start to consider them as an opportunity to start a business.  In fact, most entrepreneurs seek out problems, and as many have told me, they actually “love problems.” 

In a similar vein, I ask my students at the beginning of all of my entrepreneurial studies courses to make a list of problems they encounter in their lives, especially ones that they complain about regularly, and then brainstorm 2-3 solutions for each that they could turn into a viable business proposition. 

A common problem that many of my students pointed to this last semester was the parking congestion on campus.  Although speaking personally, I’d say that parking is much more accessible than it was when I attended UNM in the early 70s (as I can attest to given the number of parking tickets I paid back then), but I’m sure there are still many opportunities for improvements.  Their answers make for a fun read:

• Lease third party properties near campus and rent parking spaces for a reduced cost to students.  
• Add a “Smart Shuttle Service” that takes students directly to their classrooms, or maybe something like the bike taxis you can rent in New York City, although a robot driver would be worth considering… just plug in your classroom and the vehicle (whatever type) will take you directly to your classroom door.  
• Create an APP showing where there are open parking spots or where the various buses are enroute real time.
• Offer more online courses so students don’t need to come to campus. 
• Promote carpooling and offer a paid membership service to match students based on their locations, availability, etc.
• Work with homeowners near campus to rent parking spots in front of their homes (i.e., you could share some of the funds generated with local Homeowner Associations in trade for promoting your new Neighborhood Parking service).
• Invent a mechanical system for parking cars “vertically” rather than horizontally, to open up more space in the parking garage. 
• Create a car that can be folded up into a box and easily carried to class. 
• Develop a campus-wide subway system or above ground UNM Monorail (like Disneyworld).  See the following link work that is already being done in this area
• Offer a shuttle service for students like an elementary school bus route…
• Sell electric or solar-powered roller blades, skate boards, long boards, bicycles, etc.
• Offer rental bicycles, Segways or skateboards that are available at various distribution points around campus… to pick up at one location and drop off at another… similar to the luggage cart rentals at the airport or car sharing services like Zipcar (
• Offer a hotel-like concierge service!

That last one is my favorite.  And this is just a short list of the hundreds of ideas my students offered to solve this problem and several other problems. I think the most interesting thing that comes from this line of thinking though is that you personally quit complaining about problems, or issues, or difficult situations that you encounter.  Instead you use them as the foundation for a discussion on solutions and profitable opportunities.  So what problems would you work on to start your entrepreneurial journey? 

I’ll explore other aspects of starting a small business in future blog articles including the 3rd in this series:  11 Hot Small Business Ideas You Can Start While in College.  In addition, UNM offers a wide range of entrepreneurial courses to choose from.  Be sure to schedule an appointment with your Admissions Counselor to explore the many options available to you.  

(Mr.) Stacy Sacco, teaches courses in entrepreneurial studies at Anderson School of Management and serves as the Associate Director of the UNM Small Business Institute. Sacco previously worked for WESST, an SBA-funded micro-lender that helps start and grow small businesses and hosts a small business incubator in downtown Albuquerque. For more information, contact Stacy at or 505-277-1138.

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