Entrepreneurial leaders identify and solve problems.
Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze, describes it more emotionally. He says entrepreneurial leaders need to develop a deep passion for a problem and attack it with everything they’ve got. Naysayers will tell them their ideas will never work, so they have to be willing to fight for it.
“You have to be in love in order to go on this journey,” Levine says.
Levine was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Babson Global Entrepreneurial Leadership (GEL) Forum on March 5–6. The virtual event—conceptualized by student co-chairs Aakriti Narang MBA’21 and Deepak Lachman Punjwani MBA’21—replaced three large annual events: Babson Entrepreneurship Forum, Babson India Symposium, and the Babson Latin America Conference.
Babson College President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD opened the forum with praise for the student leaders who exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset that defines Babson. The forum and their theme, “Crisis, Change & Opportunity: Creating a Better World,” illustrated the need for those characteristics amid all of the global challenges we face today.
“The traits of entrepreneurial leaders—agility, risk tolerance, resilience, passion, and imagination—are more relevant and necessary than ever,” Spinelli said.
Passion for Problems
Passion in problem solving is something that is key to Levine’s process. Finding a common problem you feel strongly about, Levine says, whether that feeling is love or hate, is important to an entrepreneur’s success.
When starting out, launching something that is “good enough” is fundamental, Levine said. Each iteration will be better and better, but it’s likely you will start with something you might be embarrassed by down the road. He describes the entrepreneur’s pathway of failures as something everyone experiences as they are starting a new venture. Taking the stigma out of failure and recognizing it as an important part of the process can prevent someone from waiting until their idea is perfect before launching it.
Passionate doesn’t even begin to describe Stephen Ritz. The keynote speaker on the first day of the GEL Forum, he is the founder of Green Bronx Machine. Ritz’s enthusiasm and dedication jumped off the screen as he described how he turned the worst neighborhood in the Bronx into a thriving community that grows its own food and serves its schools by creating education around food and nutrition. The curriculum he developed is being used by educators around the world and has helped students become more engaged, global citizens.
“You have to be a lifelong learner. The learning doesn’t stop when you leave Babson.”
Alison Kenney Paul, vice chair and U.S. CPG retail leader at Deloitte
Define Your Circle
Of course, entrepreneurial leaders don’t solve problems alone. They mobilize and motivate teams, and they need a network of people to help them reiterate and grow.
Pooja Dhingra, owner of bakery chain Le15 Patisserie, told the GEL Forum that she has only a few really close people she goes to for advice. Whether it is a mentor or a fellow business owner who has gone through the same things before, defining a core circle of advisors whose advice you trust and take to heart is important, she says.
Alison Kenney Paul, vice chair and U.S. CPG retail leader at Deloitte, sought out mentors along each step of her career. When she started, Paul found colleagues who took interest in her career and gave her straight advice to help her advance. As you seek to grow your network, she says, look for people who can speak highly of you when you’re not in the room. These mentors, Paul said, are the people who advocated for her to get promotions and are partially responsible for how she got where she is today.
Paul encouraged attendees to pursue these career advocates by starting from a place of generosity. Ask them how you can help them with something, and then when you get a chance to help, show them why you’re the best at what you do.
Paul rounded out the forum echoing Spinelli’s notion of entrepreneurial leaders staying agile in their entrepreneurial journey. It allows them to adapt to changing economic situations, your changing career, and it will help keep things interesting.
“You have to be a lifelong learner,” she says. “The learning doesn’t stop when you leave Babson.”