Prof. Ashish Bhatia
A challenge grounded in research
I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and its intersection with where people can discover their personal career journey.
I’ve studied entrepreneurship programs in some of the most selective business schools like Wharton, UVA Darden, and Toronto Rotman.
Our research makes the case for opening up a full spectrum of approaches to entrepreneurial engagement that can employ practices that leverage your intuition, pragmatism, and humanism.
As myself and others around the world teach with this full spectrum of tools, we are however realizing that one ingredient remains missing.
The need for students to take their own initiative in their learning
This can be done in courses where students can have experiential projects...
But it can also happen just as easily outside of the classroom.
So in 2022, I launched the Founder Challenge as a way for students to work in a community with the full spectrum of entrepreneurial methods to take action, shift their mindset, and create purpose. I hope you join in on the challenge!
4 headwinds faced by entrepreneurs
In research conducted on selective MBA programs, Prof. Bhatia interviewed over a dozen student founders to learn about their motivations and challenges as they pursued entrepreneurship. What he found was that there was a consistently four headwinds each student had to overcome in order to pursue their entrepreneurial journey: resources, cost, the idea, and affiliation.
Can I ask others for help?
Can I overcome the opportunity cost?
Is my idea worth pursuing?
Am I willing to forgo affiliation?
Is my idea worth pursuing?
Students often have many venture ideas. The challenge is knowing whether their idea is worth pursuing. The problem is that one can't know for sure until they pursue it. Thus, the first headwind student entrepreneurs face is having the confidence that your idea is worth pursuing.
Can I ask others for help?
Students may have convinced themselves that their idea is worth pursuing yet struggle to convince themselves that their idea is worth discussing with others, seeking their support, obtaining a resource, or getting feedback from a potential customer. This challenge of asking others for help on one’s venture is tied to an individual’s personal confidence or commitment to the venture idea and experience and putting oneself in a vulnerable position. It is a challenge that most student founders or supporters face in their entrepreneurial journey.
Is it worth what I'm giving up?
For student founders there are a number of significant competing obligations such as student debt, family expectations of a “successful” career with big brand names like McKinsey, Google, or Goldman Sachs. Against these opportunity costs, starting or joining an unproven venture with no brand recognition as well as lower salary and benefits can feel like a risky lifestyle choice.
Can I go it alone?
When people think of entrepreneurs, they frequently imagine fame and prestige, but often the journey to success is a lonely one—which is also the case for student founders. Beyond spending so much time in their heads grappling with their own doubts about their ventures, student founders forgo many common student experiences. While friends might be enjoying a typical summer working as a summer intern in the city, you might be testing your product in smaller market segment without any income. And even during the school year, while classmates fret about finals and weekend activities, you might be fretting about your latest prototype without anyone around that can relate.
The Missing Ingredient:
In order to overcome these headwinds or challenges, one must undertake, commit, or pledge themselves to the path of pursuing their entrepreneurial endeavor. For those that do undertake this commitment, its clear that while they still struggle against these headwinds, they no longer let them become impediments to them taking action and moving forward.
And it is with this research on student entrepreneurs coupled with the concept of undertaking that we begin to understand the logic of the Founder Challenge. Entrepreneurship actually translates to "undertake" in its original French. While the word undertake is not often used in english, its clear that the meaning behind this word is still very relevant as it puts the emphasis on the commitment, the promise, the responsibility of overcoming what needs to be overcome in pursuit of what can be around the corner.
When you commit to the Founder Challenge, you are taking that first step in your pledge to yourself on this journey.
Plunge or Pledge?
Entrepreneurship is rife with false myths; among the most pervasive and destructive of these fables is that entrepreneurs are those rare individuals that takes a shocking risk by trading off their stable career and lifestyle in favor of launching their own venture, to the horror of their friends and family. However, they come out on top having starting a successful company, taking it public, and getting rich in the process. All in one smooth, seamless attempt. Professor Sarasvathy calls this the “plunge,” and while it may be catchy and make good material for blockbuster films about Silicon Valley, it isn’t grounded in reality.
Rather, research on successful founders across varied industries shows that these individuals are defined by their continuous entrepreneurial efforts. The entrepreneur’s journey is a series of successes and failures, and entrepreneurship is more like the art of learning to outlive failures and successes over time. Thus, ‘undertaking’ a venture is not something done in a single moment, but a continuous commitment over time.
The Founder Challenge Pledge is the antithesis of the plunge; it is the commitment an aspiring founder makes to oneself to begin the entrepreneurial journey and to persevere in spite of numerous setbacks across their career, knowing that entrepreneurship is not a 0-1 variable (Sarasvathy, 2002).
What Venture Should I Pursue?
Many students are overflowing with possible ventures or problems they want to solve. Young people bring new and insightful perspectives to the world that sees and reveals problems that older generations can't identify. Rather, the difficulty for promising student entrepreneurs is determining what venture to pursue.
The answer to this common problem is actually simple: whichever one you can pursue. We at the Founder Challenge encourage all aspiring founders to take stock of their entrepreneurial options, evaluate which among these is both most feasible and most compelling, and to pursue it.
It's important to remember that the entrepreneurial life is more akin to a pledge or undertaking, than a plunge. Many opportunities arise for those that pledge themself to the career of a true entrepreneur, and it is impossible to foresee where you will be taken and what you will work on if you undertake this path. Allow yourself the freedom to fully embark on this journey by narrowing your sights on a single opportunity and undertaking that venture.
If you are having trouble determining where to start, the four action methods can help you get started on your venture.