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September 2012
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TD Magazine

The Entrepreneur (Experience) Imperative

The Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab studies entrepreneurial behaviors in the workplace in an effort to better develop and support entrepreneurship in today's jobs-starved economy.

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Intelligence5
To create a groundswell of entrepreneurship, we need to rethink what entrepreneurship is and what it can be. What if we engaged new venture creators and entrepreneurs inside—those thinking and acting entrepreneurially within organizations—in a real-world effort to transform entrepreneurship? Could we significantly improve their experience? Could we inspire many more people in both start-up and employment contexts to choose entrepreneurship as a path? Could these changes produce the jobs the United States needs annually to sustain its workforce and a new economic outlook?

The Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab (eLab)—a partnership between Babson College and the Business Innovation Factory—was formed as a laboratory that puts the voices and experiences of real-world entrepreneurs at the center of an ongoing effort to design, develop, and test new education and support solutions for entrepreneurs of all kinds.

By deeply understanding the experiences of entrepreneurs and also engaging them in the conceptual development of wholly new experiences, the eLab is advancing new thinking about the entrepreneur experience through the lens of entrepreneurs themselves, and using this understanding to establish a platform for experimentation. At the heart of our collaboration is the belief that there is a better way—that our current definitions of entrepreneurship, our narrow focus on the famous and few, and our well-intended but insufficient support systems won't get us where we need to go fast enough.

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In its first phase of activity, the eLab team engaged new venture entrepreneurs from well-known entrepreneurial hotspots and their lesser-known counterparts throughout the United States to create a first-person, national characterization of the new venture creation experience. In its second phase, the team sought entrepreneurs who are creating value inside a diverse mix of organizations.

Insights emerging from this phase of work reveal opportunities for initiatives and innovation. For instance, entrepreneurs inside have developed experimentation skills that can strengthen an organization's success and failure responses, which is critical for organizational adaptation and growth. They also are masters at recombining what's available within an organizational framework to reach new people in different ways; are adept storytellers who can help organizations see where and why they should change and how they should act; and are creating opportunities for themselves and others that lead to talent retention.

The team is now working to identify and establish experimentation environments in the domains of both new venture creation and entrepreneurship inside. This work will lay the foundation for systemic experimentation, where programs and services for today's entrepreneurs and future generations of entrepreneurs can be developed and tested within an integrated, real-world environment.

About the Author

Christine Costello is design director at the Business Innovation Factory, developing its human-centered design methods, and the director of the Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab.

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