Through his experience studying successful businesses, researching patterns of success and business best practices, Tom Stewart has created a program that will help startups launch their businesses. The Entrepreneur Education Program, a joint effort between The NEO Center and Spartan Innovations, is currently preparing a small group of student entrepreneurs at Michigan State University launch startups. But his curriculum has been used with other companies, too, most notably many of the tenants of the Neo Center. At the center of the program, are Nine Organizational Competencies that businesses need to execute well if they are to be successful.
In his experience, Tom has found that in order to be successful, businesses typically need to be competent in these nine areas.
1. Strategy and planning
Strategy and planning is key to the success of any endeavor. Business need to learn how to plan and execute that plan.
2. Accounting and finance
Successful companies can adequately track and organize your finances.
3. Human resources
Every state has different hiring/firing laws. To be successful a company needs to know the regulations in their state.
4. Business law
The legal landscape impacts what and how a business can execute its plans. Knowing which ones are relevant have a significant impact on a company’s health.
5. Operations management and logistics
How to implement databases and procedures that can then be duplicated by team members throughout the organization.
6. Branding and identity management
Know who you are as an organization and learn to utilize your unique personality.
7. Strategic communications
Once you know who you are, learn how to communicate that through different channels.
8. Product and customer development
Get to know your customers.
9. Organizational leadership
Successful business owners know whether or not they are able to lead a team or if they are more comfortable working behind the stage.
These competencies apply to any business, though some may be more relevant than others, based on the specific industry. “Basically, no matter what you are doing,” says Tom, “making plates, an app, or publishing, you can use the core competencies across the board.”
While there are many frameworks for evaluating a business’ health, Tom’s focus on the Nine Core Competencies is useful for a number of reasons:
The Core Competencies Facilitate Evaluation
At the onset of the program, the participating businesses are evaluated on the bases of the nine competencies. Tom goes through a self-assessment questionnaire with each business; they are asked 40 questions, covering areas within each competency and rate themselves on a scale of 1-5, based on how well they believe they function in each area.
The questionnaire helps Tom evaluate where the business stands in each area. The process identifies what they know, where the gaps in the company are, and helps him to create a tailored curriculum based on that.
“It’s important for people (businesses) to understand where they are,” says Tom. “We want to know where the gaps are so we can plan where they need to learn or outsource.”
This approach provides a number of advantages, including a reduction of wasted time and the building up of a network. For instance, companies can begin learning about the areas they need the most help with before it becomes a major problem. Moreover, the NEO center can point them in the direction of people and resources that can help them build the skills they lack. For example, if a company rated itself “low” on the “Accounting and Finance Competency”, then The NEO Center can either help them manage that dimension or put them in touch with someone who can. “Recognizing their weaknesses and needs helps them grow their business,” says Tom.
The Core Competencies Facilitate Focus
Basing their curriculum around these Nine Competencies also allows the NEO Center to help businesses focus on the right metrics and areas to improve. And metrics matter, when it comes to execution. After the assessment, Tom can give participants in the program specific benchmarks regarding successful businesses, ie: “This company came in with a 3 in an area and left with a 5,” or “The most successful companies left with fives in these key areas, so that’s where we need to get you [and here’s how we’re going to do it].”
The data they are able to gather also helps when it comes to outsourcing and determining which companies they recommend as potential partners. The more data they collect, the more they will be able to evaluate and predict business behavior, allowing companies to create a sustainable business. Having a model of success gives the companies concrete goals to work toward.
The Core Competencies are Modular (Not Linear)
While most educational initiatives have a linear progression (finish step 1, move to step 2), this program allows businesses to focus on the areas they need the most help with, at the time they need the help. The companies can really dig into those areas, create strategies, try them out, and create new ones if they need to, without having to follow a strict path.
This is beneficial to entrepreneurs because:
- Entrepreneurs want what they want when they want it. They want the resources to overcome a problem as soon as that problem arises, and the means to solve it quickly. Not at the end of a 15 week course.
- Linear courses do not take into account already achieved expertise. Participants may spend weeks “learning” about things in which they are already proficient and waiting, not so patiently, to get to the information that is valuable to them.
- During these programs, participants get a ton of knowledge but they don’t have any time to put that knowledge to use. They don’t have the opportunity to develop a strategy and see if its works because they are already moving on to the next thing.
In its pilot phase, the program runs 15-18 weeks. Once the program takes off, it will run anywhere from 18-36 months, giving the participants plenty of time to put what they are learning into practice.
All businesses are different. All start out with different levels of expertise and all will grow at a different pace. Knowing this, it only seems appropriate that programs meant to help them succeed, should offer curriculums based on their expertise. Recognizing the areas where each company thrives is key to creating a beneficial curriculum. The Nine Core Competencies highlights those areas while illuminating where those same companies need the most help, creating a personalized program geared toward that businesses success.