Business Ownership: Do You Have What It Takes?

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Entrepreneurship is not all about the money to  Keith Pascal and Dr. David Preskill, who together launched TopTierMD.com this month.

“It’s more about the ride,” said Pascal, a serial entrepreneur who sold his last technology start-up, Savista, to a competitor  for millions. “I like the thrill of taking the idea and hitting milestones,” he said.

That attitude helps explain how Pascal, the son of an entrepreneur, and Dr. Preskill, an OB/Gyn with an entrepreneurial spirit, have launched a series of businesses since their youth. And it raises an age-old question about whether entrepreneurs are born or made.
The question has gained relevance as Americans seek to control their destinies in a lousy job market. “We’ve been inundated with buyers this year,” said Domenic Rinaldi, managing partner at Sunbelt Business Brokers in Chicago, which has been receiving more than 300 inquiries a month.  Many prospects are mid-level executives who have been laid off, but haven’t previously owned a business.

Given the required investment of time and money, most would benefit from knowing whether they’re cut out for business ownership and what type of business they should focus on, Rinaldi said.  With money and credit tight, “We’re seeing the margin for error being less than it used to be,” he said.

So Rinaldi has launched a buyer’s workshop designed to reduce the risk. He encourages prospects to take the ProfileXT test, which assesses thinking style, behavioral traits and occupational interests, and have the results explained by Louis Kertesz, president, Turning Point Consulting in Indio, Calif., who specializes in matching people with appropriate positions.

Whether they’re launching a business or buying one with plans to improve it, those most likely to excel in business ownership generally are high-energy, assertive, social, and decisive, Kertesz said. The ProfileXT test includes a cognitive measure of verbal and numeric skills and reasoning, which can help determine the type of business best suited for a particular business owner.

Some prospects will be better off buying a franchise that has systems in place, while others will want to design their own business improvements, he said.  Meantime, the data suggests business owners tend to have a high interest in sales, serving people and finance and administration, Kertesz said.

But the assessment “is not intended to be some `go, no-go gateway,’ like you have to get some score to own a business,” Kertesz said.  Instead, having low scores in key areas suggests the entrepreneur will need to find a partner  or employee strong in those areas to fill in the gaps.  Knowing that before taking the plunge can help a new owner figure out what’s needed to keep the business going, Kertesz said.

New academic research supports the notion that entrepreneurs come in all varieties. While entrepreneurial tendencies can be influenced by genetic factors, environment and attitude also are important, said Scott Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Shane’s forthcoming book, “Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders” (Oxford University Press), is based on research examining the entrepreneurial tendencies of 870 pairs of identical twins, who have the same genetic makeup, and comparing them to 857 pairs of fraternal twins who share half their genes.”There is a sizeable genetic component,” Shane said in an interview, but it doesn’t explain everything. Some entrepreneurs are genetically pre-disposed toward sensation-seeking or novelty-seeking activities. A high ability to recognize patterns may lead them to see business opportunities where others don’t. But environmental factors also contribute to entrepreneurship, Shane said. “Part of it is innate and part of it is the environment,” he said. “It’s lots of things added up.”

The starting point is a winning idea. Pascal and Dr. Preskill think they have one in the new TopTierMD.com Web site, which lists top doctors based on recommendations from area physicians, who were asked which doctors they would send their relatives to for treatment. The site, which also includes news content on medical topics, is designed to steer consumers to the best doctors, while helping physicians protect their practices, Dr. Preskill said.

It’s just the latest venture for both men, who have had the entrepreneurial bug since they were kids. “I’m a creative person. I’m always thinking of new ideas,” said Dr. Preskill, who grew up in Highland Park and used his bar mitzvah money to buy tar for a seal-coating business he ran as a teen-ager. He paid for most of his advanced education from his own earnings and has launched several other ventures, including Inner Vision Imaging, a device company, and ReachMD, providing medical information via satellite radio, he said.

Meantime, Pascal was involved with the start-up of Einstein Bagels and helped launch other several companies.

Experience does count. In fact, research shows those who grow up with a family business background and have inherited a high level of testosterone, associated with risk-taking, are more likely to start businesses than those with the genetics but not the family experience, said Rod White, associate professor of management at University of Western Ontario in Canada.

But being predisposed to entrepreneurship, either by nature or nurture, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be successful, White said. Some research indicates that on average, entrepreneurs end up financially worse off than if they had pursued employment, he said.
Despite the common perception that risk-taking and a high desire to excel are key entrepreneurial characteristics, White said, a willingness to reach out may be critical.  “The big one is the ability to use a network and other people’s resources effectively,” he said.

So far, a magic bullet hasn’t been identified. “Studies of traits of entrepreneurs have been around for a long time, but they haven’t broken through performance,” White said.

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