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“But I’m not an entrepreneur!” That’s the response I often hear when I first introduce the concept to some of my students or mentorship clients. They remind me that their motivation to be an advocate is borne out of their desire to use their talent and experience to help others, and to provide critical services: not to capitalize on the hardships of others.
Granted, those of us here in Silicon Valley probably throw the word around a little too much. And sadly, there are far too many examples of 20-somethings coming up with an idea, raking in millions, only to go out of business a year later. I’m certainly not suggesting that any of you try that, nor that labeling one’s self an entrepreneur is going to make you one. But, starting a business can, and probably should be an entrepreneurial venture: after all, you are creating a new business. So if you can start to think like an entrepreneur, doors will start to open. And clients will come your way.
So what does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Entrepreneurship is about taking a clear look at the obstacles, and then turning them into opportunities. It’s about thinking creatively about a problem in a way others have not. It’s about putting a fresh spin on an old problem and breathing new life into the process. Entrepreneurism is all about spirit: it’s about taking an age old problem, turning it on its head, and coming out with something better. Advocates have a unique opportunity to do just that, so why not embrace it?
This doesn’t mean that we are going to simply profit on people’s problems, or take advantage of our broken healthcare system. It means that we are going to create businesses that address the challenges by providing services that haven’t existed elsewhere, and that we’ll reframe solutions in a way that our clients will value, and pay for. That is entrepreneurship in a nutshell.
The foundation of entrepreneurship is passion: you can’t build a business without a sustained effort that is built on core values and a commitment to excellence. This is why I always suggest my students and mentoring clients take a look at Simon Sinek’s classic Ted Talk: you can’t be an entrepreneur without knowing why you’re in business, and what you bring to your clients. Those of us who come from the healthcare world know how hard it is to maintain this passion after years in the trenches. So when we create advocacy businesses, we may have to reawaken the early commitment we once had for our patients, and for the work. But when we make that connection back to ourselves, and the reasons why we wanted to work in healthcare in the first place, our entrepreneurial spirit can emerge.
There are a few key elements of entrepreneurship that bear repeating:
- Market your business based on what you believe, not just on what you do
- Don’t let negative comments from others diminish your enthusiasm or your commitment
- Be fearless: nothing comes from playing it safe, especially in business
- Try something different and demonstrate your creativity
- Ask for help when you need it: entrepreneurs need encouragement and support to sustain their efforts
I suggest that wear your entrepreneur label proudly! Remind yourself every day when you sit down to work, or when you visit with a client that you are forging a new road for others, that you are improving the healthcare system for those who use it next. Your work will not only help your clients, it will inspire others. You may not have created the next million-dollar app: but you are making one heck of a contribution to patients everywhere.