How are you finding opportunities?

Having been involved in ‘entrepreneurship education’ for close to a decade, I can tell you one thing — the weakest part of any entrepreneurship program is the ‘opportunity’ piece. Let me illustrate with a recent experience.

I met up with a few students who had undergone a complete year of entrepreneurship education. They had to do a two month market research on a product / service and write up a report. Based on the discussions with their faculty, they narrowed upon two ideas: (i) food distribution and (ii) nutrition bars. After worrying about how to go about doing a market research, they walked up to me (not sure why!), and asked ‘Sir, can you help us choose one of the two ideas?’ I did what I normally do – asked how they arrived at these two ideas / opportunities? They said many things but ultimately accepted that it was through ‘imagination’. So what they basically now wanted to do was ‘validate’ (which meant) ‘prove’ that their idea / opportunity was worth creating a business on. I spent the next 30 minutes explaining to them why this was wholly wrong. The surprising part – the two kids quickly latched on the idea of searching for opportunities, rather than spending two months validating one. My belief that students are really smart was proven once again.

How do you (aspiring entrepreneurs) find opportunities?

Opportunities can be either created or discovered. Discovery means going out to the world and identifying gaps. Creation means coming up with a need/want that is not yet felt. As an entrepreneur you got to choose which route you wish to take to finding opportunities. My rule of thumb is – if you are trying to figure out which route, take ‘discovery’.

Discovering opportunities means finding out gaps. The easiest ways to begin is to start out by identifying gaps in the industry side or the market side. On the industry side one can quickly draw out the value chain and start looking at ways to fill / improve / disrupt / etc what exists. On the market side, one can identify which needs are not fulfilled, which are underserved, and what can be better delivered. While none of these are exhaustive ways to locating opportunities, it is a good beginning.

My advice to these students was – identify a sector of your choice (interest); look at it deeply from either the industry side and/or market side; use all available secondary information first; identify and speak to at least 30 people involved in the sector; analyse all the information; and create a list of 25 hot opportunities in the sector. Create the report.

Do you think they will have spent their summer usefully?

Do you think they will have located more opportunities than they knew off before?

Do you think this is a better way to deliver entrepreneurship education than quickly fixing the idea and evaluating / validating it?

Share you thoughts! It matters!

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Virtual Reality – A trend to track

VR as it is popularly called, Virtual Reality is a trend to track. Even if you are not an entrepreneur who is attempting to become the Google or Facebook of the VR revolution, you will be caught up in this world within worlds.

As though the existing levels of ‘maya’ are not enough, VR is adding another level of ‘maya’ to our lives. As with all things in life, it comes with immense possibility to make lives better. Just imagine sitting at home and watching the Wimbledon, or spending a day at Disneyland, or actually living in space for a day or just being in a story instead of reading it. Many functions such as marketing, many industries such as entertainment and education may be changed forever when VR goes mainstream. And all of these opportunities comes from very little imagination in very little time from one little mind. Just imagine the possibilities.

Google and Facebook are already on it. And so are the many startups around the world. Start reading to know where this will take the world. At least the possibilities are promising!

Here are two links to start reading:

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3058308/the-perfect-vr-headset-is-actually-just-a-hoodie?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=fast-company-daily-codesign&position=1&partner=newsletter&campaign_date=03282016

http://www.fastcompany.com/3058259/most-innovative-companies/for-oculus-to-succeed-vr-needs-to-succeed?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=fast-company-daily-newsletter&position=1&partner=newsletter&campaign_date=03282016

Keep tracking and Keep reading!

Opportunities in Japan – A Hyperaging Society

One of the key activities that entrepreneurs engage in is opportunity identification and exploitation. The latter is not possible without the former. In the last post (https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/finding-opportunities-a-skill-for-entrepreneurs/) we discussed the importance of picking this skill – identifying opportunities. Here is a good case of why it is important and how it can be applied.

Japan is an ageing society. Now this may not be news to people who regularly read international developments. But what is interesting news for entrepreneurial folk is that this is a certain change that is shaping up. No one can probably change this change that is happening. But if we put on our entrepreneurial goggles and look at this change taking place, there are innumerable opportunities that present themselves.

Here are a few who have cited and started leveraging it creatively:

Ayumi shoes – by providing shoes for the old which helps them avoid slipping and falling while also keeping knee and joint pains low

Benry corporation – by providing daily use services like buying grocery and delivery at doorstep, cleaning homes, etc for the elderly

Kozocom – by creating a social networking platform for the elderly

While these are just a sample of how entrepreneurs identify opportunities and leverage them, what is important to learn is that there are changes taking place all around us. These have to be closely watched. The opportunities they present for the skills you possess need to be identified. Only if we learn the skill of clearly identifying opportunities will we be able to find them. If we don’t find many, we may not find the right one. The above is only one more illustration on the importance of seeing changes and finding opportunities. Hence it is important to learn this skill well.

How do we learn this skill? Read more here: https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/entrepreneurial-skill-sensing-opportunities/

Happy Searching!

How to find opportunities?

This is a question that aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small business owners constantly ask. Rarely do they get specific answers. This is because most people think ideas are opportunities. In my book “Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice” I spent a whole chapter trying to explain the difference between ‘ideas’ and ‘opportunities’ and how great businesses are built on their combination. But how does one actually find opportunities?

Here is one approach. Opportunities appear whenever there are changes taking place in the environment. If anything changes, there arises a need for something. This gives rise to opportunities. These may be problems, challenges, etc.,. But at the root of it all sits – change. In fact this is not anything new – Drucker (management thinker) wrote about it years ago. If this is so, the next question is – How do we find changes? At many times during the year, think tanks release trend analysis. Leading thinkers and think tanks suggest trends that are forming. Here is an example of one from the World Economic Forum website. The top ten trends extracted from their article for your reference (Link to WEF Article):

1. Deepening income inequality 

2. Persistent jobless growth 

3. Lack of leadership 

4. Rising geostrategic competition 

5. Weakening of representative democracy 

6. Rising pollution in the developing world 

7. Increasing occurrence of severe weather events 

8. Intensifying nationalism 

9. Increasing water stress 

10. Growing importance of health in the economy

Each of these trends also have detailed discussions on how they are changing the world around us – read whichever interests you. I am sure there are numerous other lists like these. Find and explore them – they will lead you to fresh opportunities. In the remaining post we will explore how we can dig into changes to find opportunities.

Are you wondering how these changes that are currently taking shape will create opportunities? Think again!

For example – lets take the case of ‘rising pollution’. If this trend attracts your attention, then you can look at all those who contribute to pollution (innumerable individuals and institutions) and those that are impacted by them (again innumerable). Why are firms polluting? Is it because they do not know an improved way of production? Are there better production methods or safer materials or improved machines? Can you design and create them? These solutions can be in various categories of pollutants – air, water, etc.,. Think deeper!

Another example: ‘growing importance of health’. If health interests you, look at all the obesity around you. Look at all the diagnosable diseases that were not diagnosed and resulted in irreparable losses to families and institutions. Can you create the next disease prediction algorithm? Can you create the next range of wearable medical devices? If you are a medical professional, can you look at improved chemical combinations to treat new diseases, especially lifestyle diseases. Think deeper!

If one looks at trends and then digs deeper, there is immense potential for discovering opportunities. The bigger the opportunity discovered, the bigger the changes of entrepreneurial success. Hence it is in the best interests of every entrepreneurial individual to learn how to locate opportunities – this is a skill worth picking up.

Are there other ways of locating opportunities? Do share your thoughts so that we can take this discussion further.

Entrepreneurial Skill: Sensing Opportunities

Even a person remotely associated with entrepreneurship will tell you that ‘sensing opportunities’ is a skill worth picking up for every entrepreneur. While entrepreneurs gain this skill early on, they rarely sharpen it and keep it alive through the entrepreneurial journey. This is why we see only a few entrepreneurs become extraordinarily successful, only a few become serial entrepreneurs and so on. Most others started the same way, but let their entrepreneurial abilities drop. Among the many things that this arsenal is made of, one important one is ‘sensing opportunities’.

How does one develop this skill?

For sensing opportunities one must learn to see changes, as changes are the source of opportunities. Underlying changes come in many forms – demographic, societal, cultural, political, technological, etc. If one learns the art of watching ‘changes’, then one can quickly identify opportunities that can open up.

What practices can help you see changes?

Reading the newspaper can help! When we read the newspaper we need to look for those articles that are not news today, but are factual changes being reported. While they are reducing day by day in the periodicals (as they are boring), they are the ones that signal up and coming changes.

Reading well written magazines, especially columns and editorials are good places to start noticing changes.

Thought Leaders in your domain or industry constantly keep sharing reports and data about changes taking shape.

Being out in the field and close to your customers / markets can give you indicators of what is happening. Customers normally keep telling you what is changing in their lives. When we listen, we hear them early.

How to know if any of these changes will become opportunities?

If you can keep a small journal and note down all the changes you come across, over a short period of time, you will start noticing opportunities. When a typical change is being reported over and over again, please know that the trend is slowly going to become talked about. You can have a head start by sensing it early. You can then brainstorm or seek help to figure the opportunities that could come up due to the change. You may then quickly narrow them down to what you and your company can help resolve. This leads to some possibility for innovation in your entrepreneurial firm.

But to keep this skill sharp we need to constantly practice it. Hence start the habit today. A little time everyday is a worthy investment on this endeavour and this will lead you to many profitable opportunities along the way.

Think about it!

How to find ‘Your Opportunity’?

Not every opportunity is your opportunity! This is important to accept because once you become opportunity prone, it becomes easy to keep finding them. As a skilled opportunity seeker, one learns to search for fundamental changes and resultant needs and challenges that it throws open.

Change being so fundamental keeps taking place constantly thereby giving rise to opportunities. Being sensitive to change makes one extremely opportunity prone. You suddenly start sensing opportunities just like how you used to get ideas. While one person utilizes the opportunity and creates a flourishing enterprise, thousands of others fail miserably while trying to tap into the same opportunity. This leads me to believe that much before business modelling or planning, it is important for an entrepreneur to find opportunities that connect both personally and professionally.

While it is easy to accept the professional test while choosing an opportunity, many entrepreneurs don’t check for the personal connect. Entrepreneurship is a highly emotional game. Hence it makes tremendous sense to ensure that we work in a domain that not only allows utilization of our competencies, but also is a space that is close to our heart.

One rarely comes across celebrated entrepreneurs who created enterprises across domains. Truly there are exceptions, but let them not define the norm. Hence an inherent aspect or factor of opportunity evaluation must be the entrepreneur’s connect. Find ‘your opportunity’ from among the many opportunities that you will come across before kick starting your venture.

Business Opportunities are Outcomes!

Any entrepreneurship course teaches opportunity identification and evaluation. While evaluation seems right to do so that risk of failure is reduced, searching for opportunities seems to always end up superficially. During the last few sessions I have been attempting to go the root of opportunity identification. This has resulted in exposing number of deeper challenges as well as lots more of opportunities too. In entrepreneurship, especially at the beginning – the more is always merrier!

So what leads to opportunities? What is the source of opportunities? What creates opportunities? The answer is the simple word – ‘change’. If there is no change, everything is as usual, and then there won’t be need for anything more than what exists! But sadly that is not true and is not going to be true at all. Let me repeat the cliché ‘Change is the only constant’ – how I wish we get to the depths of that simple statement. It gets scary and also ironically makes one who reaches the depth experience ‘freedom’ of a certain kind.

Whenever anyone wants to explore opportunities, find them; the best way is to search for fundamental changes; changes at all levels: demographic, social, cultural, industry, market, behavior, actions, etc and there is no dearth to where change can happen. If you can learn to watch for changes, you have acquired one of the most entrepreneurial skills. But it is easier said than done!

As one learns the skill to listen and discover changes, all potential repercussions become possible opportunities. Once we are able to see many of these repercussions, we may be able to select a few of them as potentially commercial opportunities worth solving. Finding them requires a methodical approach to evaluate opportunities. While there are frameworks to evaluate opportunities, the approach to looking up for changes to locate opportunities is still nascent.  Hence the need to look at this challenge is in my opinion an important aspect of entrepreneurship research!

Happy Thinking!