MIT’s Bill Aulet Debunks Seven Myths about Entrepreneurship

Aulet’s Hartford Club Lecture sponsored by Bradley, Foster & Sargent

HARTFORD, CT, May 2, 2014 – In what was President James F. Jones’s final appearance as a co-host at the annual Bradley, Foster & Sargent, Inc. lecture at The Hartford Club, Bill Aulet of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a talk entitled, “The Myths of Entrepreneurship,” suggested that anyone with a great idea and the right personality and mindset could be the next Steve Jobs.

Aulet, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, told a luncheon crowd that when he was in college in 1980, people didn’t even know about entrepreneurship. “Now entrepreneurship is the cool new thing.” The MIT Center supports and fosters student entrepreneurship education inside and outside the classroom.

Trinity President James F. Jones, Jr. presents a plaque to Bill Aulet of MIT, the guest speaker at a Hartford Club luncheon sponsored by Bradley, Foster & Sargent, Inc., Trinity College, and the University of Connecticut School of Business. Photos by Thomas Hurlbut.
This was the fifth annual luncheon sponsored by Bradley, Foster & Sargent, a Hartford-based investment advisory firm that provides students from the University of Connecticut’s School of Business and Trinity the opportunity to serve as interns. It’s estimated that about 100 students have participated in the firm’s internship program.

The author of 24 Steps to a Successful Startup, Aulet said it was his goal, in part, to dispel the seven “whopping lies” about entrepreneurs, which he proceeded to do. The first, he said, is that they are mercurial individuals. “Not true,” he declared, explaining that nurturing a successful idea to fruition is a team sport not an individual sport.

The second myth is that entrepreneurs are “super high achievers.” Again, not true, he asserted. They’re generally not the valedictorians of their class but rather individuals who figure out what they want to do and how they need to do it. “Credentials don’t matter.”

Third, the notion that entrepreneurs are born, not made, is “hogwash.” There’s no such thing as an entrepreneurial gene, he said, adding that the spirit and skills needed to get a job done are acquired. Aulet also said it was hogwash that entrepreneurs love risk. “It’s about managing risk and knowing what to do about it.”

The fifth myth is that entrepreneurs are charismatic. The data, he said, don’t bear that out. To the contrary, entrepreneurs know how to execute plans and get things done. “They have a solid vision.”

Sixth is the idea that entrepreneurs are lucky. Rather, they seize the opportunity and are prepared for it. And seventh is the notion that entrepreneurs are undisciplined. They are, however, willing to be different, but they still have to be able to “execute like heck,” he said.

Aulet concluded his remarks with this characterization of a classic entrepreneur: someone who has the spirit of a pirate and the discipline of a Navy Seal.

At that point, Jones assumed his role as the inquisitor, lobbing questions at Aulet that members of the audience had written on slips of paper.

Aulet noted that immigrants seem to dominate his classes and that they’re intrigued by the idea that they can do something that’s never been done before. “It’s not failure that they’re looking for; its intelligent experimentation.” The best entrepreneurs also understand, said Aulet, that the ability to change the world is more important than earning a fortune.

Asked whether a city such as Hartford could encourage entrepreneurship and if so, how, Aulet said he’s learned from traveling around the world that the most important criteria are creating and fostering a culture that celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit.

Another member of the audience asked why entrepreneurship has grown so dramatically in recent years. Aulet confirmed that is so, and he pointed out that it was not large corporations that are creating jobs. Rather, from 1980 to 2005, 40 million net new jobs were created in the United States and that 80 to 90 percent were the result of entrepreneurs. “America has embraced innovation,” he said.

But so have other countries, Aulet said, noting that Finland has a national day of failure. “There has to be a culture that accepts failure. Young people understand that.”

Should government help entrepreneurs or get out of the way, was yet another question from the audience. Aulet said it is not an either-or proposition. “Government plays an important role early on but government shouldn’t be in the business of running companies because it thinks in a bureaucratic way.”

Lastly, Aulet noted that contrary to popular belief, not all entrepreneurs are young adults who drop out of college. Indeed, the average age of a successful entrepreneur is someone in his or her 30s.

“It’s never too late,” he said, adding that there are a host of intractable problems waiting to be solved, whether in the area of health care, the environment, or energy. “Historically, entrepreneurs are going to solve those.”

Before arriving at MIT, Aulet worked at IBM for 11 years and ran two companies, Cambridge Decision Dynamics and SensAble Technologies. He was later recruited as chief financial officer to help biometrics firm Viisage Technology achieve a dramatic turnaround.

Aulet earned his undergraduate degree in engineering from Harvard University, and he holds a master’s degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. A former professional basketball player, he lives in Belmont, MA.