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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Entrepreneurship 101

It's not necessary to study to become an entrepreneur, but doing so will help you avoid common mistakes, shorten your learning curve or validate your assumptions.

By Maria Teresa O. Herrera

The increasing number of people putting up their own business has pushed three schools to offer entrepreneurship in their college and graduate curriculum. The Ateneo Center for Continuing Education holds regular seminars and workshops for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. The Asian Institute of Management is offering a master's degree, and Mirriam College an undergraduate degree, in entrepreneurship. While it's not necessary to go to school to learn to run a business, many entrepreneurs are finding out that it pays to study to avoid common mistakes, shorten their learning curve or validate their assumptions.

Of the many things drilled into his head at AIM's Asian Center for Entrepreneurship, Daniel Abelarde remembers being told to "shut up and listen to your customers." Abelarde, general manager of Herbcare Corp., maker of the best-selling Charantia, a food supplement with bitter melon as the main ingredient, spent P350,000 for the 18-month course. "The tuition depends on the size of your business. If your business is bigger, the rate is a bit higher," he says.

Compared with other courses that thrive in theories and case studies, AIM's course in entrepreneurship features no grades, quizzes or exams. Teachers decide if a student flunks or passes by looking at his business, and for this reason it requires each student to have a business to take up studies. "The business should be more successful after the completion of the course for the gurus to determine if you pass or flunk," says Abelarde, whose Herbcare business took off after he finished the course. Alejandro Ferreria, dean of the Asian Center for Entrepreneurship, says the master's program aims to transform the entrepreneur and his enterprise. "That is why one of the requirements for aspiring students is that they own and manage a registered business for a minimum of one year. What they learn from the course is translated into practical strategies and programs that can be immediately applied to their business," he says.

Abelarde, a graduate of applied physics from the University of the Philippines, says his 18-month course thought him the value of marketing, finance and human resources. But a degree in entrepreneurship gives you only so much. "In business you can't be sure of anything. What you need to value is the fact that you have gained experience, knowledge and skills that no one can take away," he says. "Gut feel is still key. A master's degree teaches you to validate, but you can only validate so much. The day an entrepreneur ignores his gut feel is the day entrepreneurship dies."

Grace Carlos Go learned to have "a vision, a long-term goal and a game plan, among other things, from her undergraduate entrepreneurial course at Miriam College. Go, owner of B+2G Ticketing Office, a two-year-old company offering airline and shipping tickets and local and international tours, says she took the course on her parents' advice. "At first I felt it was not for me, but after my second year I learned to love it," she says. The course taught her the value of teamwork, risk-taking, creativity and innovation, and business and management skills. It allowed students to make mistakes "because mistakes are part of learning."

The course also required business simulation. "Our group decided to write about the potential of a day care center in Salcedo Village in Makati, and though we didn't earn from the project, we proved it was feasible," says Go. Tony Lopez, chairman of Miriam's Entrepreneurship Department, says business simulation allows students to do everything related to putting up a business: from conceptualizing it to registering and running it. "Mingling with entrepreneurs is likewise very important," he says. "That is why we made interaction with entrepreneurs a part of the curriculum. We also encourage our students to attend international symposiums, workshops or seminars."

Go says it's an advantage to study entrepreneurship, but learning from real-life situations is still more important. Haresh Thakur, vice president of Sitla, an importer of musical instruments, agrees. "I know a lot of successful businessmen who don't have a business diploma or certificate," he says. "A degree is not a guarantee of success. It's more important to venture into something that you love or enjoy doing." Thakur, who finished only high school, eventually assumed management of the company that his parents started with P600,000 in capital 1992. Today it grosses P3 million a year.

"When my parents first came here my father put up a department store in Baguio City, were they settled," he says. They moved to Manila and put up Sitla after the deadly earthquake of 1992, and eventually Luau, a bar and grill, in Makati. "It was my father who showed me the ropes," says Thakur. "All I have is gut feel."

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