Business Start-ups Are Like Orchids

Several months ago, my son brought home a flowerpot containing two bare sticks from the flower shop/urban café where he was working. Orchids, he told me. The owner said she didn’t think they would bloom. He rescued them from the trash.

So we watered and fed them for two or three months. The leaves came along nicely, but the sticks still looked like, well, bare sticks.

orchidsThat’s why I was so astonished a couple of weeks ago to see two blossoms on one of the twigs, with more budding out on both sticks. They are exquisite white orchids that amaze me every time I see them!

It struck me that the orchid story is an analogy for the business start-ups I’ve worked with or observed over the years. You can nurture them and support them and cajole them to take certain actions. It takes time for the new business idea to germinate and take root.  Research shows that maybe a quarter of these aspiring entrepreneurs actually create a new enterprise. In fact, most of them don’t bloom. But you never really know for sure which ones will burst into flower until they do.

Scott Shane points out in his book, Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By, that the majority of people starting new businesses enter a field they already work in, most of which are already saturated with small businesses (think massage therapists, construction, or pet grooming businesses). Many of these aspiring entrepreneurs have never been in business before and usually have not done an analysis of the market potential in their area before they decide to put out their shingle. 

In terms of “economic gardening,” not all start-ups are created equal. The ones with the most promise of high impact have several defining features. They have some kind of leg up on their competition—an innovative idea, process or product; they have a good management team to execute their idea; they have a solid market that is broader than the local region; and they want to grow their business (the majority of entrepreneurs don’t have a growth focus). These are the orchids. Daisies are far more common, of course, but they don’t have the same value (at least monetarily).

Perhaps the lesson here for local communities is to focus more time and resources on the orchids than the daisies, but to remember that daisies can also be a very important part of a beautiful garden.

(c) 2009 Christine Hamilton-Pennell 

Growing Local Economies

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3 Comments »

  1. Thank you for such a touching and apropos story. I know that for many of the ideas I have personally, I tend to be a daisy. It is difficult to focus on growing something day after day, when there are so many fun ideas (and potentially profitable ones) out there. I call it the butterfly effect. Yes, I know, it’s not the weather and physics version, but with all the flowers of business ideas out there, it is easy to flit from one to another. Sticking with one idea and plan requires work and vigilance that is difficult for many of us to maintain. As with your son’s orchids, though, the rewards can be beautiful when we do.

  2. Just want to say this is a great illustration, and Illusions of Entrepreneurship is a must-read. :)

  3. raymon decillo said

    thank you so much for your effort

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