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Entrepreneurship can be taught, writer says

Demand for such education is ‘off the charts,’ says MIT author of a how-to book

Bill Aulet says entrepreneurship should be considered a discipline.Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Bill Aulet is convinced anyone can be an entrepreneur. The director of the Martin Trust Center For MIT Entrepreneurship recently published a how-to for budding business owners to guide them through the ups and downs of launching anything from an Internet start-up to a pizza shop: “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 steps to a successful startup.” Aulet, a former IBM executive who also helped launch several start-ups, spoke to the Globe’s Michael Farrell.

Q. Why are more people pursuing entrepreneurship?

A. When you look at the other options, they really aren’t very appetizing. People are disenchanted with working on Wall Street. Working at a large company and getting a job for life — that option doesn’t exist anymore. People like Jeff Bezos of are the new rock stars of this generation. People like him are the ones changing the world.


Q. What’s the biggest mistake people make when starting out?

A. People tend to focus on what they want instead of what the customer wants. They start building a company and try to push stuff out instead of determining who the customer is and building the company for them.

Q. You argue entrepreneurship isn’t innate. So, can anyone learn how to run a successful business by reading your book?

A. Entrepreneurship can be taught. Is it being taught like math in a classroom? No. It has to be taught in a different way. The overall need the book is fulfilling is that overall demand for entrepreneurship education is off the charts. It used be close to zero. When I went to college there were no classes in entrepreneurship. It is hard to teach entrepreneurship, but we do it all the time. It doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed success. But entrepreneurship needs to be thought of like a discipline.

Q. So, is the book a way of bringing entrepreneurship education to the many people who aren’t able to study it at places like MIT?


A. Is it about helping what’s going on here in Kendall Square? Yes. It will help entrepreneurs in Kendall Square. But only a few thousand people can be added to MIT each year. The question is what do they do in places like Lawrence, where you’ve got a lot of young people looking for jobs. You can be like Sal Lupoli from Sal’s Pizza, whose business is growing because he understands how to be a successful entrepreneur. We are trying to take what people can get at MIT and bring it to the rest of the world.

Q. Your book has an illustration of the 24 steps to a successful start-up and there’s a pot of gold at the end. Isn’t that misleading since most start-ups fail?

A. People believe the failure rate in start-ups is something like 90 percent. That is not true at MIT. You’re going to experience failure throughout the process, but most people are going to succeed and keep marching on. We have to have people who are ambitious and reaching for these big goals. The gold doesn’t just mean money.

Q. Is failure in business something that should be celebrated more?

A. We have to accept that if we want innovation-driven entrepreneurship, failure is part of the process. We celebrate wisdom that comes from failure, but not just to say that it’s OK to fail. You’ve got to try to win. It’s got to hurt when you lose. But you can’t be afraid of it.


Q. For people who aren’t getting the sort of mentorship you provide at MIT, where can they go for help?

A. There are a lot of organizations rising up. There’s Techstars and Y Combinator that are teaching people how to do this. Those are for-profit. But the question is, are they just skimming from the top and preparing start-ups to get funded and claiming success? You can also go to the Small Business Administration, and some chambers of commerce are running programs, too.

Q. But at some point, are too many people pursuing start-ups? IBM and Google still need employees.

A. Everyone can’t be an entrepreneur. If you are going to have 50 percent of the people become entrepreneurs, who is going to work for them? There’s a saturation point, but we’re nowhere near it.

Michael B. Farrell
can be reached at