US expert business is about the people
Business isn’t about the money, it’s about the people and that gives social enterprises a natural advantage in a competitive climate, a leading US business expert said.
“To succeed in business, you’ve got to understand your customer. Social economy businesses, by their nature, have to be connected to the community,” Dr Stephen Spinelli, President of the University of Philadelphia said during his talk on Thursday 15 March at Work West, a key agency supporting social enterprise in Northern Ireland.
He added that potential entrepreneurs are often frightened by lack of capital investment but that it was essential to push forward, even when the banks aren’t lending, because a good opportunity will eventually attract investment funds.
And he would understand that first hand. As a young 23 year old, just out of university, he and his football coach and two teammates started a business with virtually nothing but a good idea and a lot of perseverance. With no investment funds and a student loan hanging over his head, the group visited 39 banks to try to get a loan and were rejected time again. This was 1979, during the middle of a recession when interest rates in the US were nearing 20%.
But they had an idea for a service that had not been offered before – a quick ten minute drive through oil change – and they wanted to change the way Americans looked after their cars. Jiffy Lube was eventually started with investment from the coach and over 14 years became a nationwide success with 1,000 outlets.
Dr Spinelli was addressing a group of social entrepreneurs, politicians and business facilitators on the topic of Building Opportunities, Creating Entrepreneurs at Work West.
Work West is now recognised as a market leader in the provision of support for those operating within the social economy and has delivered a range of social economy support programmes to groups and individual social entrepreneurs across the Eastern Region for the past 20 years.
“It’s been fantastic to have an internationally renowned business expert come to Work West to speak specifically to social entrepreneurs. Times are difficult but Dr Spinelli shows that you can successfully start a business during a recession,” added Claire Ferris, agency manager.
Local MP Paul Maskey, who attended the talk, called for more support from Government for social enterprises and further collaboration between groups, business and other countries.
Dr Spinelli summed it up: “If you don’t collaborate, you will fail. It’s a tough time but working as a team can bring success.”