It All Starts “Up Here”

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Word Count: 975
Est. Time to Read: 5 mins.

We have all heard it before. That sage wisdom offered by so many: “Get your head straight first.” “It’s what’s in your head that counts.” “Think first, then act.” “It’s a mind game.” – and so on.

In the world of small business building and entrepreneurialism, those words ring true.

As part of North Carolina’s Small Business Center Network, I have the opportunity to meet and assist many in our community who are working to start their own businesses. I hear many ideas from many different people…some ideas are simply different, some are new and creative, while still others take a new twist on an existing product or service.

When working with budding entrepreneurs, predictable questions always arise. “What do I need to do to make sure my business works?’ “How much money do I need for my business”, etc. While all questions are good because they express realistic concerns from these business-builders, it just may be that the right questions are not being asked.

This past December I had the opportunity to participate in an Entrepreneurship program called Ice House sponsored by NC Idea, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting entrepreneurship throughout our state. Ice House identified characteristics that many entrepreneurs share. Contrary to the thoughts of many, it is not having a rich uncle providing start-up funding that is the most important trait. It is creating for oneself, the proper mindset.

What is the Ice House? The Ice House was the business Clifton Taulbert’s uncle owned in Mississippi in the late 1950’s, providing ice to farms and homes in the area. Clifton worked for his Uncle Cleve, learning life lessons and gaining business experience which led to his own successful business career and meeting entrepreneur Gary Schoeniger, with whom he collaborated with on the Ice House training program and a book titled Who Owns the Ice House?.

Most people think entrepreneurs are born with a special trait…or born into a large bank account. Schoeniger and Taulbert disagree with this notion, and explain that the keys to being a successful entrepreneur include developing the right mindset and building key skills that don’t require a ton of capital (but do require a great deal of practice).

  • Entrepreneurs recognize that they have the power to choose…they understand what they can and cannot control, and they do not let circumstances slow them down. Too many of us let the outside noises distract us from progress…while the entrepreneurs plow ahead.

  • Successful entrepreneurs recognize problems as opportunities. Entrepreneurs focus on solving problems which are of value to others—their future customers. Many start-up failures occur when someone comes up with a “solution”, and then searches for the problem it might solve. I refer to this as the “meatloaf” example, when someone visits our Small Business Center excited about their meatloaf recipe, and they assure me that their family loves it. I have to remind them that the recipe may be great, or they may have a very polite family. The key to determining whether an idea can be a successful business is getting feedback from potential customers …asking whether the idea is of value to them, whether they would buy it, and how much they would pay for it. Getting this input is critical to determining whether an idea can be turned into a viable business.

  • Entrepreneurs are action-oriented and don’t fall into the trap of over-analyzing their ideas into inaction. There are many reasons why we don’t act—fear of the unknown, fear of failure, reacting to naysayers, or simply bad timing—but the true entrepreneurs don’t let these things stand in their way.

  • Entrepreneurs pursue knowledge, and recognize that their existing skill set can only take them so far. They are curious, life-long learners who find ways to add to their knowledge base, whether it be in the classroom or by meeting and interacting with others.

  • Entrepreneurs create wealth, but not by buying expensive sports cars. Entrepreneurs invest in their business and save money so it will be available to take advantage of future opportunities. True entrepreneurs are not in business for a short-term gain. They manage their expenses and credit in a way to create long-term, sustainable wealth.

  • Entrepreneurs understand that their actions define their brand. True entrepreneurs understand that their brand is not a logo, but the way they treat people and a consistent high level of service that their customers can depend upon.

  • Entrepreneurs build community—a network of advisors, colleagues, and professional associates they can learn from and rely on to help them reach their goals and grow their business.

  • Finally, entrepreneurs don’t give up…the recognize the power of persistence. Entrepreneurs don’t expect it to be easy, but they don’t let roadblocks or failures stop them. Being an entrepreneur is hard work, which takes a determination that few have.

Being an entrepreneur is not an outcome of good fortune or good luck, though both may play a part in the eventual success of a venture. Being “entrepreneurial” is a journey…often long and with twists and turns, requiring more hard work than initially expected, where the eventual outcome or goal is, at best, murky.

The “mindset” of an entrepreneur, while difficult to define, is the key. Positioning oneself with the requisite skills, the unique personality and the “restlessness” needed to pursue “value” in whatever they do can take one a long distance on that journey toward entrepreneurialism.

Jeffrey Neuville, Senior Director
Small Business Center
Catawba Valley Community College

The Ice House program is available to NC residents with sessions being held throughout the state. If you have the opportunity, it is time well spent. Visit the NC Idea website for more information.

Also available are the resources of the Small Business Center, associated with Catawba Valley Community College. Visit, or email Jeff at