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What do aspiring entrepreneurs really want?

Brian O'Connell

Theory had it that Alexander the Great valued learning so much that he told his biographers he was more indebted to Aristotle for providing him with knowledge than he was to his own father and mother for gifting him with life.

Today’s startup business owners place a high value on learning, too.

A 2011 study from IMD, a high-profile business school based in Lausanne, Switzerland, looked at prospective (or “aspiring” as study researchers put it) entrepreneurs and asked them a simple question: What do you really want as you start out as a startup business owner?

The answer, IMD researchers found, was equally simple. “We want a mentor,”  most business owners said. Specifically, they said a mentor was “the single most important resource” they require in starting a new business – but made it clear that the mentor had to be “experienced” and highly capable of providing “advice and guidance.”

Study researchers, led by IMD business professor Stuart Read, studied questions and responses from 200 MBA students with no previous entrepreneurial experience. In the process, the students were given seven resources: support, funding, funding source, personal compensation, future employment, health insurance and office space.

According to the study, the “high value repeatedly placed on entrepreneurial mentoring and advice emerged as a key and consistent theme among those questioned.”

What the Swiss study doesn’t do is figure out the best way to get entrepreneur and mentor together; it just emphasizes the fact that business owners innately know they’ll need steady guidance and advice from a trusted source if they’re ever going to make it as stewards of their own ships.

"At present we have only a limited understanding of how to match entrepreneurs with appropriate advisers who can best guide them," explained Read. "Given that this is the single most important resource, policymakers and researchers need to consider this issue. For instance, perhaps networking events -- which were perceived to be low-worth -- could be redesigned from superficial introductions towards connecting suitable mentors and mentees."

That’s obviously not all that would-be business owners want. IMD also says that the average survey respondent also wants a support package of $750,000 spread out among those seven categories covered in the study. What they don’t want is equally interesting. Aspiring entrepreneurs aren’t interested in getting financing for their businesses and they consider things like networking opportunities and office space as secondary priorities, at best.

But it’s good, sound advice that young entrepreneurs really want. That need likely won’t go away, even as these business owners gain some experience.

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