Chris Pryor

What it takes to be an entrepreneur, according to a UF professor

Interview by Sebastian Llerena

Dr. Christopher Pryor, lecturer in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, offers his insight on the process of becoming a college entrepreneur, hoping that it will ignite business aspirations hidden deep within the Honors community.

This article was originally published in Prism, a magazine produced by UF Honors students.

Q: What got you interested in a higher comprehension of entrepreneurship and teaching it?

A: I was like anybody. I got out of my undergraduate in 2004 and worked in newspapers. If you know anything about the newspaper issue, you know that it is dying. Everybody was miserable. I was miserable and needed out. So I went back to school to get an MBA. When I was doing my MBA, I got paired up with the guy who ran the entrepreneurship program at the university. It was amazing. They took 20 students to South Africa, who acted as consultants to entrepreneurs, immigrants who were suffering from the legacy of the apartheid. I saw the transformative power of entrepreneurship. It is unlike any other thing on campus as it changes people’s lives. It’s almost like pixie dust. So I got a PhD in entrepreneurship and have been doing it ever since.

“We are on a mission from God,” my advisor would say. “We are here to teach people America’s secret sauce.” We were always a country of entrepreneurs and the rest of the world is catching on. It’s everywhere now. People are figuring out that entrepreneurship is the answer.

People used to take entrepreneurship for granted, but something happened between our grandparents’ generation and us, and now all we chase is the corporate job.

Q: What advice would you give to students who have a startup idea but fear failure?

A: I would ask them what they are worried about. When a student starts a business and then fails, what do they lose? Nothing. But in the failure, they’ve learned so much. When you first start learning how to play a sport or an instrument, you are not any good at it. You’ve got to practice. Entrepreneurship works the same way. You are not going to be great at it when you start but you get better at it.

So, fail. Please, do it. People who don’t fail are the ones who never start, the ones who never do anything. In this entrepreneurship life, you are going to fail, it is not a big deal though.

Honors students, though, you guys don’t fail, do you? That’s why you are Honors students. But, the message still is: Please, go fail, and then come back and tell me about it.

Failure doesn’t hurt. You are a student, you haven’t lost any money. Maybe a little bit of time, opportunity cost, but what you have gained is so much more. You know more about yourself and what it takes to start a business.

Think about the opposite way: what if you try and you succeed? Isn’t that more dangerous? How much of it was luck and how much of it was because you knew what you were doing? Well, I can guarantee you because you’ve never done it before, it is all luck. You got lucky and that feels good, but you don’t know anything. If you fail, at least you learned something from that.

Q: Should more students pursue entrepreneurship, or is the market too saturated?

A: The market is not saturated. People still have problems and they still need to be solved. For me, that is entrepreneurship: an individual or team who finds a problem and solves it. There are always problems to be solved.

The other thing is: the more the merrier. You have to go back 100 years. There was no IBM and nobody was going to work for P&G or Lockheed Martin. Everybody was an entrepreneur though they didn’t call themselves that. They worked on the family farm or family shoe shop.

It wasn’t until World War II, when everybody decided to get careers, 401ks, and pensions, that it changed. It’s only been the last 50 years that this thing has been messed up because we’ve figured out how to create this large conglomerate.

That world is going away though. We are going back to where we started, and that is great for us because people need to be prepared for that.

Q: In your opinion, what differentiates the businesses that succeed from those that fail?

A: Are you solving someone’s problem? Engineering is the most messed up because they come up with cool things. Technology for the sake of technology. They think that the technology is so ‘look at my cool 3D printer – don’t you want to buy it?.’

The truth is, I don’t if I don’t need a 3D printer, I don’t think it’s cool. The successful company is the one that is able to meet their customers’ needs the moment they need it.

Q: What skills do you recommend future entrepreneurs to gain during their undergraduate college experience?

A: I don’t want to simply say ‘take my class’, because you [students] don’t need to. We have the entrepreneurship minor, business-planning competitions, the student hatchery with 11 student-run businesses. All the nuts and bolts are there for you to do what you want to do.

There is no reason to wait. Do it now. Do you see a problem? Try to fix it. Keep your eyes open to problems everywhere you go. I dare whoever is reading: the next time you see a problem, take responsibility to fix it.

How would you even begin? Well, try – do something about it. You won’t be successful on the first try, but on the second one you will be better.

It’s clear that the problems are there, around us. What are you going to do about it? Do you know what separates the great entrepreneurs from us? They see the problems that we can’t see. It is obvious to them that someone will buy a solution.

Fail. Go out there and make a mistake. I dare you. You will learn something about yourself, about people, and you’ll get better at this thing that we call entrepreneurship.