Small Business

Getting Creative in Your Own Shop


Harnessing creativity to raise businesses, busting scams, saving on shipping for supplies and equipment, and more

How Does Creativity Fit Into the Venture Creation Process?

Professors who teach entrepreneurship courses want their students to apply creativity in developing businesses. Increasingly, they say it needs to be nurtured from the startup through the growth phases.

"Many cool opportunities are blocked by some 'last factor,'" says Christopher Barlow, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago. "All well-informed people know a particular innovation is 'impossible.' When the critical change happens in technology, politics, law, economics, or the 'will of the people,' the possibility can be there a long time before someone notices. This 'noticing' is the critical role of entrepreneurs. It requires a special creative ability…which can be learned and practiced." For example, entrepreneurs like Michael Dell and Steve Jobs were among the first to notice when computer storage and speed reached points to enable low-cost personal computer systems.

Entrepreneurs who appreciate the importance of stimulating creativity use it well beyond the startup stage, to encourage subordinates and work teams to spark ideas for new products and improving efficiency, says Lisa Gundry, a professor at DePaul and director of its Ryan Center for Creativity & Innovation. Students who learn creativity-generating approaches "generate much more interesting, and potentially breakthrough, ideas throughout the venture life cycle," she says.

To stimulate creativity in groups of students, Norris Krueger, an instructor at Boise State University and a researcher on entrepreneurial creativity, says he relies on "Brainstorming 101." "I provide brief scenarios, then ask students to brainstorm and look at what drives the quantity and especially the quality of the ideas," he says. "The discussion eventually broadens from the scenario to the opportunities they see and don't see. So why don't you see nanotech as an opportunity…for you personally? Then we can, as a group, drill down."

Busting Those Who Wreck Entrepreneurial Dreams

The Federal Trade Commission just announced that federal and state authorities targeted nine business scams that bilked individuals of more than $30 million. The bogus "business opportunities" run the spectrum from low- to high-tech: envelope stuffing, ink cartridge display racks, ATMs, "affiliated" Web sites, and electronic medical billing. A common theme in these scams is the promise of customers in return for purchasing supplies and dealerships (see the FTC summary at www.ftc.gov/opa/2006/12/falsehopes.htm). Now, if only the FTC could figure out a way to keep the come-ons for such schemes out of our e-mail in-boxes.

For Buying Supplies and Equipment Close to Home

If you're looking for a nearby online auction to avoid paying freight on heavy equipment or bulky supplies, try www.bidnearby.com. It lets you enter the item you are looking for and your zip code, and then shows you all the items on eBay (EBAY) and other sites, with a map. When you select an item, it shows you on the map where it's being sold from.

Reverberations Continue in Raw-Milk Dispute

The mother of one of five children sickened in California last September, possibly by raw milk, is angry that my article quoted a dairy owner who said that two of the children who became ill consumed raw spinach (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/28/06, "Getting a Raw Deal?"). "It outrages me that he doesn't have his story right and it gets into print," writes Melissa Herzog, the mother of 10-year-old Lauren, about Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. "She, like the other four children, had Organic Pastures raw milk…and spent two months in a hospital fighting for her life."

McAfee says that while "it's possible" one or more children became sick from his dairy's milk, no pathogens were discovered in any of his more than 200 milking cows after extensive state testing. But, he adds, "I cannot guarantee that there will not be a pathogen, and I cannot guarantee you will not become ill." Nor can any other farmer, he adds. (More on this debate at my blog, www.thecompletepatient.com.)

David E. Gumpert covers business/health issues and also writes the biweekly What Entrepreneurs Need to Know column.

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