Business Rx: Lessons from an entrepreneur coach

By Rudolph P. Lamone
Monday, October 4, 2010; 23By Rudolph P. Lamone

I caught the entrepreneurial bug early on. I grew up in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, about 25 miles from Pittsburgh, where my parents settled in the early 1900s after immigrating to the United States from Italy. Members of my family and extended family owned and operated restaurants, grocery stores and a women's sportswear business. Growing up, I participated in all the family businesses, and that was the fire that lit my interest in entrepreneurship.

After high school, I spent several years as a musician playing jazz saxophone around the country and three years serving in the military at Fort Bragg in North Carolina before going off to college. I ultimately decided to pursue a career in academics, focused on entrepreneurship, thanks to the urging of a professor and now dear friend at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I ended up as a faculty member at the business school at the University of Maryland, serving as the first chairman of the program in entrepreneurship. I went on to serve as dean from 1973 to 1992, where I pushed to start up the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship in 1986 with the support of Michael Dingman, founder of the Signal Corp. and an extraordinary entrepreneur, businessman and investor [now president of Shipston Group Ltd., a diversified international holding company based in Nassau, Bahamas]. I love working with students and entrepreneurs. [Lamone has worked with and mentored hundreds of students and entrepreneurs, including California U.S. Senate candidate and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks.] I also started a biotech company and I've been an investor in other entrepreneurial ventures. So I understand the ups and downs entrepreneurs go through from the inside.

There is an age-old question: Are entrepreneurs born or made? I don't know if there is a correct answer to that, but I do know that for all entrepreneurs, there are certain character traits that are crucial for success.


The most important thing in an entrepreneur is believing in his or her ideas so passionately that he or she is willing to do whatever has to be done. Never give up.

That's what I look for entrepreneurs -- that fire in the belly.


You always have people who aren't going to support your idea -- those who throw wet blankets on entrepreneurial dreams. I love the entrepreneurs who say, "I know this is going to work," and are persistent enough to make it happen. If you want to be an entrepreneur, don't take "no" for an answer.

Ability to deal with pain

Entrepreneurs need to understand the pain and hard work that accompany starting a business. This is not for everybody. It's incredibly difficult and at times heart-wrenching to devote all of your energy and resources to starting a venture.

Calculated risk-taking

Everybody thinks entrepreneurs are the types to go and take crazy chances to make a business work. But successful entrepreneurs don't do that -- they take very measured risks. While they are very good at assessing risk, they certainly don't avoid taking risks.

Strong relationships

Entrepreneurs need to be very good at managing their personal relationships. You'll realize right up front that you have to give up a lot to pursue a new venture and your relationships can be impacted. It's very important that your spouse or partner be on board and become intimately involved with your desire and goal to be a successful entrepreneur. It's tough enough being an entrepreneur -- you need a strong personal support system.

Team leadership

Entrepreneurship is not about being a Lone Ranger. It's about a team coming together to make something happen. You need to be able to build a good team that you can trust to pursue the goals you've set for your company. Without this, you can't grow your business and realize true success.

Rudolph P. Lamone is founder of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need held fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us as

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