Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality
Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality

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Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality

4 Learning about ideas

Is there such a thing as an ‘ideas person’? This course assumes not and nor does it assume that being enterprising is a trait you are born with. The assumption is that people can and do learn how to develop ideas. People who appear to be good at solving problems or identifying opportunities have learned to do so.

Obviously people are not the same, so are not all exposed to the same sets of opportunities. It is those differences between people that create diversity in views, attitudes and approaches, which result in different ideas. Indeed, being entrepreneurial is understood as having that ability to take advantage of differences (Blundel et al., 2018). To explore this further you will look at the example of James Dyson.

Box 1 James Dyson

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Figure 3 James Dyson

James Dyson was a product designer. He undertook a degree in design at the Royal College of Art and developed specific skills. Through his contacts he ended up working for an entrepreneur called Jeremy Fry who favoured a ‘hands-on’ approach to design and problem solving.

While working on renovating his house, Dyson encountered industrial extraction fans. Feeling frustrated by the poor suction of vacuum he used to tidy up post renovation, he wondered whether a solution from industry might work in a domestic setting. A few thousand prototypes later, a bagless domestic vacuum appeared on the market.

Clearly this account ignores lots of technical aspects involved in taking a technology that operates at one scale and turning it into a domestic product on another, but as an example it does demonstrate the value of learning.

Now listen to James Dyson offer his views on being an inventor.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3
Skip transcript: Video 3 What makes an inventor tick?

Transcript: Video 3 What makes an inventor tick?

It can happen, and it does happen. But it takes a lot of determination. And I think it usually is more likely to happen if the person who has the idea actually goes off and makes it rather than trying to persuade what are quite often disinterested manufacturers to do it.
Well the first thing to do is to reduce your invention to practise, as they say. Build a model of it, a working model to show and prove that it works. And then take that, and your drawings, to a very good patent agent and get it patented.
Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but there's never a Eureka moment. I wish there was. This idea that you have an idea in the bath is completely mythical. What actually happens is that you start off with often a very bad idea, and then you build lots of prototypes, lots of models to try and make it work. And what you actually end up with at the end of that is something completely different to the idea that you started with, but it works. And you're so exhausted you don't even think of it as a Eureka moment. So you get there by processes. You can describe a story afterwards which makes it sound like a Eureka moment, but it never happens like that.
A lot of people would follow the logical path, and that's of course what most people do. I always like thinking of the opposite of the correct way to do something to start with. I call it wrong thinking. Because it sets you off on a different channel. And OK, it not-- it doesn't work. The first thing doesn't work. But it starts you thinking in a different way.
And if you do several bits of wrong thinking, you end up not thinking like everybody else, so following a different path and making your own discoveries. And A, that's much more exciting and stimulating. But B, you're much more likely to come up with something no one else has ever thought of.
I think having ideas-- the sort of person who sees something that doesn't work properly or isn't very good, and his brain starts ticking over, or her brain, to make something, a solution that would work-- that's important, so curiosity, then willing to be patient, and do lots and lots of tests, and then to enjoy doing those tests. That's really important. And then I think having dogged determination and being like a rubber ball. Every time you're knocked down, just bounce back up.
If you explain to, in my case, big retailers who I was trying to sell to who said, I'm not going to take your company because you aren't a brand-- if you start to talk to them honestly and say, look, I haven't got any money for advertising, but I think I've got a good product-- do you agree it's a good product? If you open your heart to them, not everybody, but some people will want to help you.
It really upsets me that you have to pay patent renewal fees for each patent in each country every year. And that's really a tax on innovation, or alternatively, the patent offices make a profit, which they do, a very large profit. So the cost of it is a big grievance for me-- not for myself, but for small inventors and small businesses. They can't afford it.
We only produce 24,000 engineering graduates a year. And we have vacancies for 37,000. Meanwhile, China is producing 350,000 engineers a year, India a reputed 2 million. So we're vastly under-producing engineers. And what this means, of course, is that we're filing fewer and fewer patents. We file 1/15 of the patents that Japan files and 1/12 of the patents that America files and 1/3 of the patents that France files. So our technology base is shrinking very, very fast.
And I don't think it needs to. We did a survey amongst schoolchildren and found that 2/3 of them, aged about 14 or 15, wanted to do engineering at GCSE level, and they can't. So what you're seeing is there's great interest amongst children in engineering which get stamped out through the education system and later on in life. But it's going to-- we'll end up as a nation that doesn't make anything, that simply trades in financial services and the media.
It's never been particularly part of our culture. In France, engineering is the highest profession and has been for 250 years. It's clearly very important to the Chinese and the Japanese. But in Britain, I don't think we think very much of it. And I remember at school, I was told that if I didn't work hard, I'd end up in a factory. Well, I have ended up in a factory, but the point being that engineering and manufacturing is seen as a dirty, Dickensian thing.
The most exciting bit for me is developing technology and suddenly seeing it, after a lot of stress and difficulties, working. I think that's the most exciting bit. The next bit is a huge unknown. Will people like this? Will people want it? Will they buy it? Will they pay for it? So that's all very interesting seeing all that pan out. But for me, the most exciting bit is making the technology work as we wanted it to.
End transcript: Video 3 What makes an inventor tick?
Video 3 What makes an inventor tick?
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Next you will look at the different ideas that are around us.


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