5. Entrepreneurship: Starting a Business

Learning Objectives

By the end of the chapter, you should be able to:

  1. Define entrepreneur and describe the three characteristics of entrepreneurial activity.
  2. Identify five potential advantages to starting your own business.
  3. Define a small business and explain the importance of small businesses to the Canadian economy.
  4. Explain why small businesses tend to foster innovation more effectively than large ones.
  5. Describe the goods-producing and service-producing sectors of an economy.
  6. Explain what it takes to start a business and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages starting a business from scratch, buying an existing business, or obtaining a franchise.
  7. Explain why some businesses fail.

Show What You Know

Arts and Crafts for Adults: Collective Beer

Canadian Business often profiles innovative entrepreneurs and gathered 15 of its finest profiles online (http://www.canadianbusiness.com/innovation/canadian-entrepreneur-success-stories/). Here is one of those spotlights:

Matt Johnston was stone-cold sober when he signed the lease to a 55,000-square-foot brewery in Hamilton and sunk major money into beer-making equipment, though his actions might have suggested a tipple or two. He hadn’t even secured a business loan yet.

Six bottles of beer in a line with all different labels
Figure 5.1: Collective Arts Brewery retrieved from http://ontariobev.net

But how was he to know his plan to expand his craft beer company would get rejected by almost every major Canadian bank? Or that structural setbacks would delay construction by six months and put him $1 million over budget? “It was one of the scarier points of our journey to date,” Johnston admits.

Things were better back in September 2013, when the 41-year-old launched his company, Collective Arts Brewing (http://collectiveartsbrewing.com/), with co-founder Bob Russell. The Hamilton-born buddies pooled their expertise (Johnston knew ales; Russell knew art) to create a beer that would connect drinkers to creative types by featuring an ever-changing array of wall-art-worthy labels designed and illustrated by artists and musicians. Scan a label with a free app called Blippar (https://blippar.com/) (no ugly QR code here), and you’ll see a music video or artist’s bio.

Since inception, more than 350 labels have been carefully culled from thousands of submissions; featured artists have included Canadian band The Strumbellas (http://www.thestrumbellas.ca/), Spanish illustrator Eduardo Bertone (http://www.bertoneeduardo.com) and U.S. painter Lola Gil (http://www.lolafineart.com/). “Craft beer is meant to be about creativity, so why put the same boring label on the bottles for the next 10 years?” says Johnston.

The beer is pretty good, too. Rhyme & Reason—their flagship hop-happy extra pale ale with notes of pine and tropical fruits, was initially produced by brewer Nickel Brook Brewery in Burlington, Ont. It is one of the top-selling craft beers at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Their second brew, the citrus-infused Saint of Circumstance, is in the Top 30.

Given Collective Arts’ surging popularity, Nickel Brook couldn’t keep up with demand. Collective Arts had to decide: find a new supplier or build something for themselves. Since Nickel Brook was looking to expand as well, they teamed up to leverage their strengths and resources, and bought an empty space once occupied by former beer giant Lakeport Brewery Company in Hamilton. “We sort of said to ourselves, we can’t succeed as individuals. Building a brewery is an expensive undertaking, and neither of us could afford it, so it only made sense to work together,” says Johnston.

The partnership proved even more beneficial when they found out the land couldn’t support the weight of their tanks, meaning 6,000 square feet of concrete would have to be cut out of the foundation so 150 helical steel plates could be screwed into more stable soil, increasing the ground’s bearing capacity. Having the resources of two companies helped mitigate the cost. “When you partner up, you cut the risk in half and double the chance of success,” Johnston says.

And then there was the problem of getting a loan. Any small business, particularly a young and revenueless one, will face a financing fight. For craft brewers, it’s more like a combat mission. There are currently 166 craft brewers in Ontario vying for investors, shelf space and bar taps. Craft beer sales in the province may have grown by 575% from 2006 to 2013, but they still only represented 4% of all beer sales.

Luckily, Collective Arts found a saviour. After being rejected by at least five Canadian banks, one foreign financial institution believed in their grassroots idea and contributed a little less than half of the $7 million investment they needed to get the new brewery going. The rest of the funds come from the two breweries themselves.

They’re now set to look west, where markets appear more encouraging (craft beer accounts for around 15% of British Columbia’s beer sales). Their good-looking beer will hit the four western provinces this year (article written in 2015), with distribution to all of Canada and some U.S. states by 2016.

Their next big move is cutting the ribbon for the new brewery this spring. They named it Arts & Science Brewing, as a nod to the craft and chemistry behind beer. While the two companies will operate separately, they will share 30 employees and the production facilities, which can produce up to 12 million bottles in the first year. The site also includes a 400-person music venue, an art gallery, a tap room and a beer garden—a “dream space” where they can directly sell their bevy of brews, plus invite some of their favourite bands to play. The scares he’s had running this business have left a bitter taste, but so long as the beers attract new fans for his featured artists, he’ll swallow it. “When someone sees our label and tweets, ‘I love The Strumbellas,’ that’s a win for me.”

The Nature of Entrepreneurship

If we look a little more closely at the definition of entrepreneurship, we can identify three characteristics of entrepreneurial activity:[1]

  1. Innovation. Entrepreneurship generally means offering a new product, applying a new technique or technology, opening a new market, or developing a new form of organization for the purpose of producing or enhancing a product.
  2. Running a business. A business, as we saw in Chapter 1 “The Foundations of Business,” combines resources to produce goods or services. Entrepreneurship means setting up a business to make a profit.
  3. Risk taking. The term risk means that the outcome of the entrepreneurial venture can’t be known. Entrepreneurs, therefore, are always working under a certain degree of uncertainty, and they can’t know the outcomes of many of their decisions. Consequently, many of the steps they take are motivated mainly by their confidence in the innovation and in their understanding of the business environment in which they’re operating.

It is easy to recognize these characteristics in the entrepreneurial experience of the craft brewers. They certainly had an innovative idea. But was it a good business idea? In a practical sense, a “good” business idea has to become something more than just an idea. If, like Collective Arts, you’re interested in generating income from your idea, you’ll probably need to turn it into a product—something that you can market because it satisfies a need. If you want to develop a product, you’ll need some kind of organization to coordinate the resources necessary to make it a reality (in other words, a business). Risk enters the equation when you make the decision to start up a business and when you commit yourself to managing it.

To jumpstart your thinking around entrepreneurship, take this short quiz (https://www.qzzr.com/c/quiz/68438/ce06e251-4753-49ea-9f25-9889a7fa667a) to align your thinking to Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Marissa Mayer, or another famous businessperson. Please note: This quiz is very general and not scientific. It is just to prompt your thinking.

A Few Things to Know About Going into Business for Yourself

Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook while a student at Harvard. By age 27 he built up a personal wealth of $13.5 billion. By age 31, his net worth was $37.5 billion. Regardless of hurdles his company faced in early 2018, his success as an entrepreneur is solidified.

So what about you? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to start your own business? You might even turn into a “serial entrepreneur” like Marcia Kilgore.[2] After high school, she moved from Canada to New York City to attend Columbia University. But when her financial aid was delayed, Marcia abandoned her plans to attend college and took a job as a personal trainer (a natural occupation for a former bodybuilder and middleweight title holder). But things got boring in the summer when her wealthy clients left the city for the Hamptons. To keep busy, she took a skin care course at a Manhattan cosmetology institute. As a teenager, she was self-conscious about her complexion and wanted to know how to treat it herself. She learned how to give facials and work with natural remedies. She started giving facials to her fitness clients who were thrilled with the results. As demand for her services exploded, she started her first business—Bliss Spa—and picked up celebrity clients, including Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, and Jennifer Lopez. The business went international, and she sold it for more than $30 million.[3]

But the story doesn’t end here; she launched two more companies: Soap and Glory, a supplier of affordable beauty products sold at Target, and FitFlops, which sells sandals that tone and tighten your leg muscles as you walk. Oprah loves Kilgore’s sandals and plugged them on her show.[4] You can’t get a better endorsement than that. Kilgore never did finish college, but when asked if she would follow the same path again, she said, “If I had to decide what to do all over again, I would make the same choices…I found by accident what I’m good at, and I’m glad I did.”

So, a few questions to consider if you want to go into business for yourself:

  • How do I come up with a business idea?
  • Should I build a business from scratch, buy an existing business, or invest in a franchise?
  • What steps are involved in developing a business plan?
  • Where could I find help in getting my business started?
  • How can I increase the likelihood that I’ll succeed?

In this chapter, we’ll provide some answers to questions like these.

Why Start Your Own Business?

What sort of characteristics distinguishes those who start businesses from those who don’t? Or, more to the point, why do some people actually follow through on the desire to start up their own businesses? The most common reasons for starting a business are the following:

  • To be your own boss
  • To accommodate a desired lifestyle
  • To achieve financial independence
  • To enjoy creative freedom
  • To use your skills and knowledge

How can you translate characteristics into potential success? Experts suggest that you assess your strengths and weaknesses by asking yourself a few relevant questions:[5]

  • Am I a self-starter? You’ll need to develop and follow through on your ideas.
  • How well do I get along with different personalities? Strong working relationships with a variety of people are crucial.
  • How good am I at making decisions? Especially under pressure…
  • Do I have the physical and emotional stamina? Expect six or seven work days of about twelve hours every week.
  • How well do I plan and organize? Poor planning is the culprit in most business failures.
  • How will my business affect my family? Family members need to know what to expect: long hours and, at least initially, a more modest standard of living.

Before we discuss why businesses fail we should consider why a huge number of business ideas never even make it to the grand opening. One business analyst cites four reservations (or fears) that prevent people from starting businesses:[6]

  • Money. Without cash, you can’t get very far. What to do: line up initial financing early or at least have done enough research to have a plan to raise money.
  • Security. A lot of people don’t want to sacrifice the steady income that comes with the nine-to-five job. What to do: don’t give up your day job. Run the business part-time or connect with someone to help run your business – a “co-founder”.
  • Competition. A lot of people don’t know how to distinguish their business ideas from similar ideas. What to do: figure out how to do something cheaper, faster, or better.
  • Lack of ideas. Some people simply don’t know what sort of business they want to get into. What to do: find out what trends are successful. Turn a hobby into a business. Think about a franchise. Find a solution to something that annoys you – entrepreneurs call this a “pain point” – and try to turn it into a business.

If you’re still interested in going into business for yourself, try to regard such drawbacks as mere obstacles to be overcome by a combination of planning and creative thinking.

Sources of Early-Stage Financing

As noted above, many businesses fail, or never get started, due to a lack of funds. But where can an entrepreneur raise money to start a business? Many first-time entrepreneurs are financed by friends and family, at least in the very early stages. Others may borrow through their personal credit cards, though quite often, high interest rates make this approach unattractive or too expensive for the new business to afford.

An entrepreneur with a great idea may win funding through a pitch competition; local municipalities and government agencies understand that economic growth depends on successful new businesses, and so they will often conduct such competitions in the hopes of attracting them.

Crowd funding has become more common as a means of raising capital. An entrepreneur using this approach would typically utilize a crowd funding platform like Kickstarter or GoFundMe to attract investors. The entrepreneur might offer tokens of appreciation in exchange for funds, or perhaps might offer an ownership stake for a substantial enough investment. Take a few moments to peruse Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com) or another site and see what types of businesses are proposed in your area or which are trending globally.

Some entrepreneurs receive funding from angel investors, affluent investors who provide capital to start-ups in exchange for an ownership position in the company. Many angels are successful entrepreneurs themselves and invest not only to make money, but also to help other aspiring business owners to succeed.

Venture capital firms also invest in start-up companies, although usually at a somewhat later stage and in larger dollar amounts than would be typical of angel investors. Like angels, venture firms also take an ownership position in the company. They tend to have a higher expectation of making a return on their money than do angel investors.

Distinguishing Entrepreneurs from Small Business Owners

Though most entrepreneurial ventures begin as small businesses, not all small business owners are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are innovators who start companies to create new or improved products. They strive to meet a need that’s not being met, and their goal is to grow the business and eventually expand into other markets.

In contrast, many people either start or buy small businesses for the sole purpose of providing an income for themselves and their families. They do not intend to be particularly innovative, nor do they plan to expand significantly. This desire to operate is what’s sometimes called a “lifestyle business”[7]. The neighbourhood pizza parlour or beauty shop, the self-employed consultant who works out of the home, and even a local printing company—many of these are typically lifestyle businesses.

The Importance of Small Business to the Canadian Economy

What Is a “Small Business”?

To assess the value of small businesses to the Canadian economy, we first need to know what constitutes a small business. Let’s start by looking at the criteria used by Industry Canada. In 2012 Industry Canada defined it: “small business” is firms that have fewer than 100 employees. A small business is one that is independently owned and operated, exerting little influence in its industry.

Why Are Small Businesses Important?

However, small business constitutes a force in the Canadian and other economies. The millions of individuals who have started businesses have helped shape the business world as we know it today. Some small business founders like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison have even gained places in history. Others, including Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mike Lazaridis (Research in Motion), Steve Jobs (Apple Computer), and Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), have changed the way global business is done today.

Aside from contributions to our general economic well-being, founders of small businesses also contribute to growth and vitality in specific areas of economic and socio-economic development. In particular, small businesses do the following:

  • Create jobs
  • Spark innovation
  • Provide opportunities for many people, including women and minorities, to achieve financial success and independence

In addition, they complement the economic activity of large organizations by providing them with components, services, and distribution of their products. Let’s take a closer look at each of these contributions.

Job Creation

The majority of Canadian workers first entered the business world working for small businesses. Although the split between those working in small companies and those working in big companies is about even, small firms hire more frequently and fire more frequently than do big companies.[8] Why is this true? At any given point in time, lots of small companies are started and some expand. These small companies need workers and so hiring takes place. But the survival and expansion rates for small firms is poor, and so, again at any given point in time, many small businesses close or contract and workers lose their jobs. Fortunately, over time more jobs are added by small firms than are taken away, which results in a net increase in the number of workers.

The size of the net increase in the number of workers for any given year depends on a number of factors, with the economy being at the top of the list. A strong economy encourages individuals to start small businesses and expand existing small companies, which adds to the workforce. A weak economy does just the opposite: discourages start-ups and expansions, which decreases the workforce through layoffs.


Given the financial resources available to large businesses, you’d expect them to introduce virtually all the new products that hit the market. Yet according to the United States’s Small Business Administration (SBA), small companies develop more patents per employee than do larger companies. During a recent four-year period, large firms generated 1.7 patents per hundred employees, while small firms generated an impressive 26.5 patents per employee.[9] Although similar statistics are not available for Canada, our business practices tend to align with our neighbours in the United States.

Over the years, the list of important innovations by small firms has included the airplane, air-conditioning, DNA “fingerprinting”, and overnight national delivery.[10] 

Exterior photo of the Amazon Go prototype grocery store.
Figure 5.2: Amazon Go store in Seattle WA. CC BY Licence | https://en.wikipedia.org

Small business owners are also particularly adept at finding new ways of doing old things. In 1994, for example, a young computer-science graduate working on Wall Street came up with the novel idea of selling books over the Internet. During the first year of operations, sales at Jeff Bezos’ new company, Amazon.com, reached half a million dollars. In less than twenty years, annual sales had topped $107 billion.[11] Not only did his innovative approach to online retailing make Bezos enormously rich, but it also established a viable model for the e-commerce industry. In 2018, Amazon’s model is creeping into the physical. Shortly after entering the grocery market by acquiring Whole Foods, it protoyped a cashier-less and checkout-less store where your purchases are charged against your Amazon account via an app. It hopes to revolutionize grocery shopping just as it did book buying.

Why are small businesses so innovative? For one thing, they tend to offer environments that appeal to individuals with the talent to invent new products or improve the way things are done. Fast decision making is encouraged, their research programs tend to be focused, and their compensation structures typically reward top performers.

According to one SBA study, the supportive environments of small firms are roughly thirteen times more innovative per employee than the less innovation-friendly environments in which large firms traditionally operate.[12]

The success of small businesses in fostering creativity has not gone unnoticed by big businesses. In fact, many large companies have responded by downsizing to act more like small companies. Some large organizations now have separate work units whose purpose is to spark innovation. Individuals working in these units can focus their attention on creating new products that can then be developed by the company.

Opportunities for Women

Small business is the portal through which many people enter the economic mainstream. Business ownership allows individuals to achieve financial success, as well as pride in their accomplishments. While the majority of small businesses are still owned by white males, the past two decades have seen a substantial increase in the number of businesses owned by women.

Canada’s 2018 budget had continued investment in women entrepreneurs. On February 28, 2018, the Financial Post reported:

“By far, the largest net new impact on Canada’s entrepreneurial class is the $1.65 billion in new financing being made available to women business owners, to be delivered over three years through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada.”

What Industries Are Small Businesses In?

If you want to start a new business, you probably should avoid certain types of businesses. You’d have a hard time, for example, setting up a new company to make automobiles or aluminum, because you’d have to make tremendous investments in property, plant, and equipment, and raise an enormous amount of capital to pay your workforce. These large, up-front investments present barriers to entry.

Fortunately, plenty of opportunities are still available. Many types of businesses require reasonable initial investments, and not surprisingly, these are the ones that usually present attractive small business opportunities.

Industries by Sector

Let’s define an industry as a group of companies that compete with one another to sell similar products. We’ll focus on the relationship between a small business and the industry in which it operates, dividing businesses into two broad types of industries, or sectors: the goods-producing sector and the service-producing sector.

  • The goods-producing sector includes all businesses that produce tangible goods. Generally speaking, companies in this sector are involved in manufacturing, construction, and agriculture.
  • The service-producing sector includes all businesses that provide services but don’t make tangible goods. They may be involved in retail and wholesale trade, transportation, finance, entertainment, recreation, accommodations, food service, and any number of other ventures.

About 20% of small businesses in the United States are concentrated in the goods-producing sector. The remaining 80% are in the service sector.[13] The high concentration of small businesses in the service-producing sector reflects the makeup of the overall U.S. economy. Over the past fifty years, the service-producing sector has been growing at an impressive rate. In 1960, for example, the goods-producing sector accounted for 38 percent of GDP, the service-producing sector for 62 percent. By 2015, the balance had shifted dramatically, with the goods-producing sector accounting for only about 21 percent of GDP.[14]

Goods-Producing Sector

The largest areas of the goods-producing sector are construction and manufacturing. Construction businesses are often started by skilled workers, such as electricians, painters, plumbers, and home builders, and they generally work on local projects. Though manufacturing is primarily the domain of large businesses, there are exceptions. BTIO/Realityworks, for example, is a manufacturing enterprise (components come from Ohio and China, and assembly is done in Wisconsin).

How about making something out of trash? Daniel Blake never followed his mother’s advice at dinner when she told him to eat everything on his plate. When he served as a missionary in Puerto Rico, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao after his first year in college, he noticed that the families he stayed with didn’t either. But they didn’t throw their uneaten food into the trash. Instead they put it on a compost pile and used the mulch to nourish their vegetable gardens and fruit trees. While eating at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet back home at Brigham Young University, Blake was amazed to see volumes of uneaten food in the trash. This triggered an idea: why not turn the trash into money? Two years later, he was running his company—EcoScraps—collecting 40 tons of food scraps a day from 75 grocers and turning it into high-quality potting soil that he sells online and to nurseries. His profit has reach almost half a million dollars on sales of $1.5 million.[15]

Service-Producing Sector

Many small businesses in this sector are retailers—they buy goods from other firms and sell them to consumers, in stores, by phone, through direct mailings, or over the Internet. In fact, entrepreneurs are turning increasingly to the Internet as a venue for start-up ventures. Take Tony Roeder, for example, who had a fascination with the red Radio Flyer wagons that many of today’s adults had owned as children. In 1998, he started an online store through Yahoo! to sell red wagons from his home. In three years, he turned his online store into a million-dollar business.[16] 

Other small business owners in this sector are wholesalers—they sell products to businesses that buy them for resale or for company use. A local bakery, for example, is acting as a wholesaler when it sells desserts to a restaurant, which then resells them to its customers. A small business that buys flowers from a local grower (the manufacturer) and resells them to a retail store is another example of a wholesaler.

A high proportion of small businesses in this sector provide professional, business, or personal services. Doctors and dentists are part of the service industry, as are insurance agents, accountants, and lawyers. So are businesses that provide personal services, such as dry cleaning and hairdressing.

David Marcks, for example, entered the service industry about fourteen years ago when he learned that his border collie enjoyed chasing geese at the golf course where he worked. While geese are lovely to look at, they can make a mess of tees, fairways, and greens. That’s where Marcks’ company, Geese Police, comes in: Marcks employs specially trained dogs to chase the geese away. He now has twenty-seven trucks, thirty-two border collies, and five offices. Golf courses account for only about 5 percent of his business, as his dogs now patrol corporate parks and playgrounds as well.[17]

Advantages and Disadvantages of Business Ownership

Do you want to be a business owner someday? Before deciding, you might want to consider the following advantages and disadvantages of business ownership.[18]

Advantages of Small Business Ownership

Being a business owner can be extremely rewarding. Having the courage to take a risk and start a venture is part of the North American dream. Success brings with it many advantages:

Disadvantages of Small Business Ownership

As the little boy said when he got off his first roller-coaster ride, “I like the ups but not the downs!” Here are some of the risks you run if you want to start a small business:

In spite of these and other disadvantages, most small business owners are pleased with their decision to start a business. A survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal and Cicco and Associates indicates that small business owners and top-level corporate executives agree overwhelmingly that small business owners have a more satisfying business experience.

Interestingly, the researchers had fully expected to find that small business owners were happy with their choices; they were, however, surprised at the number of corporate executives who believed that the grass was greener in the world of small business ownership.[19]

Starting a Business

Starting a business takes talent, determination, hard work, and persistence. It also requires a lot of research and planning. Before starting your business, you should appraise your strengths and weaknesses and assess your personal goals to determine whether business ownership is for you.[20]

Questions to Ask Before You Start a Business

If you’re interested in starting a business, you need to make decisions even before you bring your talent, determination, hard work, and persistence to bear on your project.

Here are the basic questions you’ll need to address:

  • What, exactly, is my business idea? Is it feasible?
  • What industry do I want to enter?
  • What will be my competitive advantage?
  • Do I want to start a new business, buy an existing one, or buy a franchise?
  • What form of business organization do I want?

After making these decisions, you’ll be ready to take the most important step in the entire process of starting a business: you must describe your future business in the form of a business plan—a document that identifies the goals of your proposed business and explains how these goals will be achieved. Think of a business plan as a blueprint for a proposed company: it shows how you intend to build the company and how you intend to make sure that it’s sturdy. You must also take a second crucial step before you actually start up your business: You need to get financing—the money that you’ll need to get your business off the ground.

The Business Idea

For some people, coming up with a great business idea is a gratifying adventure. For most, however, it’s a daunting task. The key to coming up with a business idea is identifying something that customers want—or, perhaps more importantly, filling an unmet need. Your business will probably survive only if its purpose is to satisfy its customers—the ultimate users of its goods or services. In coming up with a business idea, don’t ask, “What do we want to sell?” but rather, “What does the customer want to buy?”[21]

To come up with an innovative business idea, you need to be creative. The idea itself can come from various sources. Prior experience accounts for the bulk of new business idea and also increases your chances of success. Take Sam Walton, the late founder of Wal-Mart. He began his retailing career at JCPenney and then became a successful franchisor of a Ben Franklin five-and-dime store. In 1962, he came up with the idea of opening large stores in rural areas, with low costs and heavy discounts. He founded his first Wal-Mart store in 1962, and when he died thirty years later, his family’s net worth was $25 billion.[22]

Industry experience also gave Howard Schultz, a New York executive for a housewares company, his breakthrough idea. In 1981, Schultz noticed that a small customer in Seattle—Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice—ordered more coffeemaker cone filters than Macy’s and many other large customers. So he flew across the country to find out why. His meeting with the owner-operators of the original Starbucks Coffee Co. resulted in his becoming part-owner of the company. Schultz’s vision for the company far surpassed that of its other owners. While they wanted Starbucks to remain small and local, Schultz saw potential for a national business that not only sold world-class-quality coffee beans but also offered customers a European coffee-bar experience. After attempting unsuccessfully to convince his partners to try his experiment, Schultz left Starbucks and started his own chain of coffee bars, which he called Il Giornale (after an Italian newspaper). Two years later, he bought out the original owners and reclaimed the name Starbucks.[23]

Ownership Options

As we’ve already seen, you can become a small business owner in one of three ways— by starting a new business, buying an existing one, or obtaining a franchise. Let’s look more closely at the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Starting from Scratch

The most common—and the riskiest—option is starting from scratch. This approach lets you start with a clean slate and allows you to build the business the way you want. You select the goods or services that you’re going to offer, secure your location, and hire your employees, and then it’s up to you to develop your customer base and build your reputation. This was the path taken by Andres Mason who figured out how to inject hysteria into the process of bargain hunting on the Web. The result is an overnight success story called Groupon.[24] Here is how Groupon (a blend of the words “group” and “coupon”) works: A daily email is sent to over 6.5 million people in over 70 cities across the United States and Canada offering a deeply discounted deal to buy something or to do something in their city. If the person receiving the email likes the deal, he or she commits to buying it. But, here’s the catch, if not enough people sign up for the deal, it is cancelled. Groupon makes money by keeping half of the revenue from the deal. The company offering the product or service gets exposure. But stay tuned: the “daily deals website isn’t just unprofitable—it’s bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars.”[25] As with all start-ups cash is always a challenge.

Buying an Existing Business

If you decide to buy an existing business, some things will be easier. You’ll already have a proven product, current customers, active suppliers, a known location, and trained employees. You’ll also find it much easier to predict the business’s future success.

There are, of course, a few bumps in this road to business ownership. First, it’s hard to determine how much you should pay for a business. You can easily determine how much things like buildings and equipment are worth, but how much should you pay for the fact that the business already has steady customers?

In addition, a business, like a used car, might have performance problems that you can’t detect without a test drive (an option, unfortunately, that you don’t get when you’re buying a business). Perhaps the current owners have disappointed customers; maybe the location isn’t as good as it used to be. You might inherit employees that you wouldn’t have hired yourself. Careful study called due diligence is necessary before going down this road.

Getting a Franchise

Lastly, you can buy a franchise. A franchisor (the company that sells the franchise) grants the franchisee (the buyer—you) the right to use a brand name and to sell its goods or services. Franchises market products in a variety of industries, including food, retail, hotels, travel, real estate, business services, cleaning services, and even weight-loss centres and wedding services. Table 5.1 lists the top ten franchises according to Entrepreneur magazine for 2018. Franchises apply to be on the list and are then assessed used Entrepreneur’s five pillars (https://www.entrepreneur.com/franchise500/2018).

Table 5.1
Ranking 2018




7-Eleven Inc.




The UPS Store




Sonic Drive-in


Great Clips


Taco Bell




Sport Clips

In Canada, 1 out of every 14 workers is directly or indirectly employed by the franchise industry and there are an estimated 1,300 franchise brands operating in Canada. Individual investments vary widely – from $10,000 to millions. KFC franchises, for example, require a total investment of $1.3 million to $2.5 million each. This fee includes the cost of the property, equipment, training, start-up costs, and the franchise fee—a one-time charge for the right to operate as a KFC outlet. McDonald’s is in the same price range ($1 million to $2.3 million). SUBWAY sandwich shops offer a more affordable alternative, with expected total investment ranging from $116,000 to $263,000. Visit Canadian Franchising Opportunities[26] (http://www.canadafranchiseopportunities.ca/investment/) to see franchises by level of investment required.

In addition to your initial investment, you’ll have to pay two other fees on a monthly basis—a royalty fee (typically from 3 to 12 percent of sales) for continued support from the franchisor and the right to keep using the company’s trade name, plus an advertising fee to cover your share of national and regional advertising. You’ll also be expected to buy your products from the franchisor.[27]

But there are disadvantages. The cost of obtaining and running a franchise can be high, and you have to play by the franchisor’s rules, even when you disagree with them. The franchisor maintains a great deal of control over its franchisees. For example, if you own a fast-food franchise, the franchise agreement will likely dictate the food and beverages you can sell; the methods used to store, prepare, and serve the food; and the prices you’ll charge. In addition, the agreement will dictate what the premises will look like and how they’ll be maintained. As with any business venture, you need to do your homework before investing in a franchise.

Why Some Businesses Fail and Where to Get Help

Why Do Some Businesses Fail?

If you’ve paid attention to the occupancy of shopping malls over a few years, you’ve noticed that retailers come and go with surprising frequency. The same thing happens with restaurants—indeed, with all kinds of businesses. By definition, starting a business—small or large—is risky, and though many businesses succeed, a large proportion of them don’t. The most recent, official statistics for Canada, from 2013, report the following for the births and deaths of SMEs. Consult the table below or find the equivalent, text information from Industry Canada (https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/h_03018.html). Note: These statistics do not deal directly with entrepreneurs, but with small and medium enterprises or SMEs.

As disappointing as these statistics on business survival are, some industries are worse than others. If you want to stay in business for a long time, you might want to avoid some of these risky industries. Even though your friends think you make the best pizza in the world, this doesn’t mean you can succeed as a pizza parlour owner. Opening a restaurant or a bar is one of the riskiest ventures (and, therefore, start-up funding is hard to get).

You might also want to avoid the transportation industry. Owning a taxi might appear lucrative until you find out what a taxi license costs. It obviously varies by city, but in New York City the price tag is upward of $400,000. No wonder taxi companies are resisting Uber and Lyft with all the energy they can muster. And setting up a shop to sell clothing can be challenging. Your view of “what’s in” may be off, and one bad season can kill your business. The same is true for stores selling communication devices: every mall has one or more cell phone stores so the competition is steep, and business can be very slow.[28]

Businesses fail for any number of reasons, but many experts agree that the vast majority of failures result from some combination of the following problems:

  • Bad business idea. Like any idea, a business idea can be flawed, either in the conception or in the execution. If you tried selling snow blowers in Hawaii, you could count on little competition, but you’d still be doomed to failure.
  • Cash problems. Too many new businesses are underfunded. The owner borrows enough money to set up the business but doesn’t have enough extra cash to operate during the start-up phase, when very little money is coming in but a lot is going out.
  • Managerial inexperience or incompetence. Many new business owners have no experience in running a business; many have limited management skills. Maybe an owner knows how to make or market a product but doesn’t know how to manage people. Maybe an owner can’t attract and keep talented employees. Maybe an owner has poor leadership skills and isn’t willing to plan ahead.
  • Lack of customer focus. A major advantage of a small business is the ability to provide special attention to customers. But some small businesses fail to seize this advantage. Perhaps the owner doesn’t anticipate customers’ needs or keep up with changing markets or the customer-focused practices of competitors.
  • Inability to handle growth. You’d think that a sales increase would be a good thing. Often it is, of course, but sometimes it can be a major problem. When a company grows, the owner’s role changes. He or she needs to delegate work to others and build a business structure that can handle the increase in volume. Some owners don’t make the transition and find themselves overwhelmed. Things don’t get done, customers become unhappy, and expansion actually damages the company.

Some Canadian Considerations

This chapter provided some solid, foundational knowledge on entrepreneurship. But take a few moments to see who might be left behind in the growth of entrepreneurship.

Key Takeways / Important Terms and Concepts

  1. An entrepreneur is someone who identifies a business opportunity and assumes the risk of creating and running a business to take advantage of it.
  2. The three characteristics of entrepreneurial activity are innovating, running a business, and risk taking.
  3. A small business is independently owned and operated, exerts little influence in its industry, and has fewer than one hundred employees.
  4. An industry is a group of companies that compete with one another to sell similar products. There are two broad types of industries, or sectors: the goods-producing sector and the service-producing sector.
  5. Once you decide to start a business, you’ll need to create a business plan—a document that identifies the goals of your proposed business and explains how it will achieve them.

The Lean Startup

Lean startup is a methodology for developing businesses and products that aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning. Central to the lean startup methodology is the assumption that when startup companies invest their time into iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers, the company can reduce market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures.[29]

The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management template invented by Alexander Osterwalder around 2008 for developing new business models or documenting existing ones. It is a visual chart with elements describing a firm’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. It assists firms in aligning their activities by illustrating potential trade-offs. The template consists of nine blocks: activities, partners, resources, value proposition, customers, customer channels, customer relationships, costs and revenue. Startups use the template (and/or other templates described below) to formulate hypotheses and change their business model based on the success or failure of tested hypotheses.[30]

Steve Blank (born 1953) is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur based in Pescadero, California. Blank is recognized for developing the customer development method that launched the lean startup movement, a methodology which recognized that startups are not smaller versions of large companies, but require their own set of processes and tools to be successful. His Lean Launchpad class (taught as the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, or I-Corps has become the standard for commercialization for all federal research.[31]

How to Build a Start Up

As part of this course you will complete the free online course How to Build a StartUp (https://www.udacity.com/course/how-to-build-a-startup–ep245) available from a non-accredited but widely recognized online university – udacity.com.  The self paced udacity course includes nine modules and should be taken over the final four weeks of the NSCC BUSI 1015 course. The udacity course will help with the final capstone assignment for BUSI 1015 where, over four weeks, you will develop a Business Model Canvas.


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