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Lessons for Aspiring Young Entrepreneurs
November 14, 2014

Sheena Lindahl
Photo Courtesy Sheena Lindahl

By: Sheena Lindahl, co-founder and CEO of Empact

Most entrepreneurs have few resources when they begin.They do not have a lot of money, experience, education or networks but they launch and grow their businesses anyway. I saw this firsthand in September when I met young entrepreneurs in Ghana. The challenges and experiences they described to me were not all the same as those faced by other entrepreneurs. I have learned that it no matter where you live, it is how people react to their challenges that makes all the difference in their success.

Sheena Lindahl with group of young people in Ghana
Sheena Lindahl with group of young entrepreneurs during her visit to the U.S. Embassy in Ghana. Photo courtesy Sheena Lindahl.

These are some tips I shared with aspiring Ghanaians:

Break a big idea into a smaller idea to start. Most people launching their first company do not have the funding or skills to start the next WhatsApp. I met an inspiring young entrepreneur in Tamale, Ghana, who was running a clothing store. He started with a single pair of sneakers — no store, no inventory, no funding — just one lone pair of sneakers. He sold those and used his profit to buy two more pairs. Then he branched out and included other products. He kept reinvesting his profits until he had enough to fund inventory, space and people to work for him. Starting small is often far less risky and a more certain path to success than waiting for an investor.

Tomorrow will not be a better day to start. Many entrepreneurs wait for what they think are perfect conditions to start their businesses.Very rarely will the perfect time arrive. Instead, entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground by taking action today to move forward. By taking even small actions they take control and make their own favorable conditions.

Identify your assets and start from there. Focus on what you do have and not what you don’t. We worry about our assets, our ideas or what the critics might say. You cannot control someone else’s actions or thoughts. You cannot control what challenges you’re starting with.

Focus your efforts on what you can control. Entrepreneurs focus on what they can control. If you don’t have money to launch, maybe you have a network of friends and family who will be your first customers. You may have an uncle who understands the process of exporting or a financially savvy aunt who can help you think through your plan. Your own skill set — whether it includes photography or carpentry — will also benefit your business. Networks and skills are assets as valuable as investment dollars. By focusing on what you do have and where you have control, you have all you need to take your first steps.

Sheena is president and co-founder of Empact, an organization that has held events bringing top young entrepreneurs to college campuses, including the Empact Showcase, a celebration of young entrepreneurs with recognition events held at the White House, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the United Nations.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government.