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How To
Grow Your Big Idea

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With Vivian Armor ’73, director, Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship

You wake up one morning with a big, bright light bulb bobbing above your head. You start your day, feed the dog, the light getting brighter by the minute. Pretty soon, it’s keeping you up at night. Well, congratulations. Your “big idea” has arrived – and with it, a world of possibility.

So, now what? Do you cash in your life savings for seed money? Get a fancy business degree? Buy the book by that guy in the suit covered in question marks?

Maybe you take some (absolutely) free advice from Vivian Armor ’73, American studies. She is director of UMBC’s Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship and has some tips about how to move ahead safely and smartly so you can make all your wildest dreams come true.

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— Jenny O'Grady

Step 1:
Reality Check

our idea is precious and perfect and unique like a snowflake. But, how does it stand up to the scrutiny of others?

“Nobody wants to hear the baby’s ugly, but maybe it needs braces,” says Armor. She suggests running your brainchild past a few friends or family members you trust to be honest with you, as well as professionals in the industry related to your idea. Doing so can help you step away from your idea, and more objectively assess the pros and cons. The more feedback you get and the more open-minded you are about tweaking your idea to address potential flaws, the better chance you have of starting off strong.

Step 2:
Write a Business Plan

Once you’ve put your idea through the blender, it’s time to write up some solid plans. Questions to consider: What is your timeline? What kind of support will you need to execute your plan? How will you promote your idea to potential buyers? Who are your competitors and why is your idea better? How much work is this really going to be?

“It helps to take out a piece of paper and really think about these things,” says Armor. Questions like these may take a bit of the wind out of your sails, but they’re important to answer early on.

Step 3:
Perfect Your Pitch

A concept is never enough on its own – you also need to be able to quickly convince investors why it’s a great idea that they should care enough about to support. And that means perfecting your so-called “elevator speech.”

“Look, I don’t know what you’re selling, but if you can describe it well, you’ll help people to connect the dots,” says Armor, who again suggests turning to friends for practice. If you find you can’t describe your plan quickly and easily, you might need to take a quick detour back to Step 2.

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Step 4:
Know There's Help Out There

As in so many steps before, one fact rises above the rest in the world of entrepreneurship: it’s rarely a one-person show. Counting on trusted partners to refine your plan and give you new ideas is crucial, but so is relying on the many resources available to you as a budding entrepreneur.

Armor cites the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship as a one-stop shop for all things “start-up.” The center works with faculty to help infuse courses across UMBC’s curriculum with entrepreneurial material. It also offers a campus “Idea Lab” and mentoring and internship opportunities. In addition, Armor touts the center’s Raymond V. Haysbert, Sr. Entrepreneurship Lecture Series, which provides a platform for successful entrepreneurs to candidly share their experiences and insights with the public.

“People are here to help you,” she says. “We want you to succeed.”

Video: Intro to Entrepreneurship

What’s it really take to succeed as an entrepreneur? UMBC entrepreneurship experts Armor, “serial entrepreneur” Gib Mason ’95, economics, and Interim Dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences William R. LaCourse discuss how passion, creativity, determination – and a combination of the right skills – can open up a world of opportunity to young entrepreneurs.

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