Entrepreneurs in a tough economy

    Who will be able to overcome the challenges posed by a recession?

    With Consumer spending down, and unemployment rising, this might seem like the worst time to be an entrepreneur or launch a business. Still, all kinds of business people in our region – from CEOs to enterprising artists – are coming up with ways to adjust to a tough economy. Maiken Scott reports from WHYY’s Behavioral Health desk.
    (Photo: Todd Vachon)

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    On a Thursday night, hopeful entrepreneurs are exchanging ideas at a business workshop at the Northern Liberties Community Center.
    Among them is Art Institute graduate George Taylor, he used to design and sell high-end clothing, but ran out of operating capital when business slumped last year. He wants to start a new venture selling a seasonal treat:

    Taylor: It’s water ice company, yeah.

    Taylor says in a tough economy, you have to make sure your product fits with people’s budgets:

    Taylor: Everybody has a dollar at least and that’s why the dollar store is doing well…

    Whether it’s water ice or wall street, Temple University psychologist Frank Farley says success comes down to a very basic factor – your outlook on life:

    Farley: One of the simplest metaphors that everybody understands is the glass is half full or half empty. You’re looking at this glass – technically it’s half full or it’s half empty. Well, how you frame it is so key.

    Farley says those who see the the glass as half full will look for opportunity where others fear failure. He draws up a sketch of what he calls a type T personality – T stands for thrill seekers:

    Farley: I believe they are often motivated by things like variety, novelty, intensity, change. They tend to be creative, inventive…

    Creativity has helped artist Kathryn Seidler develop business concepts in the past, and she is drawing on it again to come up with new ideas.

    Seidler: I think that the same kind of mind that can paint a painting or make a sculpture can make a business.

    Seidler hopes to connect with optimistic people at the workshop – she says watching the news and what she calls “gloom and doom stories” is stifling her entrepreneurial spirit.

    Optimism is key, agrees Michael Useem who heads the center for leadership at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. These days, he is getting lots of calls from big corporations and business leaders asking how they can get through the economic downturn. Useem’s advice – whatever else you do, act confident:

    Useem: if there is any hint that you are getting weak-kneed, that you are beginning to doubt yourself or doubt that there is a future out there, that becomes instantly communicated all through the organization and believe me it is going to be devastating to the people around you.

    Useem says he recently met with the CEO of a leading manufacturing company who was able to make decisions by studying his sales data – without panicking

    By not thinking about how terrible the economy was, not thinking about how awful sales were for the last few weeks, by getting ahold of the hard data, that really helped him to focus on what but can be done, as opposed to what he can’t do or what’s going wrong.

    Wharton is offering a new workshop on leadership in tough economic times. More than 300 students have signed up.

    One question likely on their minds – what will be the next big thing – the next Facebook, Twitter or gadget everybody has to have.

    Back at the Northern Liberties Community Center, Philadelphia artist Kathryn Seidler thinks the next big thing may not be a thing. She sees opportunities for business growth in anything that is inspiring to people:

    Spending those dollars on things that really raise the spirits I think is where the dollars will go beyond the necessities.

    Seidler optimism may be founded on fact – in a recent survey of its members the Greater Philadelphia Cultural alliance found that earned income from tickets sales, subscriptions, and memberships is holding steady.

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