Business Perspectives

Entrepreneurs can drive change in down economy

There's never been a better time for Wichita to focus on its entrepreneurs — and entrepreneurial spirit.

Even amidst current economic challenges, entrepreneurs continue to discover the opportunity within each challenge and leverage change to achieve results. They see survival not as a constraint, but as a focus on future demand.

Throughout history, we have seen various cycles of innovation, and many of those came during down economies. It's interesting to note that entrepreneurs in a down economy not only survive, but they also thrive. Consider that more than half the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list were founded during a recession or bear market.

For example, Rent-A-Center's innovative concept of rent-to-own furniture was created in Wichita in the early 1970s. Many Wichita-based national restaurant and hotel chains such as Lone Star Steakhouse and Value Place were founded during periods of economic change.

In Wichita today you will see innovation from some of the same companies as in the past, but you'll also see some new entrepreneurs influencing Wichita with fresh ideas and creative spirit.

To stay ahead in the market, Wichita needs even more entrepreneurship because innovation is a key stimulant of economic growth. The challenge is that businesses often lack the ability —or willingness — to innovate and take risks during a down economy because they have no proof it is going to work.

Ernst & Young has worked with successful entrepreneurs around the globe, and we have witnessed the fruits of innovation. In our 2009 global survey of mature multinationals and entrepreneur-led companies, "Seizing opportunities: a once-in-a-lifetime chance," we found 67 percent of the entrepreneurs were focused on pursuing new market opportunities, compared to just 19 percent of the mature companies. Entrepreneurs are focusing on things they can do now that will benefit their business when the economy improves. They are broadening their customer base, developing new products, services and markets, improving operational efficiencies and managing risk. That's what all companies need to do to be viable today and tomorrow when our market improves.

After reviewing some 400 unique insights into what these companies are doing to drive performance improvement, we identified eight performance challenges that we would pose to all businesses. Even large corporations can encourage their people to have an entrepreneurial spirit — to cultivate innovation and transform the unexpected into opportunity:

* Re-evaluate your business model. It's not enough to do something everyone else does.

* Optimize your market reach. Broaden customer base and enter new markets.

* Optimize the flexibility of your operations. Increase responsiveness.

* Revitalize the way you manage risk.

* Optimize capital availability and deployment.

* Strengthen management talent. Retain and reward key people.

* Accelerate decision-making and execution.

* Strengthen stakeholder confidence.

A crisis for one company might be an opportunity for another. Companies that can't adapt to the new economic reality and changing times will be replaced by enterprises that are agile enough to adjust.

The economic downturn is a window of opportunity to harness positive thinking and stay ahead of the competition, traits I see throughout the Wichita business community. Wichita is well-positioned to affect change in our community and beyond. We can impact the world, one innovative idea at a time.