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Executive Education

What Makes a Successful Entrepreneur?

The most important skills to become a successful entrepreneur include determination, self-belief, leadership and the ability to think out of the box. With this in mind, how can aspiring entrepreneurs maximize their chances of success?


Entrepreneurship has never been so popular. In the United States, 71% of employees claim to dream of starting their own business. While the autonomy and potential profits of entrepreneurship can be seductive, half of US companies don't survive the first five years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, while in France only a third of start-ups make it past the first three years (APCE 2013). Why? Simply because success can be a risky business, and depends on a rare blend of personal qualities.



Entrepreneurs need to be confident enough to remain driven in the face of failure, and simultaneously humble enough to accept criticism and think critically about their decisions and actions, says GÉRARD DE MAUPEOU, Affiliate Professor at HEC Paris. They must be at once determined, able to anticipate trends and to think outside the box. 


Entrepreneurs have to split their time into periods where they listen a lot and periods where they take decisions without paying too much attention to other people. Otherwise they end up procrastinating and fail to move forwards. Once your opinion is formed, only listen to yourself and do what you think is best." – Michel Safars, Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Corporate Policy at HEC Paris



"I am convinced that everyone needs a mentor," says MICHEL SAFARS. "It is the best way to avoid feeling isolated or alone. Not having one doesn’t bear thinking about, but finding the right one takes time." And don't stop at having a mentor. "Make sure that you have a good support network at each stage of your career. We all need this type of support, and schools like HEC Paris provide excellent resources for students to reinforce their ideas and projects," explains François Pelen, HEC Paris EXECUTIVE MBAgraduate and co-founder of Point Vision.



Knowing how to develop a coherent business plan is a key step in convincing investors. "You must be able to demonstrate that an opportunity exists, and the proof should come from field research and interviews with potential clients," explains FRÉDÉRIC ISELIN, Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at HEC Paris. "There must be a significant need and it must be shared by many people." And even the most innovative ideas must be tested, especially with customers. "Being realistic means having key facts and figures from the market. If you have carried out market research and interviews, questioned experts and you have a good market cross-section combined with a robust methodology, you will be trusted," he continues.




  • Will you derive pleasure from it, in spite of the long hours, stress and lack of sleep?
  • Can you cope with losing the money that you have invested?
  • Will you be able to bounce back and find a job if your business fails?


"If you answered yes to these three questions, with a bit of luck you will succeed without suffering too much," concludes THOMAS ÅSTEBRO, Professor of Strategy at HEC Paris.


Based on the white paper "Expert Opinions: How to create a business" (HEC Paris Executive Education)