Engineering Entrepreneurs Article By IEEE

[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Do you think you have what it takes to run your own engineering business? Some IEEE members took time from their busy schedules to tell us their reasons for going out on their own and of their adventures in entrepreneurship.

[/FONT]"I got tired of living by other people's rules," says Dan Berube, a member who runs BeruGold Research Corp., an engineering contracting business, specializing in electronic warfare and intelligence applications, from Manasquan, N.J., USA. "There was no opportunity for any creativity by working for a big corporation."[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]
To keep overhead low, many engineering entrepreneurs run their businesses from their dens or kitchen tables.
"Right now I'm working out of my home—partially for cost savings and because there's nothing more convenient than going up the stairs when you need to work, rather than driving somewhere," says Erin Mace, member and cofounder of Savant Engineering, a design firm that specializes in commercial buildings, in Atlanta, Ga., USA.

Mace reports that besides a commute measured in minutes rather than hours, running a business out of her home also gives her more flexibility when caring for her two-year-old daughter, Hannah.

"This morning I was able to spend a few extra hours with Hannah before she went to day care, because she was feeling sick," Mace says. "I don't typically work when she's at home, because Hannah is very active and not conducive to a business environment."
Besides the independence you gain in running your own business, entrepreneurship can be financially rewarding.
"If you can stay busy as a contractor, you're going to make more money than at a traditional job," says Eric Anderson, an IEEE member and owner of Andar Engineering Inc., a business specializing in BIOS (short for basic input/output system) programming in Minneapolis, Minn., USA, since 1998.

Any start-up—engineering or otherwise—carries risk, but Mace, for one, keeps it in perspective.
"The worst-case scenario is that I go back to working for someone else," Mace says.

[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Secrets of success
[/FONT][FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]An engineer looking to start a small business might begin by thinking about introducing a new technology or product. After all, engineers know high-tech best.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]But Berube doesn't recommend that. Instead he suggests that fledgling entrepreneurs might find it easier if they could offer a competitive advantage for a product that's already out on the market or a special service that isn't otherwise available. While it sounds simple, in practice it's not. Dale Callahan, who teaches a class on entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recommends seeking advice from one of the best sources around, fellow entrepreneurs.

[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"In every city, there seems to be a community of entrepreneurs," Callahan says. "Most of them are serial entrepreneurs and want to be helpful to others. The number one thing to do is seek advice." Engineers may find this particularly valuable advice, he says, because they tend to think they are expert in everything and generally try to do too much themselves.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Anderson suggests enlisting a team of legal, financial, and accounting experts to contribute knowledge the engineer does not have.

[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]But John Cosgrove, a member who has run his own computer consulting company, in Playa del Rey, Calif., USA, has an inexpensive method for getting the help he needs.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"I borrowed the term 'favor bank,' from the novel The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, meaning you help yourself by helping others," Cosgrove says. "You make sure people owe you more than you owe them. If somebody comes to you for help, you stop what you're doing and do what is needed because that person is going to feel an obligation to help that's going to pay off for you later."[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Small business owners can also gain the expertise they need just by observing how other businesses run, according to Callahan.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"When you work for a company, you often want to say, 'That's a stupid decision,'" he says. "Sometimes it is. But sometimes when you start asking questions of the right people, you recognize that there might be some tax or market implications you might not have seen."[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Some secrets of small-business success offered by established entrepreneurs are less tangible. Cosgrove emphasizes a good balance between work and personal life.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"I've always had outside interests that give me a certain amount of balance, so I'm not stuck in a narrow technical view of the world," Cosgrove says. He's serving on three volunteer boards and is involved in the Jane Austen Society, a group that meets to study the works of the English novelist.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]As trite as it may sound, Member Holger Ronquist stresses the power of positive thinking. He is the cofounder of 42Networks, a telecommunications company with 16 employees that provides telephony and video systems that operate on the Internet in Stockholm, Sweden.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"First of all, you must believe in what you're doing? then you must have courage, because without it, you'll do nothing," Ronquist says. "All the rest are technicalities."

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