MIT Entrepreneurship Guru Bill Aulet: Wisconsin Can Benefit From Being Off ‘Beaten Track’—Hear Him Speak April 17

Innovation can come from anywhere, and there might be some advantages for Wisconsin being located in what is sometimes derisively called flyover country.

Those are two thoughts shared with me recently by Boston-area entrepreneur Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and author of a top-selling book published last year called Disciplined Entrepreneurship. He will visit the Badger State on April 17 for two separate roundtable discussions about entrepreneurship hosted by Xconomy. (To register for the free lunchtime event at gener8tor’s Madison office, click here. To register for the free evening event hosted by Startup Milwaukee at 96square, click here.)

I wanted to give readers a taste of Aulet’s talk and also hear his thoughts on visiting Wisconsin. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: The term “entrepreneurship” gets bandied about quite often, but I get the sense that people sometimes have different views of what entrepreneurship truly means. How do you define an entrepreneur?

Bill Aulet: An entrepreneur is someone who creates a new venture where there was not one before. It is the art of business formation. I believe there are two fundamentally different types of entrepreneurship: SME (Small Medium Enterprise) and IDE (Innovation Driven Enterprise). I think this is an important distinction, and Fiona Murray and I described these in the paper for the Kauffman Foundation.

X: Without giving away too much from your planned discussions in Wisconsin, why do you believe that entrepreneurship is something that can be taught?

BA: It can absolutely be taught unless “taught” is defined in a very tight and old school way (from a book only and in a classroom). We see this all the time. The question is not “if” but “how,” and this is what we will be focusing on, and then people will believe. Interestingly, 150 years ago people believed that business was not teachable, and yet today we take for granted business schools. We will similarly look back on entrepreneurship in 25 years and wonder what all the hubbub was about.

X: Every startup hub around the U.S. is different, and each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. But do you believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, whether it’s a thriving startup ecosystem like Boston or more nascent ones like Milwaukee and Madison, WI?

BA: Absolutely, and with technology making the world more flat (thanks to Thomas Friedman for that appropriate term) we will continue to see the acceleration of not only entrepreneurship and also its dispersion. Places like Boulder, CO, have shown that there are real advantages to being off the beaten track, but these places have to take advantage of their situation. One of the key advantages is less friction in the system. Tom Edison said his measure of innovation was how many iterations could be done on a new idea within the first 24 hours it came to life.

X: What are you most looking forward to during your Wisconsin visit?

BA: Understanding the people and ultimately the culture. This is always the biggest driver of all [in an innovation community], as I have written about previously in Xconomy, and it continues to fascinate me whenever I go to new ecosystems. It ends up determining the elements of the system, how well developed they are, and how they interact. I learn so much from every entrepreneurial ecosystem we dive into; it is a two-way learning street.

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