When Opportunity Knocks: Advice for Budding Entrepreneurs

arvind-sodhani_1This blog was posted on behalf of Arvind Sodhani, executive vice president of Intel Corporation and president of Intel Capital. Intel Capital, Intel’s strategic investment arm directs the company’s external investments, mergers and acquisitions in support of Intel’s strategic objectives and helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses worldwide.




This month, some of the world’s most promising young innovators and entrepreneurs will gather in Silicon Valley to compete in the Intel Global Challenge (IGC) at UC Berkeley. These young visionaries represent the best of more than 18,000 applicants from 60 countries, having won regional competitions to make it to IGC. Now, the final 28 teams will vie for USD 100,000 in prizes as they present new technologies and business plans to panels of judges, including experienced entrepreneurs, investment managers and venture capitalists.

So how do the judges pick the winners? How do they identify the entrepreneurs and startups with the most potential for success?

At Intel Capital, we’ve been doing just that for more than two decades. Since 1991, we have invested more than US $10.9 billion in some 1,300 companies in 54 countries. In that timeframe, 202 portfolio companies have gone public on various exchanges around the world, and 324 were acquired or participated in a merger. As of June 2013, the Intel Capital investment portfolio is valued at approximately $1.5 billion. So it’s safe to say that we’ve learned a bit about picking winners.

Here is our advice for new entrepreneurs:

  • Start with a breakthrough idea/technology. The idea/technology is the thing. The winning team must present ground-breaking work that will make a significant impact in the world. It must address a big problem or a real opportunity.
  • Build a capable and cohesive team. The team leader must recruit and assemble a qualified team and then delegate to them.
  • Have a compelling vision. The entrepreneur must be able to see the big picture and keep the organization focused on long-term goals, while also being adaptable in the short term.
  • Be your best salesperson. The entrepreneur must be able to sell the idea to those recruited for the team, to investors, to customers and to the world.
  • Think strategically. The team leader must be able to think strategically, make sound business decisions and follow through.
  • Build a culture where it is OK to fail. Mistakes and failure are part of building a business. Very few companies soar directly to the top; the path is most often circuitous. Experience failures, learn from them, adjust and move on.
  • Listen. Entrepreneurs must make the time to listen to the experiences of others and learn from them. They should be open to advice and be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
  • Lead with integrity. All team members should work hard, do what they say they will do, and treat people with respect. This starts with the actions of the leaders and the expectations they set. Remember, reputations stick, and investors want to feel comfortable handing over money.
  • Take risks – it is OK to fail. Starting a new business requires calculated risk taking. Do not wait for perfection. When failure occurs, learn from it and move on.

In the end, becoming an entrepreneur is as much art as science. Some entrepreneurial skills can be taught. Others are more intuitive, like a sixth sense that allows successful serial entrepreneurs the ability to see market trends and opportunities before anybody else. But even the latter can be honed with experience.

If you are interested in becoming an entrepreneur, work in a start-up. In a small company where roles are less clearly defined, you will have the opportunity to get a sense of the whole organization and how things work. You will see the issues a startup faces. You will experience both successes and failures, and you will learn from both.

And if you already have a big idea and the timing is right, don’t wait. The time is now.

Take a look at this year’s IGC finalistsWinners to be announced Oct. 9th.