Sisters Betsy and Emily Nunez have created a company called Sword & Plough. It began taking orders April 15 for canvas handbags made from Army surplus canvas. Although the Nunez sisters went from concept to company relatively fast, it did not happen without a lot of help. Such is often the story of successful entrepreneurs.
While a senior at Middlebury College, Betsy entered a social entrepreneurship contest using her business concept. Following that experience, she snagged a place in Dell’s Summer Social Innovation Lab, thereby creating a finished business plan, a brand name, and a prototype. The following year, the business concept netted a $6,500-award in the Harvard’s Pitch for Change contest. About that same time, the Nunez sisters received an invitation to the Kairos Global Summit in New York. All this exposure generated some excellent networking, mentoring, and free consulting for the pair.
The Nunez sisters definitely appreciate their fortuitous circumstances in addition to their hard work. Consequently, Sword & Plough donates 10% of its profits to Veteran Green Jobs and the Wounded Warrior Project.
Entrepreneurs’ success or failure is so often contingent on the availability of a network of resources and support. Diane Brady describes how this worked for the Nunez sisters (“It Takes an Army—And Advisers” Bloomberg Businessweek, 4/15/13–4/21/13, pp. 50, 52):
“The existence of Sword & Plough is a testament to the power of the growing infrastructure nationwide to support student entrepreneurship. Without the momentum provided by competitions, fellowships, and mentoring programs, Emily’s lightbulb moment may have been only that. ‘We had so much help in making this a reality,’ she says. That’s reflected in the company’s board of advisers, which includes Cosmo Fujiyama, who set up the Dell lab, and David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. ‘There were probably a few key weeks there where, if Emily hadn’t had us, she might have moved on,’ says John Isham, faculty director at Middlebury’s entrepreneurship center, who is also on the advisory board. ‘Our networks mattered.’”
Repeatedly, networking and collaboration are major keys to entrepreneurial success. It is not enough to have a great business idea. You also must have a diverse, vibrant, wise constellation of people to help you navigate your path.
At the end of the day, I am hard-pressed to say which party gets the most out of it—the entrepreneur or all the people who provided support. But then again, that is what makes the whole thing even more exciting now isn’t it?