Rob Ryan gives Cornell entrepreneurs tips for success

Entrepreneurs have the most success when they work in an area they already know well, said Rob Ryan '69, founder of Ascend Communications and Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year 2002.

Ryan passed along some ground rules for successful entrepreneurs during a talk Oct. 26 in Call Auditorium. The event, part of the Moses and Loulu Seltzer Lecture series sponsored by Entrepreneurship@Cornell, drew more than 200 people.

Ryan spoke about the "sunflower" business model, which describes a robust business plan based on a "core technology." Using a Honda motor as an example, Ryan pointed out that this core technology can be applied in a number of different, profitable applications, including motorcycles, cars and lawnmowers.

Successful entrepreneurs usually share a few key attributes, he added: a balance of optimism and realism; perseverance; the ability to make and sacrifice goals; and morality.

While focusing on a niche, a successful entrepreneur also remains focused on the company's goals, Ryan said.

"Besides marketing, there are a lot of other things that a corporation needs to do," Ryan said. "They get lost in all of the minutia, and they can't keep it in their heads what the main goals of the company are.

"You get the product out, you sell it to the customer, and you please the customer; those are the only things that count."

Ryan used his own sunflower model after founding Ascend Communications in 1989, making the company's communications technology applicable to different uses despite its novelty at the time.

Hearing from entrepreneurs can be eye-opening as well as inspirational, said students who attended the event.

"The Entrepreneurship Speaker Series is a great program because it allows us students to meet people who have been immersed in real business situations, and they're sharing their experiences with us so we know how to react when presented with similar opportunities," said Shawn Goldsmith '12.

The Moses and Loulu Seltzer Lecture series was created by Samuel Seltzer '48, to honor his parents. Seltzer provided funding to create the Personal Enterprise Program in 1982, known today as Entrepreneurship@Cornell (E@C). He serves on the E@C Advisory Council.

The speaker series helps to promote entrepreneurship among Cornell students. Seltzer has also provided funding for the first four years of three introductory entrepreneurship classes in the Department of Applied and Economics and Management.

Sarah Palmer '10 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.

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