TEACHING ROOKIES TO
TAKE A SWING AT BUSINESS

Photo by Tracy Price

TOM LYONS, Baruch's Lawrence N. Field Family Chair in Entrepreneurship and a professor of management, believes there's no such thing as a born entrepreneur. Sure, a person may have a great idea, even a flair for business, but to be successful he or she needs a complex set of managerial skills—and skill sets are something that can be learned.

Lyons, who came to Baruch last September from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, has given a lot of thought to how entrepreneurs become more proficient at what they do. He's devised a system borrowed from—of all things—the national pastime, baseball, to explain it. The Lyons Entrepreneurial League System is organized just like Major League Baseball, with a multitiered farm structure that goes from "rookie" to "Triple-A" level, with players relying on coaches to advance them to the higher levels.

So how can you tell a rookie businessperson from a Triple-A businessperson? "Rookies," says Lyons, "are always trying to do everything themselves. A Triple-A entrepreneur, on the other hand, is highly strategic. He works ' on' not ' in' his business." While a business rookie scrambles to pay the bills and figure out how to price her wares, a savvy Triple-A player will have acquired legal help and technical assistance. And the Triple-A entrepreneur is probably looking for venture capital to expand.

In case the baseball metaphor sounds somewhat fanciful, Lyons has proof that it works. His system for developing entrepreneurs underwent a successful pilot project in Louisville several years ago and has since been implemented on a larger scale in Advantage Valley, an economically depressed tri-state area encompassing parts of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio as well as in nine parishes in central Louisiana. Growing entrepreneurs from the ground up, Lyons argues, is generally a surer path to economic development than "business attractions strategies" that may or may not work. And the general public is taking note: Lyons and his Entrepreneurial League System were featured in "Entrepreneurs Can Earn Their Stripes in the Minor Leagues, Too" (Small Business section, Apr. 26, 2007, New York Times).

"ROOKIES ARE ALWAYS TRYING TO DO EVERYTHING THEMSELVES.
A Triple-A entrepreneur, on the other hand, is highly
strategic.
He works
'on'
not 'in' his business."

A Midwesterner born and bred, Lyons has adapted readily to New York and to Baruch's Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship. The clientele of the Field Center are ideal subjects for his coaching strategies, and in time he'd like to attract some venture capital to enlarge the center's scope and mission.

Lyons has extensive academic and field experience in urban planning. Currently, he leads local, national, and international research teams focusing on entrepreneurship and its role in regional economic development. He holds a PhD in urban and regional planning from the University of Michigan, an MA in urban studies from Loyola University, and a BA in history and political science from Butler University in Indianapolis.

—ZANE BERZINS