Ep. 8 – Dr. Deb Ferber speaks on entrepreneurship

October 15, 2015 by Cindy O'Dell

Dr. Deborah Ferber teaches courses on entrepreneurship as a member of Brandman University’s School of Business and Professional Studies faculty. She is also an entrepreneur, an investor through Tech Coast Angels and a valued source of help for students at Brandman and other universities.

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Welcome to Brandman Speaks. I’m Cindy O’Dell, communications manager at Brandman University. Today I’m speaking with Dr. Deborah Ferber. Dr. Deb, as she likes to be called, is an assistant professor of Business and Organizational Leadership in the School of Business and Professional Studies with experience in international business as well as in building and teaching business courses.

In your Brandman bio, you call yourself an entrepreneur and intrepreneur. Tell me what you mean by both of those terms.

Dr. Deborah Ferber: Well this is great, we have a radio show at Brandman University. This is wonderful. The difference between an entrepreneur and intrepreneur. The intrepreneur is the individual who is very innovative in an internal environment, such as an organizational structure. An example would be Art Frye from 3M who invented the Post It Note. And the entrepreneur which everyone is very familiar with is the risk-takers who go out and forge their own way to start their own endeavors.

You’re going to be talking to the Young Professionals Leadership Summit on Oct. 30 in Irvine about thinking like an entrepreneur. What does it mean to think like an entrepreneur?

Ferber: I think we learned some very valuable lessons with this last economic downturn we just had and that is we constantly have to reinvent ourselves and we see that with our students here at Brandman University. We have professionals who are already business leaders but they’re constantly building their skill sets. So the presentation is really geared toward telling people that they need to reinvent themselves and be entrepreneurial in their own business environment or go out and forge their own way by starting their own organization.

You help Brandman students and others prepare for presentations with Tech Coast Angels. Tell me about your relationship with Tech Coast Angels.

Ferber: Oh my goodness, they’re the most wonderful group. So they’re truly the catalyst for the economy. They’re what we refer to as the 1 percent that really gives back to the economy. They invest, not just in the stock market by buying mutual funds, but they actually go out an invest in companies and build ideas and organizations so we can hire people. I’m happy to say that last year we did about $36 million in funding and we hope to double that again this year.

And your role? You’re on the board?

Ferber: I’m also an investor in Tech Coast Angels, so I also invest in companies and I just did one recently, one of the Chapman Alumni groups I hope we’ll talk about and then I also review business plans and bring in companies that I think might be a good investment and a great way to grow the Orange County economy.

I know you help students. You mentioned Chapman students and I think you’ve helped Brandman students as well. How do you prepare them for a meeting with potential investors?

Ferber: At Brandman, I’m really pleased, I’m teaching several entrepreneurial courses so students are already targeting me and looking to take courses with me to build a business plan. And then I would say out of every 20 business plans, we filter them down to ones that are really looking for funding and then I do the introductions and sometimes that can be anything from an SBA (Small Business Administration) loan to a microloan. And then the TCA (Tech Coast Angels) is usually up to a minimum of a half a million dollars, so we see a lot of small business owners, especially here at Brandman, first looking for the micro and then pursuing the TCA loan. That’s when I get involved and do the introductions and help prepare them for the pitch.

What do they need to know to pitch?

Ferber: Oh, it’s so exciting. Years ago I was pitching for my own companies and now it’s really changed. It used to be 20 slides and you could be on your feet for up to an hour. It’s gotten so competitive. It could be 10 to 12 slides, and you may have 15 minutes, and if they don’t like you the gong goes off and it’s time to go away.  So it’s really important that we teach out students to really focus on the message because if you lose the message in the first five minutes, you’ve basically lost your audience and possible funding.

What are the biggest challenges entrepreneurs are facing at the moment?

Ferber: You know it’s a strange time right now. We’re finding that the Tech Coast Angels and other investors aren’t just looking for youth. So I tell people the good news is that for people between the ages of 40 and 60, that seems to be an area where angel investors and banks are really looking to fund. So the challenge is if you’re an individual without much business experience, how are you going to get that first bit of funding? So it’s great for those of us who are older and have a home equity loan that we can tap into and then ask for funding. But how do we do that with the first-stage entrepreneur? So we always talk about the friends and family plan first and then proceed to get funding elsewhere.

So you encourage entrepreneurs to look to their family units, neighbors, to tap them first for the startup funds. And then once they have those funds that makes them more palatable to other groups?

Ferber: That’s a good point. You’ll find that the Tech Coast Angels or venture funds usually will not involve themselves unless you’ve really leveraged yourself. So we talked about home equity loans. So they would expect that you would first go to friends and family. The other thing is crowdfunding. So we’ve seen Tech Coast Angels and others look to have you do crowd funding. I’ll be teaching that, hopefully, next semester in one of my entrepreneur courses.

I see those sometimes in my Facebook feed. And I’ll think, that looks really interesting. Is there a way you plan to help them capture their audience?

Ferber: You know it’s interesting we had Indiegogo come to Brandman University, which is one of the big crowdfunding groups. It’s very easy to start crowdfunding and to launch a campaign. The difficult part is if you’re not successful, that will follow you. It’s a way for angel groups and VCs (venture capitalists) to weed you out because it’s a way to do some market testing. So I caution people, that even though it’s easy to do it, if you don’t have a strategic campaign, it could really put the kibosh on getting funding later. But it really is a great tool for getting started for those that don’t have the means to get funding.

I know that one of the groups you’ve been most particular about help are women entrepreneurs. Do they face different challenges as women?

Ferber: We do. The good news is we’re starting companies faster than any other segment, minority group. The Latino community and women are opening more businesses for a variety of factors, but yes, you find the challenge to find funding for any minority group is always tricky. The SBA, the Small Business Administration, though has been very, very helpful and has numerous workshops that Extended Ed will be offering and that Dr. Deb will be talking about in her courses, but the challenge again is access to funds. My challenge is to create economic parity is to become an entrepreneur, where you really create your own destiny. We find that a lot of women are choosing that over the corporate track.

You’ve been a risk-taker both in terms of career and athletically as a skydiver and other high-risk sports. If that’s a requirement for being an entrepreneur as well, what do you tell the risk-adverse who have good ideas but may need a little nudge to get them into the risk-taking pool?

Ferber: Well it’s funny you say that because I’m on a board and we had to get insurance and I couldn’t get underwriting because of my particular hobby. So that was a little tricky. But I would say the day of the skydiver and real risk taker is going away because the financier is really looking for somebody that doesn’t want to risk their money (the financier’s money). Even though I am a thrill seeker, I would be very reluctant to show those colors in a business environment. But you do see demographically, those who are entrepreneurs really do enjoy those kinds of sports. So it’s kind of ironic. I’m very stereotypical. But a perfect example is they were concerned that maybe I could get injured and then they wouldn’t have a board member. So I also caution entrepreneurs, be careful the sports you take on because the funders are very particular to make sure that if you’re the primary source and energy for that company, you don’t disappear.

I know that one of the other things that you stress is to make sure that family members are onboard for entrepreneurs. Do you teach people how to approach family members? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ferber: You know, it’s happy wife, happy life, happy spouse. You better make sure you’re home life is prepared for the hours you put in. I always talk about giving a pint of blood, but that blood is also coming from the family. So unfortunately too, statistically, many entrepreneurs have divorces and it’s difficult for them to maintain a balance in their lives. So I always tell people if you have a significant other in your life, you better make sure they’re signing up for the same routine.

Along with that, you mention divorce, but other kinds of failures – entrepreneurs need to be prepared for that.

Ferber: Absolutely, but I would say truly successful entrepreneurs are very resilient. That individual is like a baseball player who will just continue to swing away until they finally make that connection. And that’ so important. And again, we are finding statistically, which always makes me feel better, that after the third venture, that’s when people tend to see success. It’s not that first one, that second one. And I remind people as they’re in that environment and they don’t stay successful, make sure you make friends in that arena because you might be going back for funding later on, too.

Statistically speaking, in terms of income, it still makes sense to get a college education. What makes it important for entrepreneurs?

Ferber: So statistically we know you’ll be more successful in the lifetime and I would also say that, as an entrepreneur, the more skill sets you have going in, the less likely the risk of failure. So we know of entrepreneurs that don’t have degrees but they’re really the minority. And it’s a great backup plan. Years ago I decided to get my doctorate because I knew I wanted to teach and be on boards and I had more flexibility while teaching. So to me it’s a great backup plan and a great way to build your skill set and be prepared to be successful.

Is there anything else you would like our podcast audience to know about?

Ferber: Well we’re so lucky here at Brandman University. We’re offering great certificate programs in entrepreneurship. So please call Dr. Deb if you’re ready to start your own business or even want to consider it or want to be an intrepreneur and be innovative in your own environment. We’ve got wonderful classes to offer and it’s really a joy to work here.

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