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  1. Business

Before entrepreneurs take startup plunge, better to know thyself

What is your "entrepreneurial mind-set"?

Now there's a practical way to find out.

A group of leadership training and psychology professors at St. Petersburg's Eckerd College have come up with a tool to help individuals and business groups assess their entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses.

The benefit? To better know thyself and, in the process, become a sharper entrepreneur.

The Eckerd team could not find an assessment tool for entrepreneurs it considered comprehensive, helpful and "psychometrically" valid. So it developed one. It took three years. A year ago, the professors introduced their assessment tool, called the "Entrepreneurial Dimensions Profile" or EDP. Anyone can take the assessment online in about 15 minutes for a $45 fee.)

"My colleagues and I originally developed the EDP based on the belief that in order for corporate leaders to drive growth and innovation, an entrepreneurial mind-set would be helpful," says Dr. Jennifer Hall, a 20-year Eckerd College veteran, licensed psychologist and director of coaching and feedback at the Leadership Development Institute. The institute is a revenue-producing arm of Eckerd that provides executive coaching and works widely with businesses. Local examples include Raymond James Financial, Tech Data Corp. and Bloomin' Brands.

Hall says her team realized that the EDP could also be helpful to actual and aspiring entrepreneurs, including university students studying entrepreneurship. (Eckerd may use the EDP to assess all of its students in the coming years.)

That part of Hall's work caught the attention of Rebecca White at the University of Tampa. White directs UT's Entrepreneurship Center and is a major player in the emerging business startup culture in this region.

White says she is just starting to assess UT students before and after taking entrepreneur program classes to see the impact of course work on a variety of behaviors and skills.

"This is, of course, not a test for students but a way for them to gain better self-awareness, which we believe is very important in entrepreneurship," White says. Her UT program looked at several assessments and liked the EDP because it focused specifically on entrepreneurship. UT is in "test mode" at this point, White says, praising the Eckerd assessment tool for being easy to take and having no right or wrong answers.

"The next step, after the test, is the most important — how the entrepreneur takes action on what he or she learned from the assessment."

The assessment has little to do with your specific business skills. But it has everything to do with measuring your personal preferences for things like working independently, working with or without structure, risk tolerance, how action-oriented you are, your level of passion in work and your desire to achieve at a high level.

The assessment also helps measure whether you tend to be a short- or long-term thinker, an idea generator, someone who is self-confident or a doubter, optimistic or otherwise, persistent or prone to give up on tasks, and how sensitive you are to co-workers' well-being.

The assessment, based on 72 questions taken online, is not meant to tell you whether you are or are not an entrepreneur. Instead, it tries to capture relative strengths and weaknesses, and compare them against typical norms for people who say they are entrepreneurs and folks who work in more traditional corporate workplaces.

Armed with such a profile, a potential entrepreneur would better understand what he or she is best and worst at, how to work on improving any weaknesses and even how to look for co-workers whose strengths best complement his or her skills.

It's a leap of faith and test of strength to start a business. If this assessment tool can improve the odds for entrepreneurs, that's a huge step forward.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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