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Tuesday, July 02, 2013 - Entrepreneurial expert makes an impact through research, teaching and mentoring

He started an import company and an adventure trip business, managed a health club, and once nearly had his spine severed, but now Mark Simon is a researcher and professor teaching Oakland University students the skills of successful entrepreneurship.

Whether entrepreneurs are born, made or a product of their environment, Simon, professor, management and entrepreneurship, for OU’s School of Business, says they tend to make decisions differently than others.

In his research, Simon notes that although there are few personality traits that entrepreneurs have in common, one thing they share is confidence -- sometimes overconfidence -- in their judgment.

“They tend not to see as much risk. It’s not that they have a personality trait willing to take risks, it’s as if when they make decisions, they view it as less risky,” says Simon, whose love of entrepreneurship led him to study at Babson College, one of the first colleges to offer entrepreneurship as a concentration.

Later, Simon earned a master’s and Ph.D. at Georgia State University, and began teaching at OU in 1996. Throughout his academic career and research, Simon has focused on what helps entrepreneurs achieve their financial and lifestyle goals.

Real-world research, valuable advice

His extensive research has resulted in publishing dozens of papers in journals such as Academy of Management Journal, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, New England Journal of Entrepreneurship, Journal of Small Business Management, and Journal of Business Venturing.

In 2011, Simon parlayed much of his research and life experience as an entrepreneur into a book, The Balanced Entrepreneur: Finding and perfecting ideas to generate financing, freedom, fun and fortune (Entrepreneurial Life Publications).

Aaron Burns, MBA ’11, a film producer and former student of Simon’s, says he has applied many principles outlined in the book including: avoid competition, take your product to market early, focus on a specific target market, and organize your business in such a way that you enjoy what you are doing every day. 

Now working on Beyond the Mask, a historical fiction filmed, in part, at The Henry Ford and Meadow Brook Hall, Burns says Simon helped him increase the success of his business.

“He is a successful entrepreneur and a well-researched scholar. As a mentor, he’s able to combine his research experience with his real-world experience, which results in very practical, applicable teaching,” says Burns.

Successful and accessible

For Sharina Jones, Marketing ’03, starting her own business, Think Beyond the Chair, involved focusing on many of Simon’s principles.

“I really think besides the business aspect, he just wants me to believe in myself and stay focused on achieving my goals,” says Jones, who holds the Ms. Wheelchair Michigan 2011 title. 

In addition to writing a book of her own, Jones has advised Simon on his new book idea about helping individuals with disabilities become entrepreneurs.

“No matter how busy he is, he is always down-to-earth, funny and a great person. I think this also helps him succeed because people like being around him,” Jones adds.

Karen Markel, associate professor and department chair, management and marketing, for OU’s SBA, agrees Simon is very generous with his time to students.

“He clearly enjoys what he’s doing,” says Markel, who notes that Simon was instrumental in developing a new entrepreneurship program for both business and non-business students at OU. “He wants the program to be inviting for as many students as are interested in it.”


Focusing on what matters

A medical scare several years ago, in which a bone impingement nearly severed his spinal cord, gave Simon pause to consider what his work meant to him. The 53-year-old is fine now, but says it made him think about how to help people with the knowledge he’s acquired.

“I don’t know much about anything other than entrepreneurship. I do know how to help entrepreneurs achieve their goals,” says Simon, whose research points out there is not a correlation between success and time spent developing a lengthy business plan.

In fact, he says entrepreneurs should start by thinking about what activities they enjoy, and what activities will be required. 

“People talk about passion, but I would argue that passion is overused,” he says. “Are you passionate about the idea? Or about being an entrepreneur? I think what you should be most passionate about is frequently ignored -- passion about what you are going to be doing 40, maybe 50 hours a week. Do you like it? It’s amazing that people do not always think about that.”

Simon was surprised that mainstream advice for entrepreneurs usually focuses on success equals money, when his research shows otherwise. Ironically, he notes, most research studies show that a high level of financial success is not the most important goal for entrepreneurs. Things like flexibility, doing activities you like, and controlling risk are more important.

In his book, Simon provides practical advice on how entrepreneurs can improve their venture’s performance while maintaining a positive personal lifestyle. “I love playing with ideas, and also relaying those ideas to others,” he says. “That is why I made the transition from a practitioner of entrepreneurship to teaching entrepreneurship.”

Yet with book proposals, his research, helping new companies find their niche, and fostering OU’s own entrepreneurs through the Ideas 2 Business (I2B) lab, it’s doubtful that Simon will ever be too far away from a great idea of his own.


By Alice Rhein