Forward with NACCE

How to Pursue Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job, with Alex DeNoble

May 10, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
How to Pursue Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job, with Alex DeNoble
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr. Corbin is joined by Dr. Alex DeNoble, an author, distinguished professor, and expert in nonprofit entrepreneurship. Dr. DeNoble shares his personal story of growing up on the East Coast and eventually moving to the West Coast to pursue a career in higher education and entrepreneurship. He also talks about his extensive travels around the world, which have given him unique insights into entrepreneurship in different cultures. Dr. DeNoble's most recent book, The Entrepreneur Within, focuses on helping people with an entrepreneurial spirit experience the joys of entrepreneurship without quitting their day jobs. In this conversation, he discusses what inspired him to write the book and the lessons he hopes readers will take away from it. If you're interested in entrepreneurship but don't know where to start, this episode is a must-listen!

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Alex: I wanted to write to people that, working inside of organizations. So that's the entrepreneur within an organization, but it really focused on people that have the entrepreneur within their heart, within their soul, and they could experience the joys of entrepreneurship, without having to quit their day job.

Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. I'm Rebecca Corbin, president and CEO of NACCE, and I'm very excited to have a special guest, an author, a distinguished professor, and someone who's done a lot of really good work with nonprofit supporting entrepreneurship. So it is my pleasure to welcome Dr. Alex DeNoble, to our program today. how are you doing today, Alex?

Alex: I'm doing great. It's gonna be a fine day here in San Diego, and I’m looking forward to talking with you today.

Becky: That's great. Well, it's beautiful weather in San Diego. I know the traffic can be a challenge, but we're, we're really happy to have you in our studio today. And I wanna begin because I, I know a lot of people in the entrepreneurship world that have either been involved with USASBE or NACCE know, about your work, but, others who might be listening may not have, heard about you.

So I'd like to begin with maybe some things that impacted you growing up and, and eventually choosing a, a career in higher education and entrepreneurship. So just share with us a little bit about you and, and your life story.

Alex: My life story. Well, wow. Okay. Thank you so much for this. I was born in, New York City and raised in New Jersey and really spent my formative years in the east coast in that particular region. My initial training was in the area of public accounting, and so I started working. I went to school in the area. I started working in the area. 

And I just knew that I wanted something different because a friend of mine moved to Blacksburg, Virginia. And I went down to visit him and that's when I discovered Virginia Tech, and Virginia Tech was so different. The atmosphere, the environment was so different from what I was used to in a city environment that I decided it just drew me there.

And I ended up staying for a master's and a doctorate. And one thing led to another, which, I ended up getting a teaching position, a faculty position at San Diego State University. So never really haven't been on the west coast before. Drove across the country, start my new job, and that was 40 years ago. 

Becky: Amazing. And I imagine even though being an East Coast person, moving and, and probably working and living most of your life on the west coast, you've probably traveled all around the world, haven't you, doing, doing your work and, and speaking with people. Maybe share with us a place or two or maybe an experience of, of where you've traveled to.

Alex: Wow. I've been to Russia, Taiwan, Egypt more recently. just, I spent a lot of time in Mexico working because of our proximity to the border there. But each place, and oh, and also Helsinki, Finland. I've had, a great relationship with Alto University and Helsinki. 

So for the past, 15 years I have been spending three weeks in the summer in Helsinki, Finland. Alto has been very good to me there. I get an apartment in downtown Helsinki and I work with them for a while. And, I've really gotten to know Finland and that area quite well, and I would've never imagined that before.

Becky: Yeah, it just shows you really what having an entrepreneurial mindset can do, and you find environments where you really feel like you can thrive and, and prosper as, as you have at Virginia Tech. And a lot of people have, have those experiences. I know in, in the work that I do, we work a lot with community colleges, trying to get, you know, first generation students and you know, people of, of all ethnic backgrounds and, and some from different countries and get them on the, on-ramp to higher education and whether they go into the trades or eventually transfer to a university. 

It's, it's really kind of the gateway into happy life. And I think that was, One thing I read about Finland, they are some of the world's happiest people, so that's always a good, a good place to be.

Alex: Yeah.

Becky: But I wanna talk to you a, a little bit more, about, some work that you've been, that you've been doing. I know you've written a number of books and, and your most recent book, which I'm gonna show for our, video version, the Entrepreneur Within I, I love, the cover of it. And there's a tagline on the front that says you don't have to quit your day job to experience entrepreneurship, and that is wow, radically inclusive.

So maybe let's begin, tell us what inspired you, after all of the work that you've done to write this particular book.

Alex: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, this is my first book. I've written a number of articles. I've had the opportunity to, as part of my career as a professor, over a span of 40 years, I've written many academic articles and so forth, but I've always wanted to write a book and I wanted to learn that experience and, and so, when I had a chance to take a particular program, That, taught me how to write a book, which is very different from writing an academic article.

It's a totally different writing style, and when I thought about it, I wanted to pick something to learn how to write a book, but I wanted to pick low hanging fruit. Now I've been teaching corporate entrepreneurship, with executives at Qualcomm, San Diego Gas and Electric, Siemens Corporation, and in Helsinki, Finland with Korean companies like LG Corporation, Samsung. You know, and in Mexico I teach a lot with Seti University, with, graduate students and so forth. 

So I have a lot of experience in working with, executives and graduate students in teaching this particular topic. So as I learned how to write in this new style for me, a new style. it was easy to do that while I was on a subject matter that I knew something about.

Becky: Yeah, that's really interesting cause I've, I've seen you cited in so many books and textbooks. it's, it's really remarkable that, you really embrace this opportunity, to do something different, which is really what we try to encourage students and leaders to do, and even in your introduction on page 15, you begin, with a quote by Duke Ellington saying, a problem is a chance for you to do your best.

And to me that's really the framing of an entrepreneurial mindset. It's not trying to avoid problems or cover up problems, but looking at it in terms of, of opportunity, and as we were preparing for this conversation, you were, sharing with me a little bit about the, the FBI framework, which is kind of a cool acronym.

So maybe you could share with everybody what does that stand for, and then I'd like to get into an example of something that you write about in the book. 

Alex: In Corporate Entrepreneurship, I was writing from the perspective of somebody with an idea inside of an existing company, but did not have, a pathway to have people in the organization take the idea credibly. And so I wanted to provide that kind of a pathway. And to be honest, I, I was looking for a way to provide a framework that was simple, easy to remember. 

And FBI came to me in the shower one day, I have to admit. And it was an aha moment for me and I said, let me try this. if you've got an idea and you wanna present it inside of your company, you have to be able to frame it in such a way that decision makers could understand it and ultimately support the idea.

But then you have to get the buy-in of other people inside of the organization who might be affected by your idea, and I've got some examples around that. And then ultimately you have to lead the initiative if you get that chance, and you have to implement it. 

So 'Frame' the idea so decision makers could understand it. Get the 'Buy-in' from people that you need to support it. And then focus on the 'Implementation' of the idea, so FBI framework for corporate entrepreneurship. That's how it evolved.

Becky: That's great. And I, I was sharing with you, some of the things that we have coming up in, in NACCE's world, we are doing an innovation and action summit, out in the Los Angeles area in just a couple of weeks, and it'll be convening of 11 college presidents and some foundation people and other leaders.

And I thought that framework in your book in particular offered some real pearls of wisdom and, and I can tell in, in some respects, it's written for more of a corporate audience because it's not heavy with academic jargon. You know, there's, you know, facts and things sprinkled in. But one of the things that I love about it is your examples of people.

So I, I'm gonna flip ahead to chapter six with the title of chapter six is Aligning Your Project with the Organization, Culture and Structure, Achieving Strategic Fit. Now what could be better, for either corporate leaders or academic leaders who are trying to align with a corporate plan? They've gotta work with their board. They have shared governance, they've gotta work with faculty, they've gotta work with staff, they've gotta meet student needs. There's gotta be that alignment. 

So, You tell the story of Todd Mitchell at Aqua Lung, and I think you illustrated a point, that you felt connected very well to the FBI framework. So tell us a little bit about Todd's story and, and how that connects.

Alex: Well, Todd, I mean, I met Todd, through a mentor program that we run at San Diego State University, and it was during the writing, I mean the, the early writing of the book where I had to find people that could share stories with me that I could illustrate different concepts, about corporate entrepreneurship.

And Todd shared with me his, previous work, at a company called Aqua Lung. Now, Aung has been around for a long time. It was founded by the famous, undersea, Explorer Jacque Cousteau.

Becky: Mm-hmm.

Alex: Decades ago, I used to watch Jacques Cousteau as a, as a child in, in the 1960s. And, I was always fascinated by that, and Todd's working for Aqua Long at the time. And Aung has always been known for its scuba diving equipment. that's naturally where Jacques Cousteau came from. And Todd was, in sales and he came across a famous Olympic swimmer, I'm not allowed to use this person's name, but a famous Olympic swimmer that had a goggle, a unique swimming kind of a goggle that they felt would be a nice addition to the Aqua Lung product line, but selling that kind of gear was very different from the traditional gear and the traditional branding of Aqua Lung. 

And so Todd had a challenge that he had to frame the idea when, when he saw this opportunity, he wanted to frame the idea so that senior decision makers could really understand it. And, there was the branding associated with this particular swimmer, that was well known. You know, it was in the swimming world, but in a very different way. 

So, it was a challenge that he had to convince them through potential volume, but the more important part of that was the implementation piece, because he had to get country managers around the world to embrace this, and to be able to align it with their strategic decision, I mean, with their, with their operations. because again, this is a very different market. It's a very different sales approach. it has very different business process implications. 

So, that's the one challenge for people trying to implement new ideas. They see the idea, but then to recognize how an organization has to reposition its business processes to effectively implement it, that is what I tried to illustrate with Todd Mitchell's story.

Becky: Yeah, that, that's a great example. And it, you know, it shows you that. Really is the world changes and we've all experienced that collectively through the pandemic that, you know, if we don't innovate and make those changes, you know, in some respects you risk a little bit by changing the model and, and, you know, costs you money, it costs you time, but if you don't, you risk being left behind or are really outpaced by others.

So, I really appreciate, that example and, and I think that, you know, it offers a lot regardless of industry that people might be in. And I, I think, you know, just kind of getting back to the title is, is really that, it sounds to me like what you're saying is the entrepreneur. is within all of us really despite how many, talents we might have or how few talents that we might have, a lot of the work that we do here at NACCE is supporting everyday entrepreneurs.

So these might be folks that have a skilled trade or a, an idea for our main street business all the way up to some of the tech startups and, and some of the folks that you've mentored throughout your career. So, I wanna thank you so much, Alex, Dr. DeNoble for joining us. I really encourage people, to really think about, you know, how might, you know, tapping into your own entrepreneurial spirit open up opportunities in, in your own life or in your community.

And like you said, you're, you're constantly traveling around the world, so even though you've worked, have a distinguished career for 40 years, you know, it sounds like your, your work is going to continue on for decades, plus, to the future. 

And so I don't know if you wanted to leave us with a final thought. I'd encourage people to get on Amazon, to pick up this book, The Entrepreneur Within. But if there's anything you just wanna close out with today.

Alex: I chose that title, The Entrepreneur Within, it had a double meaning to it, and I'm glad you picked up on that because I really focused, I wanted to write to people that, working inside of organizations. So that's the entrepreneur within an organization, but it really focused on people that have the entrepreneur within their heart, within their soul, and they could experience the joys of entrepreneurship, without having to quit their day job. and that's, that's, that's what I tried to convey with this book.

Becky: As you said often one thing leads to another. thank you again. I, I really appreciate that. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Alex: Well, thank you. Thank you. And you too. Take care.