Juanita Hardy knows what it takes to turn a great innovation into a successful business. After a long career with IBM, Hardy, who had developed a business consulting methodology, participates in the ACTiVATE program, currently offered by the Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and originally funded by NSF.
After finishing the program, Hardy launched Tiger Management Consulting Group, which provides strategic consulting services to business owners. She told BusinessNewsDaily how she turned her great idea into a successful business.
BusinessNewsDaily: How did you first decide to take your science background and turn it into a business?
Juanita Hardy: It was all quite coincidental for me. I majored in mathematics in college, fully expecting to teach in the secondary school system, which I did for a short time. Then IBM invited me to its Gaithersburg, Md., site for an interview. I joined IBM in 1974 and enjoyed a robust 31-year career, before retiring in 2005. It was quite natural for me to continue doing what I loved, which was creating solutions to help clients solve tough problems and improve and grow their business. My company, Tiger Management Consulting Group, is a full-services management consulting firm. We develop solutions, such as the Doing Business in China Toolkit for Business Leaders, designed to facilitate the success of small and medium-sized businesses in the global export market or our turnkey solution to aid government contractors in human resources and business development.
BND: What has been the biggest challenge in terms of finding your way in the world of business?
J.H.: Making the transition from a corporation with a large infrastructure to a small business with no infrastructure or one that had to be built was tough for me. I appreciate IBM as a company. This appreciation was punctuated as I navigated the small-business space in the first two years of my business launch. Even today, I recognize the value of having a solid infrastructure, such as marketing and PR resources, finance and accounting systems, administration, business development and delivery services. Running a small business can be a fragile ecosystem and all parts have to work well to deliver on the whole. That’s one aspect. The second is having access to capital or having deep personal pockets, a luxury a small business owner rarely has. Recognizing that big ideas often require big capital; so having the funding required to execute properly on my plan.
BND: What qualities do you have as a “science” person that makes you a good business person?
J.H.: An analytical mind. I believe IBM was interested in me because the nature of the work it wanted me to do in those early years required this and mathematics was a good indicator that I had or could develop critical thinking skills. A good business person has to be able to think outside of the box and see patterns that are not obvious. This is a quality that serves me well. It helps me solve tough problems for my clients, and helps me chart the right course for my business.
BND: What advice would you give to those who are trying to turn their technology into a viable business?
J.H.: Something they’ve probably heard many times over — do the due diligence. Do both primary and secondary research. Look for trends. Be futuristic. Test your ideas with others. Brainstorm on possibilities. Capture lessons learned. Collect as much information as you can, then step back and see what it is telling you. The analysis will validate you if you are on the right track, or if you have to make adjustments and what, or if you need to erase the whiteboard and start over. No matter the results, it’s all good. It will increase your confidence and facilitate your success. For example, we developed case studies of companies successfully doing business in China. We interviewed company executives; extracted secondary research. The lessons learned led to the development of a framework, which we validated in a pilot. Pilot feedback confirmed we were on the right track.
BND: What would you do differently if you had it to do over again?
J.H.: I would have done more visioning early on. Reflecting back, I created the vision as I was navigating the waters. I would highly recommend having a clear map before you undock. It’s not rocket science and we’ve all heard it before: develop a good business plan. I would have invested more time up front on the vision of my business and the realization of that vision expressed though a solid business plan. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve had fun along the way, but it is not a path I would recommend to my clients, or those of us who need to see fast results. I had the luxury of one career behind me and a little time as I contemplated the next. I am grateful for this and all I have learned.