Musings of a twenty-something entrepreneur.

Introduction to “How to Come Up With Business Ideas”

I’m fascinated with the question of how entrepreneurs come up with new business ideas. An entrepreneur without ideas is like a writer without a pen. You can play a supporting role without ideas of your own, but to be a founder you’ve got to think of things or ways to do things that no one else has ever done before.

This is an immensely important topic, and frankly one that I feel is under-treated relative to its importance. Not that people don’t think about this, but usually inquiring souls are simply advised to go fix a problem that you have, or go work somewhere and find out what kind of problems people have and get ideas that way. This is actually good advice, but it certainly doesn’t give an accurate portrayal of the whole picture.

The fact is that coming up with good new ideas involves many factors. Even if you’re trying to solve your own problems, you probably have many more “problems” than you’re aware of. How do you recognize them? How do you prepare yourself to see them? What kinds of problems should you look for?  This complexity of this process and the important role of new ideas in business creation make this a topic worth examining thoroughly.

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to work my way through some of these questions by splitting this topic into five parts:

Part 1: Introduction to the Initial Spark

Part 2What New Business Ideas Look Like

Part 3Where to Get Inspiration for New Ideas

Part 4How to Prepare Yourself to Come Up with New Ideas

Part 5What to Do With New Ideas

This article, Part 1, is a tad theoretical and abstract, and is intended just to clarify our understanding of what we mean when we talk about the initial spark. Hang in there, we’ll get our hands dirty in the following parts and talk about specific, practical things you can do to improve your ability to come up with new business ideas. As always, I hope you’ll contribute your thoughts in the comments.

Part 1: Introduction to the Initial Spark

You already know what the Initial Spark is. Its the moment of inspiration in which every idea is born. Its the “AHA” moment, when something clicks and a big light bulb above your head goes ding! before lighting up in a blaze of glory. The initial spark is the ultimate encounter between inspiration and insight within one’s imagination. And while most sparks are duds, every great idea  began that way.

Of course, the spark on its own is meaningless. Ideas are worth nothing without action, and the Initial Spark is just the beginning of a long process before real action is taken. Still, as the genesis of every idea, its importance in the process of creation can hardly be understated.

This is a major topic, at the core of creation. Where do new ideas come from? How can we have “better” ones or more of them? How do we recognize them and what do we do with them when we get them? How can we prioritize them?

I’m going to try and tackle these questions over a series of posts. For this first one, my philosophy training is telling me to define my terms. So here I’d like to discuss the nature of the spark. What properties does it have? Forgive me in advance, as Part 1 is more abstract than the subsequent parts. The purpose is to place the initial spark in context so that we can talk smartly about it later.

At its most basic, the spark is simply an idea. Its a new idea, more exactly. At birth, there’s no telling whether its any good, because we know nothing of it until that moment. That doesn’t mean all ideas are born equal. In fact, that’s why understanding them is crucial. You can prepare yourself to increase the chances that each idea you come up with is good, or even great.

Ideas, and thus the initial spark, can take many forms. Ideas are composed of interlinked concepts. The concept of the utility of a car and of rental as a form of payment are linked together to create the spark that inspired Enterprise Car Rental. The concept that people want to find stuff on the web linked with the concept of search and the concept of targeted advertising come together to form Google. At its core, the initial spark is a new linking of different concepts. These concepts can be ones that already exist or newly created ones, but the initial spark connects them to form something whose sum is greater than its parts.

Ideas can be about anything, and not every initial spark is a business idea. Maybe you connect your mom’s affection for hummingbirds with her love of silver jewelry and decide on the perfect birthday present, or you realize that the trampoline is a fantastic way to realize your dream of dunking a basketball. And while those are great, the idea here is to understand and foster the ability to come up with ideas that have the potential to come up with practical ideas that can be turned into some kind of enterprise.

So what makes an idea practical?

An idea is practical if it has some use. An idea for a business has some use if it solves an old problem or creates a new opportunity. So that is what the initial spark is: a new idea that solve a problem or create an opportunity.

While these new ideas come in infinite variety, there are particular forms they often take. For instance, perhaps the initial spark is oriented toward identifying a certain niche whose needs aren’t being met, or maybe it is a method for applying a proven model to a new market. In the next installment, Part 2What New Business Ideas Look Like, I’ll dive into different forms the initial spark can take.

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"I move Onward, the only direction. Can't be scared to fail- searching perfection... Loiterers should be arrested!" -Jay Z Find out more about me at

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3 Responses to “How to Come Up With Startup Ideas: Intro”

  1. […] Part 1 in this “How to Come Up With Business Ideas” series explained that the Initial Spark is a new idea with the potential for practical uses. This new idea is essentially composed of the combination of two or more existing ideas. Part 3 covers practical ways to come up with new ideas. […]

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