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Portrait of a Parallel Entrepreneur


How one individual successfully runs multiple, unrelated businesses.

One might think that entrepreneur Scott Shickler has been cloned: He owns a full-scale restaurant in Roswell, Georgia, a software company, and is spinning off a gourmet dessert company (not to mention a raspberry farm with his brother-in-law).

Shickler is a parallel entrepreneur -- which differs from a serial entrepreneur, who opens divergent businesses with the goal of selling them -- who owns and runs several businesses in varied industries. Most people are consumed by running one business, so how can Shickler and others like him juggle several companies simultaneously?

Shickler, 42, owns the Nirvana Café and Grille, an upscale Panera Bread (PNRA); Global Education Technologies, an educational software company; and is launching Chocolate Chip Nirvana, a separate dessert company. He describes parallel entrepreneurs as people who are "creative, visionary, can identify a good team and inspire them."

Parallel entrepreneurs are "innovators who specialize in starting a business but many are not interested in the nitty-gritty of running the business day-to-day," explains Bruce R. Barringer who wrote Entrepreneurship: Successfully Launching New Ventures and teaches entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University. Multiple entrepreneurs introduce a concept, validate it, market it, and often -- but not always -- unload it.

Most multiple owners avoid going to banks to capitalize the business and instead, tap their extensive network to raise funds. "The more businesses you start, the more people become part of your network, the more people you can call on for money. They have big Rolodexes," Barringer says. Proving the point, Shickler capitalizes his business through angel investors, though he self-financed the launch of Chocolate Chip Nirvana with under $40,000. Many angels have invested in most of his start-ups.

One of the most important skills of succeeding is hiring the right people. "If you can't hire the right people, you won't survive," Barringer says. Hiring the right people is critical because although Shickler provides the vision, strategic planning, and inspiration, his team of COO, CFO, and CMO run the collective business on a day-to-day basis. "They like the diversity too," he says.
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