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Hannah Whittaker

December 8, 2011 in Innovation, NPD

Cheesy Innovation

A story I recently read about an American entrepreneur who left the US to make cheese in a Russian village called in to question the idea of business innovation and spirit as a science that can be taught. Expectedly, the fellow in question possessed many of the traits that are widely recognised as native to entrepreneurs. A hard worker, risk-taker, adaptable, resourceful, all of the things that many university lecturers and MP’s think can be replicated and reproduced. However, one thing that Jay the American Cheese Maker has experienced is something that for many intelligent aspiring entrepreneurs may have been absent from their lives- struggle. After running away from home at the age of 14 to avoid being sent back to school in the UK, he slept in the stairwell of an apartment building while he washed dishes in a restaurant across the road. Despite a rough start, he worked to later become a chef, after stints in construction and an abattoir also brought experience which came in useful in setting up the cheese farm.

Jay began his operation 18 months ago, as part of a move to establish a rural life with his new wife Valentina, in a village an hour’s drive from the capital, Moscow. But what began as an experiment fast became a business, with an estimated turnover of 30,000 euros in 2011. He started with one cow. Now he has five plus eight goats, buys extra milk from nearby farmers and employs a worker from Tajikistan. The operation has taken over the entire downstairs of the farmhouse he built himself.

Although maybe not a stellar success story (yet) like the Richard Bransons of this world, the tale of the cheese man threw light on the role that raw hardship and difficult decision making plays in business innovation. There is frankly no education like adversity, and challenging times often bring about the most dynamic ideas. So, the next time you face a challenging decision and fancy taking the easy road, think how much it may benefit your business if the challenge is faced, not feared.

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