The dream of being an entrepreneur appeals to many people, but starting your own business from the bottom up can be a daunting prospect. In this article, we'll look at some alternatives that deliver many of the benefits while avoiding some of the drawbacks to investing or starting a business.

Invest in Other People's Startups

Although it doesn't carry quite the same attraction, investing in startups and established businesses can be as profitable as running them. Publicly traded venture capital funds scout and invest in startups, creating a portfolio of businesses that might make it big. With a single investment, you can get access to a wide portfolio of businesses that have passed the venture capital tests.

On a local level, there are often opportunities to make direct investments in a business you have some knowledge of, either in your area or your personal network, that could exchange an equity stake for your funding.

Both types of investments carry a level of risk that matches the outsized rewards if a business is successful, so it is important to thoroughly research these opportunities. Investing through venture capital is the most hands-off of these alternatives. You don't have to quit your job, open an office or hire employees, you just buy shares. (For related reading, see: Cashing In On The Venture Capital Cycle.)

Partner Up

Instead of investing in a business in exchange for an equity stake, you can look into becoming a partner in an existing business. This can mean doing day-to-day work in the business—focusing on something the founder doesn't have time for, like marketing or finance—or it can be a largely hands-off role. This can give you the entrepreneurial experience, minus the start-up phase, and allow you to choose the type of work you want to do. Even if you are absolutely set on starting your own business, the right partner can make the start-up phase go much more smoothly, depending on the experience and skills they bring to the table. (For related reading, see: Which terms should be included in a partnership agreement?)


Another option is to become an entrepreneur within a larger organization. Some companies have structures encouraging employees to pioneer new business lines in return for equity or bonuses. If you can find a company with a strong culture of innovation, you can build your own business within it, with the advantage of having start-up capital from the beginning and less personal risk. (To learn more, read: Are You An Entrepreneur?)

You may even be able to kick-start an intraprenuership program by asking to spend a percentage of your time working on pet projects with bonus structures. To bolster your argument, you can point to companies like 3M, Intel and Lockheed Martin. These three saw some of their biggest growth when intraprenuership defined the corporate culture. Intrapreneurship can offer some of the same benefits as entrepreneurship without forcing you to give up the security of a day job.

Buy a Franchise

A business in a box is one way to avoid many of the hassles involved with starting from scratch. Essentially, a franchise owner is following a script proven to be successful in other locations. The benefits of a franchise are:

The drawback is primarily the cost of buying a franchise and the royalties, which can be very steep. People wanting a true entrepreneur experience will also have issues with the limitations imposed by the franchise office as far as creative control. That said, franchises have a stronger support network and are generally believed to have a better success rate, when compared to the vast majority of start-up businesses. (For related reading, see: Is Buying a Franchise Wise?)

Buy an Existing Business

Buying a business already in operation and (hopefully) profitable is another shortcut. There are some obvious benefits, such as:

  • Less time spent in the planning and creation stage
  • Infrastructure already in place as far as supplies and sales
  • Existing customers who recognize the brand

The downside is the cost of acquiring a profitable business is usually much higher than the start-up costs of the same type of business. This cost reflects the efforts of the person who started it, plus an additional premium charged for the business having a proven viability. If you choose this route, it is important to carry out due diligence, such as confirming all the revenue figures and finding out why someone is selling a seemingly successful business. (For more, read: 4 Ways Millennials Can Buy Private Businesses.)

The Bottom Line

By exploring these alternatives, you may be able to find one that will give you the experience you are looking for while minimizing the difficulties of entrepreneurship. If none of them scratch that itch, maybe it is time to roll up your sleeves and build a business from the ground up

(For related reading, see: The 10 Greatest Entrepreneurs.)