Let’s say you want to strengthen your core: that set of muscles around your waist which are the central part of your body’s ability to function. What do you do?

A graphic recording of the Accelerator Panel during the Empact Summit by Joe Azar.

Let’s say you get a book and read about crunches. You read about pushups. Maybe you even read about Pilates and Yoga. Then you talk about what you read with others who also read about exercising.

That core will be feeling strong and looking great in no time, right?

Of course not. The necessary step has been left out: actually exercising.

The same is true, of course, with entrepreneurship. Read all you want about entrepreneurship, talk about starting that business all you like… until you start the actual process – until you start doing something – you cannot accomplish anything. You can never truly understand anything, never grow.

Not until you do something with your ideas.

For the last three days I’ve been in Washington, D.C., at the Empact Summit, an invite-only think tank of entrepreneurial talent. I met with other successful entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial support organizations, community colleges, universities and entrepreneurial accelerators to explore the future of entrepreneurship education. Our goal is to enhance the global entrepreneurial ecosystem and increase the number of successful startups around the world.

At an Accelerator Panel we discussed traditional educational models, comparing and contrasting them with models of learning which focus on doing. The panels agreed: when supporting business building efforts, a focus on accelerated, go-to-market, “do-it”-style learning is the best way to find out what does or doesn’t work. Traditional models simply don’t.

During the discussion I was surprised at how many of the invitees from the academic world spoke up defending a more traditional classroom approach to entrepreneurial education. This despite the “business plan” model of business development becoming increasingly outdated and traditional classroom methods of teaching being deeply ineffective. These have been exposed through long use as the least powerful methods of training a true entrepreneur.

The time for academic debates on the best way to learn is past. We need to increase the number of available jobs right now. If that’s to happen, we need to increase the number of successful entrepreneurs right now. If they’re going to be successful right now, they must be trained to design and build truly viable businesses right now. If we’re going to train entrepreneurs, we need to understand them right now.

They’re artists. They’re the square pegs trying to fit in round holes. They’re the rulebreakers who live to do and make and explore and who slowly die on the vine sitting in a lecture.

They’re not going to learn to navigate entrepreneurial waters by reading about sailing. They’ve got to get on their own boat and head out to sea. In that sink or swim environment, with quality mentoring from experienced coaches, they will learn to become the world’s next generation of entrepreneurial superstars driving the world’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.

They need to be doing the work of entrepreneurship. Doing is the most effective way to learn. Do the work in the real world, not on paper. Engage real customers, not on-paper customers. Sell a real product or service, not an on-paper product or service. Generate real revenue, fail for real and learn the real-life lessons of true entrepreneurship.

The real-life experience and knowledge you gain becomes a part of your DNA this way. They support your learning and provide a vehicle with which you learn at an accelerated rate.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying you don’t need a plan. You’ll need to spend time designing your business model and creating an action plan with measurable milestones. This can take a few hours or a few days.

Take your business model and Vizualize It. Get it drawn on paper. This step is vital, yes, but it doesn’t replace action. It prepares you for action.

Once the model and milestones are in place, start doing. Find customers. Sell to them. Generate revenue. Test your assumptions and revise your methods as you find what works and what doesn’t. This… doing… this is how you learn to build a viable business.

Here at StartUp Cup we’ve got a motto we repeat over and over: “Stop Talking. Start Doing.” When you do more you learn more. When you learn more you improve more. Working in the real world and experimenting on real methods and systems accelerates your ability to prove your business is viable or prove that you need a new model.

Either way you win, but you can’t win if you don’t play. And if you never stop talking and start doing, you’re not playing.

A strong core muscle group comes from consistent, real-life exercise. You don’t merely talk about the gym: you go. You don’t merely think about the exercises: you do them. You do it knowing it will take quite a while to sculpt those abs. Success doesn’t come quickly, but if you’re not doing what you need to do, it doesn’t come at all.

A strong entrepreneur comes from consistent, real-life entrepreneurship. You don’t merely talk about starting a business: you do it. You know it’ll take time. New research from the StartUp Genome Project shows that it takes 18 to 30 months for a new startup to reach scale. Success doesn’t come quickly, but if you’re not doing entrepreneurship for real, it doesn’t come at all.

Entrepreneurship is a journey, not a destination. Getting out there every day and exercising your entrepreneurial muscles is the only path to blasting through the challenges, pain and stress that come from committing to that journey.

If you’re feeling flabby around your entrepreneurial core there’s no better time than now to start working those entrepreneurial muscles for real, finding your real path to your very real ultimate success.

So get exercising. Your business will thank you. As will the people you’ll employ, the community you’ll serve and the other entrepreneurs you’ll inspire.