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Secrets of Successful Small Business owners

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By Michael Glauser, Next Avenue Contributor

The Silicon Valley approach for building companies has become the main strategy taught at many business schools. It goes like this: You create a prototype you can quickly test, preferably in the tech industry. You find a group of users and gain proof of concept. You raise capital and scale the business as rapidly as possible. You plan an exit strategy that may include going public or selling to an industry buyer. You shoot for a 10X return to investors. You make a lot of money.

This summer, our team at My New Enterprise (a company I co-founded that helps aspiring entrepreneurs) rode our bicycles 4,000 miles, from the west coast of Oregon to the east coast of Virginia, and interviewed 100 successful entrepreneurs on Main Street USA. (Watch videos of them here.) Not one of them followed the Silicon Valley approach.

In fact, very few had any business training and none had any training in entrepreneurship. Nearly half of these business builders are over 50 years old; some are in their late 60s and 70s.

(MORE: 10 Tips for ‘Senior’ Entrepreneurs)

Here are five lessons we learned from this unique and experienced group of successful small business owners:

1. Start With a Clear Purpose

All the entrepreneurs articulated a clear and powerful purpose for starting their business — and none mentioned money as a major driver. Rather, they started their companies to do what they love, solve a problem, provide awesome service, live in a more desirable location, create jobs and give back to their community.

A driving purpose for Gail and Will Williams, founders of Idaho Sewing for Sports in Grangeville, Idaho (which makes padding and tubing products for ski areas and resorts) is to create jobs and a place of healing for people who have a difficult time finding work.

(MORE: Starting a Business After 50)

2. Stick With What You Know

Most of the entrepreneurs we met launched their companies in industries they knew well from prior experiences.

Sam Spayd, founder of Aero Legends in Florence, Ore. is a retired Air Force and commercial airlines pilot. He purchased a beautifully restored World War II biplane and offers the magical experience of “Open Cockpit” flying over the cliffs, beaches and lighthouses of the spectacular Oregon coast. Sam’s goal is to share this experience with as many people as possible (read the rest of this great story here)

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