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Famous Entrepreneurs
Overcame Disadvantages

We can really relate to famous entrepreneurs who have overcome the same disadvantages we normal people have. The list on this site demonstrates how having strong faith in the Entrepreneurial Spirit works.

Anyone can build just a list.

What's meaningful to today's entrepreneurs, is seeing parts of themselves in these entrepreneurs.

Many "would-be-entrepreneurs" think they have to have:

  •    money in the bank
  • know important people
  • be rich
  • need a college education or advanced degree
  • have supportive parents
  • be old enough to invent a new idea or product
  • etc,. etc., etc. to become an entrepreneur


People have asked me (no, I'm not famous nor even close) why I wanted to be an entrepreneur?

My answer is simple...and probably even famous entrepreneurs would agree...I had faith in myself!

I strongly believe that anyone can be what he or she wants to be when he or she has faith or belief in their self.

This doesn't mean that you are always going to be successful. No.

What it means is that you have this personal drive that you will be successful even, as the saying goes, "if I have to die trying!"

This drive is what famous entrepreneurs commonly call, the Entrepreneurial Spirit.

What do these Famous Entrepreneurs
have in common with YOU?

All the following famous entrepreneurs come literally from all walks of life. They all have had to overcome

  • educational,
  • mental,
  • physical,
  • economic/poverty,
  • family situations,
  • age (to young or too old)

or a host of other normal people disadvantages, in order to become famous entrepreneurs.

In alphabetical order with an annotated bibliography following:

PART ONE: Famous Entrepreneurs

Mary Kay Ash: Divorced, with three kids and no retail experience, she started Mary Kay Cosmetics with $5,000 in savings operating out of a storefront in Dallas, which opened in 1968...at the age of 45. Remember, his was a period of our country's history when women entrepreneurs were a rare breed and not exactly held in high esteem. She used the Golden Rule as the founding principle of her company. She passed away in 2001. She is truly one of the famous entrepreneurs

Jennifer Barclay: As an art student, at the age of 17, she could not buy clothes that fit her artsy taste. So, using her parent's garage she paid $100 for T-shirts, tie-dyed and printed on them and started the Blue Fish Clothing Line. She sold them at local craft and jazz festivals. A year later, 1986, she entered juried craft shows and orders started to pour in. The rest is history. Don't you wish you could have discovered a clothing line that this famous entrepreneur did?

P. T. Barnum: He lived (1810—1891) a promoter's life. He bounced around from job to job, eventually organizing a variety troupe in 1834. Later, he became a sideshow museum owner and quite successfully promoted it. At the age of 61 he established P. T Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, a traveling circus, menagerie and museum of freaks. This became, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which still thrives today.

Richard Branson: Today he is an English industrialist best known in the U. S. for his Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Records. He currently has approximately 360 companies as part of his Virgin Brand. His first business venture was a newspaper called Student which was very successful. He was born in a nursing home, has dyslexia and was a high school dropout.

PART TWO: Famous Entrepreneurs

Warren Buffett: At 13, he filed his first income tax form, deducting his bicycle and watch as a work expense ($35) encountered as a newspaper delivery boy. At 15, he and a friend spent $25 for a used pinball machine and placed it in a barbershop. Within months, he had three pinball machines in different locations. Today, he is one of the most successful investors in history! He, indeed, is one of our nation's famous entrepreneurs.

Nolan Bushnell: As a teen, he loved to play midway arcade games. This love plus a degree in electrical engineering led to the launch of both Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza-Time Theaters. Bushnell is a great example of an early age passion that drove him to major success!

Steve Case: Best known as the co-founder of America Online (AOL). Raised in Hawaii, earned a B.S. degree in political science at 22, then helped found Quantum Computer Services, an online services company. At age 30, Quantum began offering the Apple Link online service for Apple and PC-Link for IBM compatible computers. At 31, he changed Quantum to America Online.

Ben Cohen: Worked in his senior year in high school as an ice cream man. After college, for several years, he held multiple menial labor jobs: mop-boy in a restaurant, McDonald’s cashier, Pinkerton guard, delivery boy and taxi driver…not exactly a career path. Then, with his good friend, Jerry Greenfield, they decided to open an ice cream shop. Ben has no smell capability and a near-loss of taste.

To compensate, Ben kept adding larger and larger chunks of fruit and chocolate to the ice cream to satisfy his need for texture in food. We now have the famous chain: Ben and Jerry’s

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PART THREE: Famous Entrepreneurs

Michael Dell: A poor student and college dropout, by age 17, he had made $18,000 from selling newspaper subscriptions to newlyweds. He bought a car and 3 computers. While at college, he started a computer company called PC Limited from his dorm room. This company later became Dell Computer Corporation, then Dell, Inc.

Larry Ellison: He never graduated from college, his mother gave him away when he was 9 months old, and never met his mother until he was 48 Yrs old. He never knew his father. Yet, at the age of 33, he co-founded Oracle putting up his life savings of $2,000.

Bill Gates: Has an IQ approaching 170, which is very high. At age 13 and in the eighth grade, he wrote his first program on a computer: an implementation of tic-tac-toe. He loved computer games. His first job was finding bugs in a company’s software in exchange for computer time. He graduated from Harvard College. The rest is history: Microsoft.

Amadeo Giannini: From a relatively poor immigrant family, growing up on the family farm, his first job was selling produce on a commission. He became seriously concerned when banks would not make loans to his or farmers businesses.

Believing this was not right, he opened a tiny bank called Bank of Italy in a vacant saloon in San Francisco. Initial deposits were less than $9,000. Two years later, the San Francisco earthquake occurred.

With other banks not making loans he decided to forage ahead making loans...on a handshake to anyone who wanted to rebuild. Every single loan was repaid. Bank of America was born!

PART FOUR: Famous Entrepreneurs

Berry Gordy ll: From a poverty background and a high school dropout, he loved to listen to music but wanted to and became a boxer. After a stint in the Army, he began writing songs and opened a small record shop in Detroit.

He met singer Jackie Wilson, a noted professional who recorded one of his songs. Others followed. With no money, he borrowed $800 from his parents in 1959 to start an R&B label called Tamla Records.

It was incorporated as Motown Records in 1960. He signed such artists as The Supremes, Jimmy Ruffin, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5. Gordy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Milton Hershey: Born into poverty on the family farm, he was a poor student and dropped out of school in the fourth grade.

Years later he served a four year apprenticeship with a candy maker. He saved earnestly and started 3 candy-making businesses.

They all failed!

While attending a World’s Exposition, he bought chocolate making equipment for his fourth business. It was successful.

With profit from that company he bought 40,000 acres of undeveloped land north of Lancaster Pa. He not only started the Hershey Chocolate Company on that site but also was the visionary for Hershey, Pa., a planned community for his employees.

Jasmine Lawrence: After having a bad hair day loosing all her hair at age of 11, (due to harsh chemicals in a hair care product she was using) she used the Internet to find the necessary ingredients for natural hair care products. She started EDEN Body Works at age 13. She is now just out of high school and working to continue her career.

PART FIVE: Famous Entrepreneurs

Willard Marriott: Raised on his father’s farm, at 14, he had the responsibility to load 3,000 sheep on rail cars and sell then in San Francisco…on his own. He was an early A&W Root Beer franchisee. At the age of 35 he was diagnosed as having malignant cancer and lymph nodes, and given 6 months to a year to live. He was determined to live. And he did! He opened the first drive in restaurant east of the Mississippi River. The Marriott Corp. went public in 1953. In 1957, he opened his first motel.

Dineh Mohajer: At age 22, a Pre-Med degree and in debt she tried to find a nail polish to match her dress. Finding no match, she concocted her own polish in the color she needed. Her friends loved it.

She had an idea.

Along with her sister and boyfriend, they raised $200 and bought nail polish supplies.

They then took 4 shades to an upscale retail store in an attempt to get orders. While there a customer bought all 4 shades. That sold the store’s owner, who placed a sizable order. Within two years the company sales grew to 10-million-dollars. Hard Candy was born.

Paul Orfalea: Nicknamed Kinko because his hair was red and curly, had a simple plan. While he was in college, he had a difficult time getting something copied at a low price.

So, after graduation, he opened a copy center near an university with one machine located in a space so small that his copying had to be done out front on the sidewalk. He has had to work hard to overcome dyslexia and A.D.D.

David Overton: At age 21,a college degree and after moving to San Francisco to attend law school, plans changed. He became a rock-n-roll drummer for Ozzy Osborn’s famous band. This was 1968. His parents moved their small bakery from Detroit to Los Angeles.

He joined them in the business in 1975. He had an idea: open a restaurant to sell his parent’s bakery products. In 1978 he opened his first Cheesecake Factory.

PART SIX: Famous Entrepreneurs

Tyler Perry: Born in 1963, he is probably the top playwright, screenwriter, actor, director and producer of indie films and stage plays in America. This is now.

Back “then,” he was a school dropout at 16, but eventually got a GED. He also was homeless for about a year and lived in his car. He loved writing.

By age 29, he had saved nearly $12,000, which he invested in his own play. He opened on a Friday. After two performances, only 30 people showed up. It flopped. He didn’t give up.

Six years later, after saving additional money, he opened the same play and it sold out. He was on his way!

Howard Schultz: He was born in a Brooklyn, N.Y. housing project. A football scholarship was his ticket out. He was a drip coffeemaker salesman when he traveled from NYC to Seattle to see if a company called Starbucks, a coffee roasting firm who had purchased many of his coffeemakers, would hire him.

After a year of pleading, they did.

While working there he had an epiphany.

In addition to just roasting coffee he tried to convince the owners to also serve coffee. They didn’t.

He quit.

He opened a competing company serving coffee. After a year, he bought Starbucks. His only goal was to serve a great cup of coffee.

Gloria Steinem: She was a political activeness. At an early age she witnessed the social punishments women endured. She vowed to work for social and political equality for women.

But…how to make a living became the issue. She started her quest as a freelance writer. She co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972, at age 38.

The year before that she co-founded The National Women’s Political Caucus as well as the Women’s Action Alliance. Ms. was highly successful as well as her women’s activist activities.

PART SEVEN: Famous Entrepreneurs

Dave Thomas: Raised by adoptive parents, his first job was at age 12 as a counter person at a restaurant in Knoxville. He was fired. But he loved the hamburgers and thick malts that the restaurant sold.

He was a high school dropout, later earning a GED. He started as a KFC franchisee after turning around a failing KFC. He opened his Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio in 1969.

Ted Turner lll: He took over his father’s billboard company after his father’s suicide. Prior to that he never finished college, having been expelled for having a woman in his dorm room. He turned his billboard business into a global empire.

Some of his businesses have been CNN, Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves, TNT, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and MGM/UA.

Sam Walton: As a small town boy, moving from one small town to another growing up, he did graduate from college. He started is retail vocation as a management Trainee for JC Penney.

After leaving the military he purchased a variety store called Ben Franklin (a national chain), with $5,000 savings and a $20,000 loan from his father.

He went on to own 14 more Ben Franklin stores. It was here that he practiced his discount theme by buying goods from the lowest priced supplier.

He then opened Walton Five and Dime in Bentonville, Arkansas. Finally, in 1962, in Rogers, Arkansas, he opened his first Wal-Mart store.

Thank you for visiting Famous Entrepreneurs.

Helpful Professional Resources

National Association of Entrepreneurs

National Association of Women Business Owners

The Entrepreneurs' Organization

The Family Firm Institute

National Business Incubator Association

Additional Entrepreneurship Articles

Small Business Ideas

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