Larry Biehl, the founder of the Bulgarian Entrepreneurship Center, has spent decades as a financial consultant in Silicon Valley. He has consulted wealthy families, companies, and even the employees of Apple Computers how to invest their money wisely. In the 80s, however, at the highest summit of his career, Biehl had a transformational experience that shifted his whole way of seeing the world. So, from a strict financial consultant, who would appear as a comment on any TV screen talking about assets and standard deviations, Biehl started reordering his life so he was able to look back and know he has not only had financial success but also significance in someone’s life.
All his efforts and initiatives have been put together under the umbrella of Interculture Inc. (IC) and Interculture Foundation (ICF) in 2008. Larry and his wife, Maggie, have traveled throughout the world to discover ways in which these organizations could fulfill their mission. The purpose of both is to create a “common space” between disparate cultures in a “culturally competent” way. When Larry identifies a place that could benefit from “common space creation”, he creates a program: such as, in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEC). In 2018 Larry Biehl initiated a Master’s Program on Entrepreneurship in Varna where he hopes the 31 chosen attendees will learn more about business ethics, soft skills, and leadership, the skills he thinks are the foundation of a world shaped around technologies.
We talked about transformation, entrepreneurship, money, balance, life and purpose. Of course, also about technology.
Trending Topics: What is your concept of entrepreneurship?
Larry Biehl: Entrepreneurship is a skillset people need, regardless of whether they are in business, or arts, or any other area. It’s just the mindset of thinking – finding innovative, new, better ways to do things, find the pain points. An entrepreneur is someone who doesn’t just get upset because he or she cannot do something when the street is crowded – an entrepreneur would invent a helicopter service or the helicopter machine I can put on my back. Just thinking that way means that you are not satisfied to live with the way things were.
Bulgaria is a great example, like many other places, including California, where people go through their lives back and up. They are focusing on the past. “Oh, I’ve got to return those phone calls, I get to answer that mail…”, is what they are focusing on all the time. If instead they were looking forward and seeing different scenarios, they could choose – this would be a major shift.
What would you advise people who tend to focus too much on daily business and tasks?
What I usually tell those people is that in ten years everything cognitive, everything known today, will be accessible and deliverable by artificial intelligence. So, if you think you are a good mechanic or engineer, something that is based on cognitive facts, you are going to be out of job. So, if you want to have a sustainable career, you should focus on things that develop your soft skills, that make you more adaptable, that make you more culturally competent so that you can deal with any of the people left on this earth to control the machines. People need to have interaction, need to communicate, need to make decisions and discuss what is ethical or not. Those skills are going to be in demand, as long as the human race is on the planet.
I know you and Maggie saw the potential in Bulgaria while visiting on a completely different occasion – one related to cultural performances. What made you start BEC and the Master’s Program in Varna?
One crucial thing that is missing here, of course not only, is soft skills. This is the foundation of the program. We teach adaptability, empathy, being a leader, 360-degree view of the world. So, the questions we ask in those classes are – what to do if you hit the wall, are you a good listener or always thinking about what you are going to say next in a conversation etc.
Which are the areas in Bulgaria where you see entrepreneurship as the most important ingredient?
In terms of lifting the economy, we have to go to the areas which the economy depends on. Tourism is one of them. And yet, the attitude here needs to change and the fact that service people in tourism and hospitality are underpaid needs to change. Companies would usually turn around and throw money into advertising, billboards, pictures, movies, and marketing, without realizing that their people, their face to the customer might not be satisfied. The domino effect of the experience with the service person in hospitality is dramatic. I’d like to see tourism developing, and companies relocating some of the advertising budgets to bonus the service people. Tourism is an area where thinking innovatively and entrepreneurially will really help.
What do you want to see in Bulgaria in five years from now as a result of your commitment?
What excited me a lot is that the program is taught to people who already have business experience. They have just decided that they want to be entrepreneurs. In five years from now, I hope to see 95% out of those 31 students will have their own businesses. I expect to see a whole wave of realization and people who think out of the box, have the confidence in themselves. Secondly, I think we are going to have investments that are not only going to come from the EU, they’re also going to be massive private investments. We are set up to start a social impact fund. And finally, what I pray will happen is that we’ll see a whole wave of social entrepreneurs developed. And this will be people who want to deliver social services like elder care.