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All Great Ideas Are Worth Their Weight in Gold

This book introduces the Innovator’s Scorecard. It is a highly intuitive tool that allows a quick, snapshot evaluation of a business idea. It is calculated to measure the worthiness of an idea before critical resources are tapped or engaged. By scoring your idea with this index, you will identify its strengths and weaknesses. You will know whether your business will fly, how to make it fly higher, and how to add the weight necessary to drive it successfully into the market so you win your share of the gold.

Over the past seven years, Columbia University, Georgetown University, the University of Maryland, the University of Denver, the University of North Dakota, and The George Washington University have periodically offered a course in entrepreneurship that requires students to bring their business ideas to class. The essence of the course was also taught 16 times in Russia to senior executives of various petroleum companies, all by means of a real-time language translator and all under the aegis of Columbia University. This book describes the distilled synthesis of a key element of those courses: a comprehensive, common-sense tool that can quickly assess the viability and feasibility of an idea at the very earliest moments of each course. In each course, the students tried to launch their ideas into real live companies. That tool, which became known first as the “Launch Aperture” and later as the “Innovator’s Scorecard,” is the basis of this book. We needed an up-front device that would instantly align and screen the ideas for the students to manipulate during the course. Did it work? Absolutely. Students were bringing in checks for tens of thousands of dollars from customers long before the business plans were written. In one case, the students closed on $456 million for the support of their classroom project.

Anyone who uses the Innovator's Scorecard—from a first-time-at- bat owner to a repeat entrepreneur to a lawyer to a seasoned investor—can tell immediately whether an idea has the silhouette of a success story. Using a prelaunch assessment tool is of vital importance—each year, there are heavy economic losses attributable to the failure of businesses. For example, Dr. Stephen C. Perry’s study of the relationship between business planning (or lack thereof) and the failure of businesses in the United States turned up this factoid: Each year, 17,000 businesses fail, and the aggregate losses accrue to $40 billion.[1] This is a staggering sum. By acting as a silent advisor at the very beginning of the thought process, the Innovator’s Scorecard helps would-be entrepreneurs reason through the facts that are known or that can be surmised up front. The entrepreneur can then predict the success or failure of his or her venture long before any serious money, savings, or resources are committed or spent. Will it Fly? is likely to be the best investment any entrepreneur ever made.

[1] Stephen C. Perry, “The Relationship between Written Business Plans and the Failure of Small Businesses in the U.S.” Journal of Small Business Management 39(3), p. 205, 2001.


If this book helps anyone, Prentice Hall and I owe you a special thanks for buying the book and you owe a special thanks to some people who made it possible.

Here are just a few of the luminaries: a magna cum laude thanks goes to Columbia University and its many wonderful souls, including my friends, Dr. Carl Pavarini for his insightful teaching and recommendations to organize the book as you now see it; Joe Rubin for the organization and support of all those amazing classes in the oil fields of Siberia and Izhevsk; Doctors Eli Noam and Murray Low for their guidance and support; Meyer Feldberg for his remarkable leadership of the Graduate Business School and who made it such a dream to work with the masters; Dace Udris, who could fix any problem with her magical “dose of Dace”; and frankly, the entire faculty, administration, and students of a unique academic institution that seemed to absolutely resonate around amiable and brilliant cooperation from top to bottom.

Not to be forgotten are Ian MacMillan of Wharton fame (he is the Chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s entrepreneurship program who alerted me that Prentice Hall could be interested in Will It Fly?) and Elaine Romanelli of Georgetown University fame (she is the Chair of their entrepreneurship program), both of whom have their own connect points with Columbia.

Writing books takes lots of quiet time and a special thanks goes to the University of North Dakota for suffering with a one-term lecturer while I snuck off between classes to write this book. A special thanks goes to Dr. John Vitton, chair of UND’s management department, who is in his mid-seventies, still plays in an ice hockey league every Thursday night (he founded the ice hockey program at Ohio State and he’s as tough as a railroad spike), and who would not let me teach anywhere else. My graduate assistant, Becky Haakenson, a.k.a. “Radar,” gets a rousing special thanks for making it a joy to teach by tackling the administrative burden and for helping with my “value grading.”

Bruce Downey, CEO of Barr Laboratories, wins a special thanks for his steadfast friendship and encouragement from our days long ago in that pretty fraternity house at Miami University.

A special thanks goes to son Jonathan for his constant elbowing to teach and write the book (he will someday write his own book on dogged persistence); daughter Katie for her wickedly funny and supportive ebullience (viz. “Hey Dad, why don’t they print and sell conception cards along with birthday cards?”); Marian, my pal and wife who gave me a safe harbor while I wrote the book; and of course, Mom (Ann McKnight who is holding forth in Cincinnati) who is basking in the renown from her 1949 photographic masterpiece shown on the cover of this book, and who taught me to love twiddling with words.

Finally, the most important special thanks could go to the intrepid students who took the courses! You were all absolute treasures and I hope you all harvest your own idea some day soon.

Carpe diem

—Tom McKnight 
August 2003

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