Microphone Illustrates Best TED Talks

15 best TED Talks for entrepreneurs

14 min read
RuthAnn Hogue

Maybe you want to be an entrepreneur, to make your own way, but you aren’t sure where to begin. Or perhaps you have an idea for a business and have already taken the first steps to get it off the ground, but need a little inspiration to keep going. Or you might already be running your own venture and a dose of motivation could help you take it to the next level. That’s why I’ve gathered 15 TED Talks that are growth fuel for entrepreneurs.

Run by TED, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 for a conference that combined technology, entertainment and design, TED Talks are short conversations that pack a punch on a wide variety of topics. Today, TED Talks are available in more than 100 languages.

We all need a little extra inspiration to take the next step toward success — whatever that next step might be. The best TED Talks can help.

Related: 5 awesome podcasts for entrepreneurs who want to start, grow or improve their ventures

15 of the best TED Talks for entrepreneurs

Here are some of the best TED Talks that I’ve found for entrepreneurs:

  1. Three stories of local eco-entrepreneurship.
  2. How online marketplaces can help local economies, not hurt them.
  3. How to make a profit while making a difference.
  4. Why working from home is good for business.
  5. The happy secret to better work.
  6. How you can use imposter syndrome to your benefit.
  7. How to pitch to a VC.
  8. The real reason female entrepreneurs get less funding.
  9. The single biggest reason why startups succeed.
  10. Two reasons companies fail, and how to avoid them.
  11. The surprising habits of original thinkers.
  12. What consumers want.
  13. How to get your ideas to spread.
  14. How I became an entrepreneur at 66.
  15. Looking past limits.

So pour yourself a beverage and pull up a chair. And let the learning begin.

Bonus: Here’s TED’s playlists of 11 must-see TED Talks and the most popular talks of all time.

Getting started — what kind of business do you want to build?

Every business begins with an idea.

How you go about solving a problem for your customers depends on your core values and the impact you want to make.

Today, that often means taking social and ecological matters into account. Take a look at the best TED talks for entrepreneurs for a peek at how others across the globe have successfully handled such matters.

1. Three stories of local eco-entrepreneurship

Majora Carter, activist for environmental justice and founder of Majora Carter Group

Memorable quote: “The sum of the local is the global.”

Main idea: Be inspired by entrepreneurs who developed skincare products from honey reduced recidivism, greenscaping school campuses to save energy costs of cooling the buildings, and using wind energy to prevent a proposed mountaintop removal program.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Go beyond identifying a consumer need and creating a business model to meet the demand. Do more by coming up with a business solution to solve a local social problem. Choose a mission that serves others and you’ll be more likely to gain community support.

Read the transcript.

2. How online marketplaces can help local economies, not hurt them

Amane Dannouni, digital transformation expert and Partner and Recruiting Director at Boston Consulting Group

Memorable quote: “Online marketplaces will continue to grow. And they will transform the way we shop, the way we travel and the way we transact with each other.”

Main Idea: Online businesses help economies thrive because they match sellers and buyers in the digital space more efficiently than they could connect them in the physical world. In the United States, think Uber, Airbnb, Kickstarter and Amazon. This is a global principle, however. Similar startups have succeeded in India, Singapore and throughout Africa.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Find ways to be more efficient by doing business online, which will lower costs creating greater value and making you more competitive. In less-developed areas, consider investing in digital literacy. You’ll not only be creating customers, but contributing to future jobs.

Read the transcript.

Related: Take your small business online — A step-by-step guide

3. How to make a profit while making a difference

Audrey Choi, sustainable investment expert and Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer at Morgan Stanley

Memorable quote: “Sustainable investment today is a $20 trillion market and it's the fastest-growing segment of the investment industry. In the United States ... it now represents one out of every six dollars under professional management in the United States.”

Main idea: Consumers will pay more for products made using fair-trade practices and sustainable methods from a company with a social-conscious mission.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Offering a sustainable product or service will benefit sales long term only if businesses continue to promote their social consciousness. It isn’t enough to state it in the beginning.

Read the transcript.

Refine your vision — Take a look at the ‘people’ side of doing business

If you’re up and running, but feel like your vision could use an overhaul — or at least a tweak or two — you need to watch the best TED talks for entrepreneurs on workforce management.

When was the last time you aligned your business goals with how you treat your people — even if you are your only employee?

4. Why working from home is good for business

Matt Mullenweg, Founding Developer of WordPress and Founder of Automattic

Memorable quote: “I think a distributed workforce is the most effective way to build a company. The key is you have to approach it consciously.”

Main idea: When you give people the freedom to choose where and when they work, you open your business up to a global pool of talent. This can make you more competitive, even if you only have a handful of employees.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Remote working might mean employees and partners need to collaborate across cities, countries and time zones. Putting communication technology into place and implementing documentation processes can keep everyone informed and connected. Getting in front of the trend of hiring a distributed workforce increases your chances of survival in the future.

Read the transcript.

Related: How to set yourself up to work from home for the first time

5. The happy secret to better work

Shawn Achor, psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential

Memorable quote: “.. by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we've found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but a real revolution.”

Main idea: Positive employees — and entrepreneurs — experience a happiness advantage. Their brains perform significantly better than if they had been negative, neutral or stressed. It’s more cost-effective to keep employees (and yourself) happy, instead of working everyone into a non-productive state, all the way down to burnout.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Intelligence, creativity and energy levels rise in positive brains. Business outcomes also improve, with a positive brain 31% more productive than when it’s negative, neutral or stressed. Benefits of focusing on being grateful (which leads to positivity) can be seen in workers in fields from sales to medicine.

Read the transcript.

6. How you can use imposter syndrome to your benefit

Mike Cannon-Brookes, technology investor and Co-founder and Co-CEO of Atlassian

Memorable quote: “... people think successful people don't feel like frauds. But I think, especially knowing a lot of entrepreneurs, the opposite is more likely to be true.”

Main idea: Imposter syndrome is not uncommon. It can be paralyzing if not kept in check.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: The most successful people don’t question themselves but they do have doubts about their ideas and their knowledge. It’s OK to be in over your head as long as you are aware and willing to ask for help. Seeking advice, rather than believing unrealistically that you can solve everything on your own, can work to your advantage.

Read the transcript.

Related: What is imposter syndrome and how can you fight it as a female freelancer?

Obtain financing with tips to tap into venture capital

Could you benefit from venture capital? If so, the next two entries are the best TED Talks for you. Find out what investors are looking for in a pitch, and how to provide answers in a way that will get you the cashflow you need.

7. How to pitch to a VC

David S. Rose, Inc. 500 CEO, serial entrepreneur, author and venture capitalist

Memorable quote: “The entire purpose of a VC pitch is to convince them that you are the entrepreneur in whom they are going to invest their money and make a lot of money in return.”

Main idea: There are 10 things angel investors need to know about you before you present your slideshow. And they all have to do with convincing them that you — as a person — are worthy of their investment.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: You have 10 seconds to get your venture capitalist’s attention. And 10 minutes to convince them you have these 10 attributes: integrity, passion, experience, knowledge, skills, leadership, commitment, vision, realism and that you’re coachable. Rose outlines how to craft a sales pitch with an emotional hook and a logical progression that is sure to help you win the funding your startup needs.

Read the transcript.

8. The real reason female entrepreneurs get less funding

Dana Kanze, researcher and assistant professor of organizational behavior at London Business School

Memorable quote: “Those plucky entrepreneurs who managed to switch focus by responding to prevention questions with promotion answers went on to raise 14 times more funding than those who responded to prevention questions with prevention answers.”

Main idea: Kanza discovered subtle differences in the interactions between investors and entrepreneurs that were leading to different outcomes based on the types of questions being presented to males as opposed to females.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: It’s possible to change outcomes by adjusting responses. When asked a prevention question, address it briefly. Then level the field by shifting to a promotion-focused answer.

Read the transcript.

Related: GoDaddy guide to funding a business

Learn the habits of successful startups and original thinkers

Having a great idea, a solid team and adequate funding are essential. What’s it going to take from there to achieve success? Let’s look at the next entries on our list of the best TED talks.

9. The single biggest reason why startups succeed

Bill Gross, founder of veteran tech incubator Idealab

Memorable quote: “I believe that the startup organization is one of the greatest forms to make the world a better place.”

Main idea: Gross began with a hypothesis that five factors contribute to success: a great idea (at the right time), a strong team, a business model with a clear path to generating revenue, and funding. But the order of importance he discovered might not be what you expected.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Timing was most important in determining success among the businesses studied. Having a great team and proper execution came in second, with the idea coming in third.

Read the transcript.

10. Two reasons companies fail, and how to avoid them

Knut Haanaes, Dean of the Global Leadership Institute at the World Economic Forum and professor of strategy and international management at IMD

Memorable quote: “Here are two reasons companies fail: they only do more of the same, or they only do what's new.”

Main idea: Taking a long-term perspective leads to exploration. A short-term perspective leads to exploitation. Neither is good. If one spends so much time exploring, they might become obsolete before they get off the ground.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: The key to success is to find the correct balance of exploration and exploitation.

Read the transcript.

11. The surprising habits of original thinkers

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, professor and author of Give and Take, Originals, and Option B

Memorable quote: “It's much easier to improve on somebody else's idea than it is to create something new from scratch. … To be original you don't have to be first. You just have to be different and better.”

Main idea: Trying is more important than being successful on your first attempt.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: It takes a lot of bad ideas to get to a few good ones. Don’t let fear of failure get in your way. Learn from others’ mistakes, as well as you own. The worst regret is to not try at all.

Read the transcript.

Spreading your message takes authenticity and a niche audience

Even the best idea won’t bring success if consumers don’t know about it or don’t believe what you’re selling is authentic. Learn from the best TED Talks for entrepreneurs, which reveal how to do just that.

12. What consumers want

Joseph Pine, management advisor and author of acclaimed books including The Experience Economy (co-author)

Memorable quote: “When it comes to being what you say you are, the easiest mistake that companies make is that they advertise things that they are not. That's when you're perceived as fake, as a phony company — advertising things that you're not.”

Main idea: Consumers today want experiences, but they want them to be authentic. They don’t want their services to feel commoditized. That’s why consumers will pay $5 for a 50-cent cup of coffee if the ambiance feels right.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Pine’s three rules: Don’t say you are authentic unless you are. It's easier to be authentic if you don't claim to be. And, if you say you're authentic, you better be authentic.

Read the transcript.

13. How to get your ideas to spread

Seth Godin, master marketer and author of 19 bestsellers

Memorable quote: “That success of sliced bread, like the success of almost everything we've talked about at this conference, is not always about what the patent is like, or what the factory is like — it's about can you get your idea to spread, or not. And I think that the way you're going to get what you want, or cause the change that you want to change, to happen, is to figure out a way to get your ideas to spread.”

Main idea: Consumers don't care about supporting your business. They have more choices and less time, so they ignore advertising messaging.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Marketing used to be aimed at the average consumer with an average product. What sets apart successful products Is whether they’re remarkable. You have to stand out. You need to be different. Target obsessed people in niche markets and you’ll win them over enough that they will make a remark about you to their friends.

Read the transcript.

Look past limiting beliefs because it’s never too late to jump in

For an entrepreneur, the most powerful negative voice can be their own. If you’re a worrier who tends to question every move, these are the best TED Talks to help get past this self-limiting behavior.

14. How I became an entrepreneur at 66

Paul Tasner, Co-Founder and CEO of PulpWorks

Memorable quote: “Aren't the accomplishments of a 70-year-old entrepreneur every bit as meaningful, every bit as newsworthy, as the accomplishments of a 30-year-old entrepreneur? Of course they are. That's why I'd like to make the phrase "70 over 70" just as commonplace as the phrase "30 under 30."

Main idea: Not ready to retire? Then don’t. Senior entrepreneurs have a 70% success rate compared to 28% for their younger peers. It’s not too late to start.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: With seniors expected to total 84 million of the population by 2050, mature entrepreneurs are poised to play a major role in the marketplace.

Read the transcript.

15. Looking past limits

Caroline Casey, inclusivity activist and founding CEO of nonprofit Kanchi

Memorable quote: “When you make a decision at the right time and the right place, God, that universe makes it happen for you.”

Main idea: Everyone has the potential to do great things. With the right inner vision and unshakeable self-confidence, you can always find a way to push through life’s challenges.

Key takeaway(s) for entrepreneurs: Not everyone has the same skillsets or abilities. The key is to find your authentic self instead of pretending to be what you aren’t. Once you believe in what you can do, that’s when real change happens.

Read the transcript.

Pull it all together for the win

Now that you’ve taken the time to consider everything from what type of consumer you wish to serve, your philosophy for people management, and how to prepare for an interview with a venture capitalist, it’s time to put that newfound knowledge and inspiration into play.

Go make it happen.