How to Make an Idea Soar

You know you’re in a class with entrepreneurship professor Michael Hendron when you’re lectured about sailplanes and how they apply to starting and running a business. Hendron would know, since he is highly experienced in both fields.

Hendron has loved gliding since he was a kid growing up in northern California, but he didn’t finish getting his license to fly until coming to Utah eight years ago. Now he is the president of a local sailplane club that owns four gliders.

This unique hobby comes in handy for Hendron when he’s helping students understand the world of business. Here are some key points he gives about gliding and how it applies to entrepreneurship:

1) Sailplanes don’t have engines; you have to be towed behind another plane before you can glide on your own.

“To get into the air, gliders are usually towed up behind another airplane. Similarly, entrepreneurial ideas often need some help to get off the ground. You need a clear strategy as well as a practical understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. And if you don’t have the necessary skills, funding, or connections it will be difficult to succeed. Just like the glider needs the towplane, you will likely need resources that are outside your business to get it going.”


The plane on the left will tow the glider (right) into the air.


2) Once in the air, a pilot must catch the lift of rising air to stay up.

“How do you stay up? You must understand the seasons and the weather patterns. In the summer, you see the big, puffy cumulus clouds. There is air rising underneath them creating the clouds. Those signal areas where we can fly to find lift to take us up higher.

“When starting a business, you have to take advantage of the ‘lift’ in the environment to stay up in the air and go places—whether it’s your customers or other economic forces out there. By understanding those things, you make decisions about what you want to do with your business and where you want to go. If you don’t catch the lift, you end up stuck back on the ground.”

Timpanogos, with Emerald Lake at center

Timpanogos from the glider, with Emerald Lake at center


3) The goal while flying sailplanes is not to go up and glide back in the ground, it’s to glide as long as you can.

“On a good day, you can glide for a couple hours. My longest flight is four-and-a-half hours. We get a tow up of about two- or three-thousand feet off the ground and then try to climb higher. We have oxygen as well because we often fly between twelve- to eighteen-thousand feet.

“You really have to understand your environment and your goal in order to keep gaining altitude. Your goal is to stay up in the air. Starting a business is really the same. Most ventures don’t fail because the idea was bad, but because the idea wasn’t executed well.”

Snowbird and Alta ski resorts

One of the many views Hendron captures while gliding.

4) Have no fear

“If you lose lift, you can always land in a nearby field or airport. I always think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s quote: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Living life in fear just holds us back from experiencing many wonderful things. If we have that fear, we won’t learn as much because we’re always playing it safe. And hope is key to overcoming the fear that can hold us back.”