6 Ways to Turn Challenges into Opportunities

For a startup, facing challenges is inevitable. In a world that is constantly changing, entrepreneurs must prepare to adapt. How can businesses overcome obstacles and thrive?

A Lassonde for Life Workshop titled “From Seeing Challenges to Opportunity” answers this question. Lassonde for Life is a free and life-long support program created to aid University of Utah alumni entrepreneurs. Stephanie Geisler presented this workshop and is an executive coach for Salt Lake City Business Leaders. She has co-owned four companies and was the executive director of the University of Utah Master of Business Administration program for five years.

Overcoming difficulty was crucial to Geisler’s success. In 2006, Geisler founded a startup and grew it to $25 million in revenue by 2008. The company’s significant growth was phenomenal, a phase Geisler describes as “an exciting and scary time.” She began to think about selling the company and getting ready to bring it to market. However, excitement faded when sales slowed in mid-2008. Amidst a global recession, Geisler’s company, like many others at the time, had to navigate an economic downturn to survive.

Then, in January 2009, Geisler witnessed a news story from the television screen. A plane had landed in the Hudson River. The flight lost both engines in a bird strike. The pilot, Captain Sully, executed a landing, saving 151 passengers on board. How the pilot processed his options, determined the plan, and executed a landing never done before sparked curiosity. Inspired by this story, Geisler studied the leadership strategies of Sully. She aimed to learn how to navigate her company out of uncertainty and land safely.

Here is what Geisler learned from these experiences and research about how to turn challenges into opportunities:


Whether an economic recession, global epidemic, or natural disaster, anything imaginable can impact a company. The best way to remain resilient to challenges is to prepare. A business can develop prior learning, mental fortitude, and trusting relationships and succeed.


Prior knowledge is part of being ready when disaster strikes. For Captain Sully, years of training and education helped him navigate an unexpected situation smoothly. Without hours spent developing technical skills, he would not have been able to keep the plane intact and his flight under control. Similarly, businesses must prepare for the possibility of disasters.

Mental Fortitude

A strong mind keeps situations under control and often propels positive outcomes. Calm is necessary for combating chaos. Sully’s mindset kept him collected in a high-pressure circumstance. In 2009, this mindset was an example for Geisler. For her, having a good mindset was difficult when her startup’s sales and revenue began to drop. The quick growth and team expansion stacked the stakes high. Knowing her decisions would affect many lives was nerve-racking.

Mental fortitude is the biggest obstacle Geisler sees CEOs struggle with. Geisler says entrepreneurs must learn “how to get a handle on this mind that doesn’t always work in our favor.” When people are under pressure, executive thinking and judgment are weak. Staying calm under pressure is a skill worth practicing. Maintaining a calm mindset is critical for entrepreneurs but often a difficult step.

Build Relationships and Trust

Captain Sully invested time in building trust with others. Amidst the disaster, everyone from crew to air traffic control trusted him to lead. In moments of pressure, relationships are often tested and thus must be strong beforehand. Deep trust is developed over time, not in moments of crisis. Work environments must foster trusting relationships. This ensures teams can work together, listen to leaders, and navigate challenging times together.

Be Ready for Your Four Minutes

For Captain Sully, his four minutes were the seconds between losing two engines and saving 151 lives. For Geisler, it was navigating her company through a period of recession. Every entrepreneurial experience is different and will involve different challenges.

Entrepreneurs can best prepare through small steps in learning, strengthening mental fortitude, and building relationships. Geisler says, “If we are ready for those four minutes, we can turn something that is a challenge that we wouldn’t have wished for into an opportunity where we can make a big impact.” Lifelong awareness, assessing current circumstances, and actively improving can enable growth.

Adapt and Succeed

Geisler believed it was time to sell her company in 2008. However, she understood that adapting to a changing economy was necessary. In the end, she sold it in 2011. Despite a different-than-original plan, calm and steady leadership guided a successful landing. Now an experienced entrepreneur, Geisler coaches 29 CEOs in Utah through challenges.

About the Author:

Abigail Cheney Originally from Connecticut, Abigail Cheney came to the University of Utah for their esteemed entrepreneurship and marketing programs. She is passionate about startups and entrepreneurial exploration. Her enthusiasm aligns with writing and additional artistic endeavors. Connect on LinkedIn.

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