Saul Kaplan: Calling All Entrepreneurs

Institutional America has knocked the start out of us. We need to get back to being great at starting things in our country. Calling all entrepreneurs. This means you.  Yes, you.  In talking with some of the most entrepreneurial people on the planet I am surprised by how many don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs.  When did that happen?  Our economic history is all about starting stuff but we have gotten away from our entrepreneurial heritage. We need a national entrepreneurship movement, one that transforms our current entrepreneurship conversation.

Many visitors to the Entrepreneur StoryBooth, an on-line platform the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) launched with Babson College to capture the voice and experience of entrepreneurs, have shared that despite significant experience in starting stuff they don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. The prevailing definition of an entrepreneur just doesn’t seem to apply.  I consistently reply asserting the opposite, their experience is exactly what we need in the mix. These diverse stories are critical to changing our national entrepreneurship conversation and launching a new economic era. It’s a big ‘aha’ for me so many entrepreneurs don’t think of themselves that way.  I have to admit, upon personal reflection, as much as I love to start new projects, ventures, and movements, I too don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur.  Go figure.  Clearly, we have serious work to do if our economic future is about entrepreneurship.

Saul KaplanWhen did we reserve the entrepreneur moniker solely for technology ventures started by iconic college dropouts like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg? I know we all love a good company origin story but by elevating these stories to mythical proportions aren’t we placing entrepreneurship out of reach for the rest of us mere mortals.

When did we so completely buy into a national invention narrative suggesting that if we invest enough in university based research it will produce a steady supply of new technologies, companies, and high-wage jobs. We have structured our entire national entrepreneur support system around an invention narrative in the hopes that tech transfer, venture capital, and technology company incubators will give rise to the promised new economy. It’s hard to see it happening any time soon with such a narrow definition of entrepreneurship. Maybe it’s time for a new expanded entrepreneurship narrative and support system.

What about all the potential venture opportunities leveraging existing technology to solve real world problems that don’t fit traditional intellectual property and venture capital models? Why do we exclude social entrepreneurs with the potential to start incredible new social ventures from the conversation? We need an expanded and more inclusive entrepreneurship conversation to unleash a new generation of ventures that cut across every sector of our economy.

We need to start more stuff. We need a new national entrepreneurship conversation. Just to get us going, here are ten conversation starters.

1)  We need to unleash an economic era that is defined by entrepreneurship.

2)  We need to return to our national roots and become a nation that is really good at starting stuff.

3)  We need to broaden our definition of entrepreneurship beyond technology ventures.

4)  We need to democratize entrepreneurship. Everyone can be an entrepreneur.

5)  We need to bridge the divide between social entrepreneurship and for-profit ventures.

6)  We need to rethink all of our current entrepreneur support environments, platforms, and tools.

7)  Entrepreneurship must be central in the redesign of our education and workforce development systems.

8)  Cities should be hotspots for entrepreneurial activity.

9)  Winning communities will become laboratories where entrepreneurs can easily try more stuff.

10)  The voice and experience of the entrepreneur must be at the heart of transforming our entrepreneurship conversation.

The U.S. was founded on a culture of starting stuff and we must get back to our entrepreneurial roots. Our economic future is an era of entrepreneurship and current support solutions are insufficient. We need a new national entrepreneurship conversation and the voice of the entrepreneur must be at the center of it.  Calling all entrepreneurs. Let’s start more stuff.


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