Notorious outlaw and beloved folk hero during pioneering of American West, Billy the Kid was really just a kid just trying to survive.
Some people have asked me if I really think that entrepreneurship is the solution for the recession and the American economic woes we have right now.
My answer is: IN PART.
New business ventures and startups will create jobs, but I don’t believe entrepreneurship will generate the volumes and kinds of jobs that we need to pull our economy out of this current situation. (See Steve Ratner’s charts from MSNBC’s Morning Joe program about this.) It won’t solve the problem of our out-of-control national debt, but it will help develop a new source of tax revenue and create wealth in our country. It won’t cure the affliction of this new strain of structured unemployment that we seem to have – where people who want to work are not skilled or interested in the job openings that exist. We need a multi-purpose plan to solve this. I know this and have written about it. I don’t pretend to have the solution, but I have some ideas.
I believe American Entrepreneurship will certainly help our economic situation in two important ways.
Startups will create new jobs
At first, new ventures will immediately create jobs for the founders who seek to start these businesses. They will be working, creating, producing and hopefully finding sources for income for their activities, in the form of customers paying them, investors backing them and/or competitors buying them out. If they work hard and are lucky, they will create wealth for themselves, their investors and their communities in the process. This is the good side of capitalism. (Yeah, Capitalism!) This will take some time, but we need to do this now, everywhere and often. This I believe.
Over time, these startups will create new long-term jobs. Kauffman Foundation research shows that startups and young companies generate nearly all the net-new jobs in our country in the last few decades. This is true even when factoring in the high failure rate of startups. Some of the largest, fastest growing companies in America right now are young companies. We need more.
Aside from this direct benefit, we need entrepreneurs and their startups to set a new tone in our country: to educate us, to empower us, to inspire us.
Startups remind us of our American pioneering spirit
We love the story of the successful, self-made American entrepreneur:
- We have all heard the story about the college-dropout who starts a company with his friends in a dorm room, defies the odds and becomes a billionaire. Yes, that happens.
- We love the rags-to-riches stories: Started sweeping floors (or in the mail room) and then goes on to buy out the company or start a competitor. Or better yet, we love the immigrant version of the story: came to this country penniless and builds a business through hard work, tenacity and access to opportunity.
- We also love the image of the visionary who pronounces a new world order and then creates a company to make that vision into reality. Hollywood stuff. Love it. It happens too.
- Then there’s the story of the scientist – or the genius in a garage – who discovers something amazing, works in obscurity for years and then finally finds success with a little company that grows into a juggernaut in technology or medical innovation.
These stories are just like our American legends of the pioneering days: like Casey Jones, Daniel Boone, Davey Crocket, and Wild Bill Hickok. And cult heroes, like Sitting Bull and Geronimo, Billy the Kid and Jesse James. We love these stories.
But the real pioneer heroes of the West were the men and women who left their lives, defied the odds, overcame amazing adversity and started new lives in ways small and large. For every one of these famous heroes there are thousands who did truly heroic, pioneering things. They were the ones who really advanced our country and made us who we are. And we did it again in the Great War and World War II. Our pioneering spirit is the heart of American-ism; it’s what attracts people to come to our shores.
That’s why we need to encourage American entrepreneurship. We need to motivate hundreds and thousands of pioneering men and women to seek new opportunity and better lives. We need to debunk some of the myths about what makes someone an entrepreneur. (SeeSaras Sarasvathy’s video on this. Great!) There are different types of entrepreneurs and different types of startups. We need them all.
In developing all this entrepreneurship and innovation, we will certainly create new heroes and legends. But more importantly, if we make entrepreneurship pervasive, understandable, supported, and a real option for more people, we can create a generation of doers and activators who can take charge of their lives, their futures and the future of this country. The end result will be a booming economy and a bold new American era, with activated, participating citizens.
This Great Recession can become the crucible for learning, working and innovating. There is a pattern in this American experiment in democracy and capitalism:
Great adversity produces Great American moments. It’s our moment.
About the Author: Sean Branagan (@sean_branagan) is a serial entrepreneur, technology marketer, consultant, educator and speaker on marketing, online and digital media and technology startups. In February of 2011, he started a new role to create a Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Original post.