Putting Everyday Entrepreneurs in The Spotlight
Drew Starbird MBA '84
There is a brouhaha brewing among the people who study entrepreneurship. On one side are the scholars who focus on the innovative, technology-based ventures we are so familiar with in Silicon Valley. On the other side is a group who feels that this approach is too narrow. They are calling for research that will embrace “everyday entrepreneurship.”
The problem is that entrepreneurs are a diverse group. Most of the attention in Silicon Valley is focused on innovative, venture-capital backed, technology-based companies that are heading for a liquidity event. I think of these ventures as “spotlight” ventures since they get most of the heat and light in the Valley. They even have their own TV show. In real life most entrepreneurs are much less captivating than Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, and Elon Musk. Everyday entrepreneurs run small businesses, often based on replication rather than innovation, and they rarely have an exit strategy.
My experience with entrepreneurs tells me that whether they are building autonomous vehicles, creating a virtual reality, or opening a corner store, they have far more similarities than differences. What do spotlight entrepreneurs and everyday entrepreneurs have in common?
- Guts. They will try anything, and take any risk, to make their businesses work.
- Zeal. Their belief in the business is unquestionable, and borders on fanaticism.
- Grit. They won’t give up, ever.
- Brains. They have an innate intelligence that reveals opportunities the rest of us miss.
What is different about spotlight entrepreneurs and everyday entrepreneurs?
- Formal education. The everyday entrepreneur often lacks a formal education. With formal education comes new ideas, new technology, and the opportunity to create a spotlight company.
- Connections. The everyday entrepreneur lacks many of the connections that others get from a formal education, a privileged upbringing, or political influence.
- Values. The everyday entrepreneur puts a higher value on autonomy and independence than almost anyone I know.
It isn’t surprising that there is a research preference for spotlight entrepreneurs and their ventures. When they are successful, they create billions of dollars in wealth and thousands of jobs – and the spotlight stays bright. Many universities, government agencies, and foundations are committed to creating more spotlight entrepreneurs.
Is that the right goal? I am not so sure. We need both everyday entrepreneurs and spotlight entrepreneurs to keep our community and our nation healthy and strong. We should embrace the diversity and recognize its value.
One of the best things about the diversity of our entrepreneurs is the diversity of impact. Impacts like jobs and wealth created are important and relatively easy to measure. Another important contribution of entrepreneurship to our country and our community is the dreams that are realized. How do you measure that? I am not sure, but I think it would make a good research project.