Saturday, February 24, 2007

The renaissance age of entrepreneurship

Look around. Congratulations. You're living in the renaissance age of entrepreneurship.

New tools, new problem solving skills, and new worlds of innovation are exploding like fireworks all around us.

Certainly our ancestors fended for themselves independently, but their options for gaining more freedom and control over their lives was quite limited.

The possibilities available in our commercial lives are rapidly becoming the exact inverse. We can work independently, in ways of our own choosing, while gaining increasing control and freedom in our lives.

Welcome to the renaissance age of entrepreneurship. The world will get better with or without you, but if you want to join the fray, there has never been a better time.

We are awash in new potential for entrepreneurial solutions in every facet of our societies, from high science to brick making to widget manufacturing. Improbably powerful tools are available free or at modest cost. The world is searching for innovative solutions to uncountable numbers of problems. We have access to instant knowledge. We have a shipping/logistics system available on every other corner that I would’ve walked miles uphill in the snow to get to 20 years ago.

Importantly, there is a real wisdom emerging about appropriate tools for financing new and emerging enterprises. From our newest Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and the wonderful Grameen Bank through community investments through green tech funds and all the rest of the traditional routes. There are many more niches on the supply side of financing than there has ever been in the past. This is smart and beneficial, not only at the micro economic level but at the meta level for civilization. The sifting and winnowing process for planting and developing new enterprises is growing up. There are now many efficient and creative new ways to match up the goals of the financing side with the goals of the entrepreneur.

It’s all lining up. Welcome to the renaissance. It’s coming hard and fast from every direction and it’s setting up a cycle of innovation that could drive progress and prosperity around the globe for many decades.

Here’s a nice summary from a recent story...

“Almost everyone wants to own a business - from college students, who are signing up for entrepreneurial courses in record numbers; to those over age 65, who are forming more companies every year; to recent immigrants, who in 2005 started 25% more companies per capita than native-born citizens did.”

“We are in the midst of the largest entrepreneurial surge this country has ever seen. According to Small Business Administration projections, nearly 672,000 new companies with employees were created in 2005. That is the biggest business birthrate in U.S. history: 30,000 more startups than in 2004, and 12% more than at the height of dot-com hysteria in 1996.”

There is one miserable-ass phrase out there that you should not accept under any circumstance. I only bring it up because the following very good paragraph was headlined with the phrase I hate - ‘chicken entrepreneurs’ (meaning starting up while holding on to your existing job) – NEVER accept that slur!

However, I digress. The text that followed is inspiring. Here comes the next generation…

“Meanwhile, it has become easier for entrepreneurs to start new companies without quitting their day jobs. According to the SBA, the total number of firms with no employees grew by 26% from 1997 to 2004, to 19 million. A little more than half of those companies are run by workers with another primary source of income.”

Not only that but consider the rolling thunder of the boomers. At our age we’re able to be more engaged and creative than our parents could have ever imagined. We’re pioneering many smart new styles of entrepreneurship and bringing skills and tools to the table based on years of hard won experience.

On top of that, as I’ve said before in an early post, (boomers especially) you gain more personal security by starting your own enterprise. The risk is in NOT starting one.

In support, a nice article from titled, “The Lure of Entrepreneurship Beckons Boomers”

"Baby boomers are looking at starting real businesses—looking for another 10- to 12- to 15-year career, God willing," says Paul Magelli, senior scholar-in-residence at the Kansas City (Mo.)-based Kauffman Foundation, a center promoting entrepreneurship. ‘Just the topic of whether Ford and GM would engage in consolidation talks sends a huge tremor among a huge, experienced workforce—they need to be thinking about opportunities with some kind of income security. It's somewhat subdued, but that anxiety is still very much in the workplace, from the reports we get.’ Entrepreneurship is, somewhat surprisingly, increasingly seen as a stable way to ensure financial security, Magelli says."

The story continues with a note about the amazingly high percentage of self employed folks over 50 who are starting enterprises, as well as the next group rising to the common sense of entrepreneurship.

“About one in three self-employed workers ages 51 to 69 made the transition to self-employment at or after age 50, according to a 2003 AARP Baby Boomers Study, and 15% of the 1,200 adults between 38 and 57 who were surveyed planned to start their own businesses.”

The renaissance is here for all of us, for boomers, for young people and everyone in between. There is no alchemy involved in starting new enterprises. The opportunities are everywhere. The tools for executing are cheap, and often free.

What you most need is common sense, viable planning and the gumption to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The magic comes as you watch your new enterprise take its first steps, then build momentum, then take flight.

I wish you all the best. story story on boomers and start ups

The Kauffman Foundation

Paul Magelli info at The Kauffman Foundation

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Subscribing to a path
of innovation

Sustainable new products and services can't be launched with the idea that you're going to put something past people.

The day and age of "you can't fool all of the people all of the time" has been with us for a long time. What's changed is the speed with which collective wisdom develops and is shared.

This works for you as a sustainable entrepreneur or new product developer. This only works against you if you're trying to game the system.

You need to fix highly definable problems for the benefit of the community you operate in commercially. You and your organization need to do this transparently and, to the best of your ability, elegantly.

I'd like to circle back to a very good book by Douglas Rushkoff, "Get Back In The Box". He concludes his introduction with, ".. we'll look at today's artificially fragmented landscape of customers, employees, and shareholders, and how this false division leads to an 'us and them' animosity. By seeing all of them, and ourselves, as part of the very same system, or even community, we break through this artificially adversarial relationship. We even start to wonder how our enterprises might actually solve real problems, rather than trying to 'create need' for our services. Answering real needs becomes the simple but astonishingly effective solution to almost every business challenge in this seemingly complex era."

If you are to be sustainable, you'll need the community you operate within. Be uber transparent and accurate with yourself and others. Define the metrics that describe success. Measure the progress you and your organization make toward solving the problems you've defined.

Especially for those of us working in sustainable new product development, the message is clear. Define the problem. Innovate solutions that honor simplicity, effectiveness and your community of stakeholders.

As Mr. Rushkoff says later in his book, "To put it simply, communities naturally build around product lines that overflow with intrinsic value. People may talk about a brilliant advertising campaign, but they will never advocate an ad the way they advocate a product they love. A company's real relationship with a customer is not communicated through the marketing, however compelling it may be. It is communicated through the cup holders in the doors, the easy-to-read LED display in the cell phone cover… Companies speak to us through the details and the quality of their products: the feeling of discovering a knob on the dashboard just where your hand happens to reach; finding a copy of the assembly instructions on the company's web site... the anticipation of one's desires feels awfully close to true love."

You need to set up your products and services so that they continuously improve your community with ever smarter, ever more sustainable solutions.

Or as Douglas Rushkoff says, "A real brand relationship is like a subscription to a path of innovation."

I like that a lot. Subscribing to a path of innovation. Sustainable solutions for the long haul.

Douglas Rushkoff's web site

First post discussing "Get Back In The Box" was Jan. 19, 2007

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sustainable practices
build bottom lines.

How can you tell which organizations are going to survive?

I want to recommend a Business Week story dated Jan 29, 2007, by Pete Engardio. It was the cover story titled "Beyond the Green Corporation."

The cover text led with this proposition: “Imagine a world in which socially responsible and eco-friendly practices actually boost a company's bottom line. It's closer than you think.”

Much of this article is looking at the green practices of large firms which is fine. There is so much low hanging fruit at these big companies that the smallest gestures on their part can yield significant results.

What Mr. Engardio focuses on nicely is the fact that managements of all sizes are getting smarter about the economic burden of unsustainable practices. Waste costs too damn much and management is getting it quickly.

He quotes Philips Electronics Chief Procurement Officer Barbara Kux, "For us sustainability is a business imperative."

If you’re in those big organizations, charge! Good on ya.

For start ups and emerging enterprises the message is just as necessary. The quiet bonus for the rest of us is that most every enterprise of every shape and size will be looking for help along these lines. Starting yesterday.

This is a big opportunity to create and grow your own new enterprise. It’s a renaissance time of new markets. The demand for services and products that increase efficiency and strengthen sustainability will flourish. In summary, pick a problem and fix it.

What is a nice theme to emerge from the Business Week story, is the suggestion that smart, sustainable business practices can be good at predicting who is growing into the future and who is fighting it.

I like the way the Mr. Engardio closes his Business Week story (except that smart green tech DOES help next quarter’s numbers)…

"Such laudable efforts, even if successful, may not help managers make their numbers next quarter. But amid turbulent global challenges, they could help investors sort long-term survivors from the dinosaurs.


Business week article

Friday, February 02, 2007

Green tech leads economic rebound

I can’t express how comforting it is to copy down that headline .

Working in green tech fields may look fun from the outside, but like any other kind of enterprise, it's got to be sustainable. You have to prove your economic value to the customer every time, just like the rest of the world.

In a world of rapidly restructuring economies, it has not always been easy to prove out enviro stuff. You need big, fast paybacks or nobody buys it.

However, the world continues to turn. And now I'm seeing headlines reading 'Green tech leads economic rebound.'

Obviously, the technologies are improving all the time, creating more green tech successes. On top of that, the paybacks from fixing environmental problems are rising rapidly. The many liabilities and inefficiencies implicit in generating waste cannot be understated. Fixing those problems is becoming a priority in every sector of every economy.

And where there are needs, there are opportunities for enterprise.

There was a good article in Monday’s New York Times by Laurie J. Flynn about green tech leading an economic rebound in Silicon Valley.

"... investment in clean technology - from alternative energy products, like solar panels and hybrid cars, to the use of nanotechnology to solve environmental problems - went from $34 million in the first quarter of 2006 to $290 million in the third quarter," according to a report released Sunday.

Software and semiconductor companies in Silicon Valley received about 40% of the new money, leaving about 60% to be spread around many markets, or as the article notes, "Clean technology crosses many industries..."

The NPR radio program Science Friday, hosted by Ira Flatow picked up on the story this afternoon. Mr. Flatow interviewed John Denniston, partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) about the 'business side of green tech'. These guys are in the elite lanes of the VC world, probably not a road many of us will travel. But it is very interesting to see what their view of the business side of green tech looks like.

John Denniston cited what he saw as the characteristics of the green tech field and why the funding for green tech was advancing so rapidly.

Mr Denniston cited two important pieces that rang true for me. I’m watching it happen in my day job.

The first is the rapid emergence of many new green tech niches, all focused on solving specific problems.

The second is the acceleration of talent coming into the field.

Your solutions don’t have to involve high tech, biotech, or nanotech (though all certainly qualify). You just need to solve real problems with repeatable solutions. No matter the venue, that’s green tech, friend.

The acceleration of talent coming into the field should include you.

Pick a problem and have at it. Welcome.

New York Times green tech funding article Jan. 29, 2007

$100K yearly prize for green tech innovation funded by Kleiner Perkins.

Ira Flatow /Science Friday archive page for this show with this green tech section available separately.

John Denniston page at KPCB