The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs
Did you know that this week is Global Entrepreneurship Week? Founded by The Kauffman Foundation and Make Your Mark, Global Entrepreneurship Week is an international celebration of the power, innovation and opportunity that is at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit.
And what better way to celebrate, than to kick off the inauguration of a new local entrepreneur’s organization? TYE (TiE Young Entrepreneurs) is a subgroup of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), which was founded in Silicon Valley in 1992 by successful entrepreneurs and professionals with roots in the Indus region and is currently the largest non-profit int he world dedicated to the advancement of entrepreneurship.
TYE was founded as the education arm of TiE, with the objective of helping young and aspiring entrepreneurs make the transition from school into business, without necessarily going into a traditional corporate setting. TYE‘s objective is, in fact, to help cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Last night’s event was an interesting one, because there was a wide array of attendees joining the celebration: Venture Capitalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, professors and students all coming together to talk, ask questions and network. The evening started with a panel discussion of experts, followed up a series of roundtable discussions, and concluding with some networking.
A number of things struck me during the course of the evening:
- The entire panel and the vast majority of entrepreneurs were white males above the age of about 40.
- The students asked good questions, but often expecting/hoping for very prescriptive answers.
- The question of getting funding was far less central to the conversation than most panels.
- The volume of experienced entrepreneurs looking to be mentors to young ones was very high.
As a woman actively involved in the entrepreneurial community, I must admit this is something that I notice at almost all events. While women-owned businesses are the majority, those numbers are skewed by stay-at-home moms with part-time businesses (ranging across the spectrum: from a home-based daycare to Mary Kay sales). When it comes to visible, active participants in public entrepreneurial organizations, women are often radically out-numbered by men. While this makes me shake my head, it’s no longer surprising.
The place where it would have been less novel to see wider diversity was when it came to ethnicity: Asian, Hispanic and African-American businesses are not unusual in my community, and a larger presence on the panel would have more accurately reflected a very diverse student body, comprised of a great many ethnic minorities (and more than a few young women).
The questions that came up were interesting, but reflected something that is a significant hurdle that many students face when transitioning from academia to professional life: academia trains students to think of a one-to-one ratio when it comes to questions and answers. It’s very formulaic: “Ask a question. Get an answer.” What was fascinating for me to watch was how many times a student asked a question, and the answer they got from the panel started with, “It depends…” followed by a spectrum of possibilities.
The students kept driving questions that they clearly expected had fairly black-and-white answers. And not once did they get one. Successful entrepreneurs, and the people who live in this type of world, learn to be comfortable living with uncertainty and ambiguity. This was something that seemed to make more than a few of the students very uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s the one good thing that comes out of our economic slump, but this is the first time I’ve seen a room full of entrepreneurs talk about launching a venture without having the question of landing VC funding be a central theme. This is a pet peeve that I’ve had for years, because far more companies successfully bootstrap their company than get massive external funding, and yet it’s rarely the topic that anyone wants to discuss.
Happily, the discussion last night focused far more on creative ways to develop a good team, take your idea to market, and exploring some of the logistics of setting up a venture than it was on roping a VC to throw a bag full of money at you.
The part of the evening that delighted me most was the sheer volume of eager potential mentors who showed up, wanting to offer help and advice to young entrepreneurs just starting out. Some of them were career-long entrepreneurs, some were retired entrepreneurs, a couple were even lawyers who’ve made careers out of helping and working with entrepreneurs. Whatever their background, though, the part that was amazing was how eager they were to help, and how much of a charge they got out of being able to give someone else a hand.
The whole evening was very successful and a great launch to the new local chapter of TYE. It was very exciting to see how many opportunities exist, and how much enthusiasm young entrepreneurs have for their ventures. It’s also exciting to see how many are at least curious about the possibility, and are not automatically cruising down the inevitable path of conventional corporate employment.
So, if you had the chance, what is the one piece of advice you’d give a young entrepreneur, just finishing up college and embarking on their first post-acadmic venture?