Sunday, 18 March 2012

We need entrepreneurship that is meaningful

There is an urgent need to help find ideas and propositions that have the capacity to transform people’s lives. This blog sets out the arguments for doing that and points to a joint venture project that aims to do just that at the Judge Business School, Cambridge.

The drivers for a sea change in entrepreneurship started in 1991, when the Berlin Wall came down and when India and China embraced open(ish) market systems. According to Prof Willy Brown Master of Darwin College – there used to be two labour forces, one in the soviet (closed) economic system and the other in the capitalist system. Approximately 1.5billion in each. After 1991 – we have one overall system of 3 billion workers.

The impact of such a shift, tied into the internet and telecoms revolution means that we really have to think differently about the world, its resources, opportunities, political stability, empowerment and inclusion of numerous societies. The world is dividing and power bases are changing. There are demographic changes too. Not only is the world “flat” but also at the same time there are increasing new demands. For example the Middle East and North Africa region alone will need to help create over 85 million jobs over the next 10 years or so. How is this going to happen?

Meanwhile, due to the seizure of policy makers, individuals and communities are getting on with it – all over the world. Entrepreneurship has become a social movement.

Interestingly the notion of the single market system coupled with technology advances in so many fields has started to lower barriers to entry in entrepreneurship. The result is a fabulous growth of innovative companies that have the imagination and management teams to execute. Companies in telecoms, internet have been significant beneficiaries. The other impact of this macro-economic change is that information travels faster, aspirations are raised. Media is also having a huge impact. Some TV formats are democratizing talent shows and giving people increasing level s of hope about their futures. Sure there is a dark side, but the overall impact is going the right way.

All these signals have lead to hundreds of start ups, and incubation programmes that further stimulate new venture creation. In my view they are responding to a wider societal need, otherwise they would not fill up so quickly.

But, are we really focused on the right questions in entrepreneurship?

When you combine this new phenomenon of a social movement, with people who are willing to assist with new venture formation and look at what remains to be done – you get a feeling that it is time to help create meaningful enterprise.

We need to harness the technology, the social movement of entrepreneurship and the increasing levels of support for enterprise to help create new ventures that can make a deep impact on society. To be honest this is an antidote for me when I see ventures that only rely on providing convenience shopping for the rich! Nothing wrong with that – but why not instead work on things that can answer questions for more people.

Where might we find enterprises that are meaningful?

Well there is the UN Millennium Development Goals – poverty, water, health, literacy, infectious diseases and so forth. There is climate change and sustainability. There is health care for the elderly. There is civil rights, human rights, improved and more efficient public services. Civic services. Fair trade, micro lending, family support, child welfare. Frankly only our imagination limits the scope and scale of what we might do that is meaningful.

We might wish to limit the boundaries of what is meaningful. You might consider families, community, country or region. Or, to save the planet. At whatever level you see the opportunity it can make a difference and in the words of Guy Kawazaki – make meaning.

I was inspired by the use of social media during the so-called Arab Spring. It was one of the most amazing examples of seeing a bottom-up call for change. It was not about making profits and listing for IPO – but it was for something much bigger. It would be wonderful for enterprise agencies to start to stimulate graduates into creative processes to help solve big problems and thus create new ventures that are economically successful with good rewards for their founders and management teams..

If you share in this vision and set of values join us at IdeaTransform on the weekend of 20th to 22nd April 2012 in Cambridge.

See for more information!/ideatransform

What is wrong with doing well from doing good?


Sam said...

You are spot on that we need "meaningful entrepreneurship" The statistics show that around 80% startups shut down within 3 years of operation. I think the biggest challenge for us is to reduce the failure rate of startups which will not only make entrepreneurship meaningful but will also ensure there isn't a disruption caused between entrepreneurs/founders and their customers.

Jodi Nelson said...

I totally agree with this post. That's why I'm excited about my new venture. I was a recipient of the Center for Entrepreneurial learning and learned so many valuable things, that I have been tapped COO of this new venture that is doing exactly what Dr. V is talking about here.