Is Small Biz the Future?

In some discussions with an esteemed entrepreneurship researcher, I wondered what we are missing as analysts, researchers, educators, citizens, economic beings in today’s US? After some reflection, we began to discuss whether the drive to find, support and exploit innovation (the Schumpterian type) we had overlooked/missed the importance of small business? Traditional, local, stable small business? Had our global, consumer, and technological marvels drawn us away the humble, democratic supporting small business operators? (Reminder: I am reading David Potter’s People of Plenty).

I had begun thinking about this during Spring 2017 when I taught an undergraduate course in Small Business. Beyond accounting, finance, marketing — this course included a focus on family business, franchising, legacy (generational time horizons) and some other small business specific issues — topics that innovators, startup weekend participants, hackers, and sharks —  pushing to disrupt the world —  don’t generally talk or think about. Much of it was refreshing and more substantive and tangible when compared to our lean wielding, customer interviewing founders.

The reality is, many of the students we teach in class and work with in our extra and co curricular programs — competitions, accelerators — are building small ventures.

We also see a trend towards students working with their hands — from 3D printing and electronics to sewing and graphic design. These great new opportunities, evidenced by makerspaces and labs of all sorts, dovetail well with my epiphany on the importance and role of small business.

The Christian Science Monitor has a really interesting piece on manual labor being a hot new job for middle class students. My own foray into mechanical typewriters and work with a variety of founders highlights the shortage (and now high cost) in some fields where manual labor is required. Schuyler Velasco offers a fascinating Economy story on manual labor and visits the North Bennet Street School in Boston

Miranda Harter, a 2016 NBSS graduate, worked in retail inventory before enrolling in the school’s jewelry program. She’d be tasked with cataloguing accessories in an online database, mind-numbing work that put what she was missing in her career literally at her fingertips. “I was looking at these beautiful pieces of jewelry come across my desk, and I thought, I want to be making these things,” she remembers.

Ms. Harter now works full-time for a local jeweler in Somerville, and the owner allows her to use the space to make and sell her original pieces. It’s already proven more stable than her old job, which she lost during the Great Recession. “I’m working solid regular hours, I have a weekend, a boss who appreciates me,” she says. “That’s not something I experienced a lot in the retail world. To me, it seems like an honest profession, and more recession-proof. People are always getting married.”

Ms. Fruitman at NBSS says 30 is the average age of the student body, which means an “awful lot” of it is made up of career transitioners like Harter. “They’ve done college or some college, it wasn’t for them, or maybe they’ve even been out there working and realized that whatever it is they’re doing just isn’t satisfying.”

Fruitman is also describing herself. Before becoming a furniture maker, she majored in theater at Emerson College and worked as a photo stylist until the work dried up.

“I was at the point where I really wanted to do something that was tangible,” she says. “I didn’t know you could do this. I went to college because that’s what everybody does. And that’s what I was expected to do.”

Ocejo heard similar stories while profiling barbers, butchers, and high-end cocktail bartenders in Manhattan.

Richard Ocejo, a sociologist and the author of the new “Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy,” is featured in the piece. I am definitely going to download a sample on my Kindle app.

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George Mason Bees / Social Entrepreneurship

As part of my job I work with innovators from across society and the economy. People working on solving problems big and small.

I’ve been fortunate to work with the Mason Honey Bee Initiative (HBI) for a few years (helping them complete a crowdfunding campaign in 2013) and six months ago the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the George Mason School of Business, partnered with the College of Science and took over the Mason Honey Bee Initiative.

This program has many elements — from pollination courses to work teaching women in latin american to become bee keepers in order to make a living to provide for their families.

It is an exciting time for our Center and for the HBI as evidenced by recent media coverage..

A story by Michael Gaynor from the Washingtonian outline’s HBI and German Perilla’s efforts to find queen bees that are more resistant to colony collapse syndrome. More:

The honeybee has been facing a crisis brought on by parasites and pesticides. From 2015 to 2016, 44 percent of the commercial bee population died—a dire statistic considering that more than two-thirds of food crops rely on bees for pollination.

To save the species, Perilla is on the hunt for “the perfect queen.” He’s mating bees from the most robust hives to create a genetic standout that can birth a hive resistant to pests and disease.

But the Honey Bee Initiative is about more than science. Perilla’s students have traveled to the Amazon to teach beekeeping to women entrepreneurs in poor areas. Others studying anthropology, education, public policy, and even art have done projects. This year, engineering students took part in a campus hackathon, building a custom “smart hive” to better monitor the bees.

Another media piece, from Northern Virginia Mag, that explains HBI’s work with Covanta to reestablish meadow space in Fairfax County, VA on the property of a landfill. From the article by Eliza Berkon;

There are 12 colonies of honeybees at the landfill traveling in a 2-mile radius around the Lorton site as they forage, Perilla says. Both Fairfax County and Covanta, the private company that transfers waste into ash at the landfill, are funding the project.

“This is the first time we are trying to convert a landfill into a productive ecosystem,” Perilla says. “The hope is to at least double the population, have productive apiaries and have a little more acceptance of the people regarding the perception that they have of a landfill.”

Figuring out America’s Character

As we enter the hot summer months and I push deeper into research around the great American Research University, notions of national systems and character continue to play a role. Much of my work uses Frederick Jackson Turner and his frontier theory — see my recent paper on Universities and entrepreneurial ecosystems here; SSRN version here).

people_plentyOf late, I’ve been reading David Potter’s People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character. Not sure how I found it, but it affirms my interpretation of Turner, and offers amazing insights into the creation of any ‘national character’ – most often determined by culture according to Potter. (Culture of course is determined by countless things — natural environment, religion, economy, class structure, etc). Potter’s central thesis that it is abundance (an a culture of abundance) that has created the national character of the US.

David Potter’s work has been helpful as I continue to try to better understand the American system of higher education, but as importantly, it makes me wonder about contemporary American Character and what role abundance has played in today’s america — from the presidency to high growth figuring out every conceivable way to deliver me materials/digital goods — think Amazon and Whole Foods.

America is totally befuddling at this time, and appears to be broken into a many pieces of separate reality with snippets of digital content (tweets, videos, jpgs) representing other human beings. I hope by the time I finish Potter my thoughts/interpretations will make more sense.

More to come as this summer of research continues.

 

DMV 100 Student Meetup | SkyFarm Interactive | #studentfounders

We attended an amazing meetup and student pitch event on Thursday March 30 at the DMV100_sign_entranceGoogle offices in DC near Union Station — the 100 student DMV meetup.  There were students from Georgetown, American University, George Washington University, Catholic University, Gallaudet University, the University of Maryland, George Mason University, Johns Hopkins University, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia.

Our colleagues at AU and GWU did the heavy lifting in organizing this meetup and pitch event, as did our hosts from the Google Policy Office.

Eight student ventures from 8 different schools pitched a range of new ventures — from a convenient, dave_100_pitch‘on-the-go’ makeup kit to solar energy in Africa — problems were identified, solutions offered, and market sizes assessed. There was energy and passion in the room and it highlighted how active today’s students are and how responsive our best universities are to the demands of students and the entrepreneurial economy.

David Martell, a finance student at Mason presented his firm,  SkyFarm Interactive, and his vision of a new family friendly digital world — a Disney for today and tomorrow. SkyFarm Interactive, and its main character, Duncan the Silly Duck, can be found in the iTunes sticker store!

The Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I am in the midst of writing a paper that explores the campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Much of the preliminary work, thinking, and formation of this idea took place while I completed my PhD. Here is the work in all its glory: Campus as Frontier: High Growth Student Startups at US College and Universities.

And here is a snippet regarding looking beyond PhD and lab science for innovators on campus:

Policy makers should consider Jefferson’s radical idea of offering choice for undergraduates in 1819 or Van Hise’s plan to provide educational resources to fishermen in Minocqua, Wisconsin as well as researchers in Madison at the main campus of University of Wisconsin. In both historical examples, leaders attempted to bring the assets and opportunities of the universities to individuals, allowing them to make the university work for them and their problems.  

The challenge for policymakers is to craft policies and structures supporting small scale projects by non-research oriented innovators such as MBA candidates and undergraduate music majors, instead of targeting their attention and resources on faculty winning federal grants. There is no doubt that Vannevar Bush’s shadow is long and wide and emerging from it will take concerted efforts for university and policy leaders.

Yes, I am arguing that University leaders and policy makers are looking in the wrong places for innovation and entrepreneurship on campus — chasing lab led science and big ‘innovation’ building projects such as tech centers or innovation zones (always funded with ‘public’ money) instead of the bottom up innovation and entrepreneurship that my dissertation uncovers.

Any thoughts or feedback or criticism?

Lifelong Learning | @TheEconomist

On January 14 The Economist published a special report;  Life Education — with the lead article, Life Long Learning Has Become an Economic Imperative. I am very glad they’ve done this.

Over the past decade while completing my PhD on innovation and entrepreneurship on campus and working full 20170114_cuk400_0time for the past three years, I’ve become convinced that learning to learn on your own is a critical skill for the future. I’ve prodded and pushed my students in multiple directions — makerspaces, MOOCs, hackathons, and more. My students and colleagues have taken the lead on their own (blended courses, multi-university courses, self-learning, and private online tutors). For those curious and driven, this is an amazing time to learn.

The Economist special survey has some great articles and provides a solid range of topics to chew on. From the piece,

A paper published in 2013 by a trio of Canadian economists, Paul Beaudry, David Green and Benjamin Sand, questions optimistic assumptions about demand for non-routine work. In the two decades prior to 2000, demand for cognitive skills soared as the basic infrastructure of the IT age (computers, servers, base stations and fibre-optic cables) was being built; now that the technology is largely in place, this demand has waned, say the authors.

They show that since 2000 the share of employment accounted for by high-skilled jobs in America has been falling. As a result, college-educated workers are taking on jobs that are cognitively less demanding (see chart), displacing less educated workers.

This analysis buttresses the view that technology is already playing havoc with employment. Skilled and unskilled workers alike are in trouble. Those with a better education are still more likely to find work, but there is now a fair chance that it will be unenjoyable. Those who never made it to college face being squeezed out of the workforce altogether. This is the argument of the techno-pessimists, exemplified by the projections of Carl-Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, of Oxford University, who in 2013 famously calculated that 47% of existing jobs in America are susceptible to automation.

Whether a student, faculty, administrator or citizen — lifelong learning is the new reality. For those of us in higher education, its an extra special, once in a lifetime opportunity to use new models of instruction and delivery — and that is not code for online learning. What I am envisioning is more complex, textual and hands on than just online learning. I am thinking that the real world must become more of the campus rather than the digital world, but thats just me.

Facebook Offers Outlet to University Researchers

According to recent reports, Facebook is making funding available to the most creative researchers at the most elite universities, basically offering a potential of breaking the bureaucratic log jam the is involved in much of the research funding universe. Ideally this type of initiative will look beyond the usual suspects (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc) as the company itself had to look well beyond elite university students to grow.

From USAToday,

Facebook’s secretive lab Building 8 has signed a collaboration deal with 17 universities to speed up the research cycle for hardware and software.

Building 8, headed by former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency chief and Google executive Regina Dugan, has entered into a “Sponsored Academic Research Agreement.”  That means Facebook can get new research projects launched in weeks, bypassing the nine to 12 months it usually takes, Dugan said in a Facebook post

This is just another example of the most innovative firms (often with roots on the campus) are going back to the campus to find creators, innovators and entrepreneurs.