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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NMSU NSF I Corps Team Pivots from Bullet Proof Backpacks to Improved Helmets #concussion #NSF #ICORPS

Nice story from New Mexico State University highlighting its participation in the NSF Innovation Corps — “Researcher teams with student” reads the headline.

The story highlights the value of the NSF I Corps and lean startup methodology as the firm pivoted from its initial focus on bullet resistant backpacks to its current focus on bringing improvement to the helmet industry. Its interesting to note that it was a university resource, Studio G, that appears to have coordinated and supported this team from NMSU. From the story by Vicki L. Nisbitt:

NMSU chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson is working with the technology through Studio G, and pursued the I-Corps funding opportunity with Xu and Studio G Director Kramer Winingham. The goal is to commercialize the lightweight and affordable material.

“Business ideas that are presented through this program have a direct impact on research and development and are closely related,” Patterson said. “Therefore, it’s important to understand the business components as they dictate the R&D direction.”

The team interviewed 100 potential customers to gain a better understanding of the market for their technology.

The I-Corps program and activities prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broaden the impact of their projects. One of the I-Corps objectives is to have an entrepreneurial student who shows potential in business and technology handle the commercialization…

07/20/2015: Left to right: Mechanical engineering Research Associate Professor Roy L. Xu, chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson, and Studio G Director Dr. Kramer Winingham are using a $50,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program to further develop a protective shield material that can help save lives. (Photo by Darren Phillips)
Left to right: Mechanical engineering Research Associate Professor Roy L. Xu, chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson, and Studio G Director Dr. Kramer Winingham (Photo by Darren Phillips)

The DTMI material also has applications in football helmets and could help reduce concussion risk for players. The helmet shell materials with DTMI designs could increase impact-energy absorption at least 130 percent, compared to the current shell materials.

“A key finding during the I-Corps program was the opportunity for an advanced helmet shell design that could reduce concussions and adapt to other helmet technologies,” Winingham said. “This appears to be the best initial application for Dr. Xu’s technology.”

Continue reading “NMSU NSF I Corps Team Pivots from Bullet Proof Backpacks to Improved Helmets #concussion #NSF #ICORPS”

DC Regional Universities Use Lean Startup in Healthcare | NSF I-CORPS

I have been following the NSF I-Corps experiment since its inception and have Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 3.39.46 PMbeen pleasantly surprised by its growth and expanding reach. GWU, University of Maryland and Virginia Tech have taken the lead in our region (the DC I-Corps) and have some great people working on the program. I came across a piece from Stephanie Baum at Med City News highlighting some of the innovative teams and projects taking part. From Baum,

Here’s a sample of the healthcare and device technologies involved in the program, which runs through November 19.

University of Maryland, College Park

Myotherapeutics is developing a clinical assay for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Eva Chin, an assistant professor, leads the group.

George Washington University

Key Orthopedics has a 3D-printed polymer device for growing stem cells in bone and cartilage tissue and is led by Benjamin Holmes, a Ph.D student.

NanoChon is producing joint injury therapeutic technologies for extended and sustained biologic delivery. It’s led by Nathan Castro, a Ph.D. student.

Its exciting to see our local universities, their leaders, faculty, and graduate students learning to employ lean in the development of their ideas and technologies. Exciting time.

Food Truck Rivalry on Campuses | WSJ.com | Campus as Market

My earliest memories of campus food trucks date to UW Madison in the 90s (a great weekend road trip from Chicago) and consumption of late night snacks from a variety of tasty trucks. This blog has posted on food trucks as many student entrepreneurs start with food trucks as a low cost option.

Moreover, campus as market, a theme explored frequently in my research and on this blog, is congruent with the rise of the food truck industrial complex (see previous blog entry).

The Wall Street Journal has offered great coverage of the growth of food trucks and some of the backlash against this burgeoning food service segment (incumbents=restaurants don’t like them!).

Sanette Tanaka of WSJ.com has a great piece on the growth of food trucks on campuses across the US. Tanaka on the newest rivalry on campus:

College officials say running their own food trucks brings in more revenue for the universities. They also can tailor menus to fit the student body. The University of Texas at Dallas plans to debut its first food truck this fall, featuring a fusion menu of Asian, Indian and Mediterranean cuisines to reflect the school’s large number of international students, who make up 19% of the student body.

Aramark Corp. and Bon Appétit Management Co., two companies that manage food services for universities, say they have seen an increase in demand for college-run food trucks, especially as a way to offer late-night dining options and serve remote areas of campus. Aramark says it will add nine more university-run food trucks this fall, and Bon Appétit says it will add five.

In total, nearly 100 colleges have their own university-run food trucks, compared with only about a dozen five years ago, according to the National Association of College and University Food Services, which represents about 550 higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada.

Many universities don’t allow outside food trucks to come onto campus. But some, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, grant limited access to select independent vendors. MIT, in Cambridge, Mass., doesn’t take a cut of the vendors’ revenue or profit, but charges a flat rate for the trucks to park.

GMU Arlington has a middle eastern food truck in front of Founders Hall on a regular basis while the main campus in Fairfax seem to offer just an old school hotdog cart — no problem with that — but its a far cry from today’s innovative food trucks.

via Food Trucks: The Newest Rivalry on College Campuses – WSJ.com.

21st Century Entrepreneurship | Franck Nouyrigat | Marc Nager | #AshokaUOnline | Audio | Slideshare

Last night our Entrepreneurship and Globalization course hosted Marc Nager and Franck Nouyrigat, co-founders of Startup Weekend — a high impact social venture in the field of entrepreneurship education. You can listen to the show here (my apologies for my enthusiastic interpretation of our ‘talk radio’ platform).

Also, see the really interesting slideshare they shared. I love slide 5 and slide 9. They were also great sports in that they interacted with our students on twitter. If you can get yourself out to a Startup Weekend event please do: Here is the Startup Weekend events map.

21st Century Entrepreneurship by Franck Nouyrigat | SlideShare.