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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Google and Their Programs in the Education Space | #highered $GOOG #edtech

Emily Lucas of LifeHack.org has a nice post highlighting some of Google’s many initiatives in the education space.  From STEM and Social Entrepreneurship to Faculty Research and Marketing Competitions — Google is in the space. (Yes Brin and Page are two of the top 10 student entrepreneurs of all time). The entire post lists a bunch of their programs, below is a snippet and one of their interesting offerings. From LifeHack:

As one of the world’s premier companies, Google has truly affected the way everyone accesses information and how people learn online. To further encourage and nurture the leaders of tomorrow, Google has created many different educational programs for all ages. Educational programs at Google are not just informative. They also provide funding for underprivileged and minority students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to study computer science. This gives so many young students the ambition and dream to pursue a potential career in the burgeoning field of computer science.

Zeitgeist Young Minds Awards

This annual Google competition is aimed at entrepreneurial and ambitious 18-24-year old entrants from all over the world. To enter, the participants make a YouTube video explaining how their project or innovation will impact the world. After the participants are narrowed to 12, they attend Google’s Zeitgeist Conferences in Europe and North and South America. World leaders come to these conferences to raise awareness and discuss how to address the world’s problems.

via Google and Their Educational Programs.

Report Says UK Struggles with Research Commercialisation | Times Higher Education | #highered

The Times Higher Education site has an interesting piece highlighting the difficulties British universities are having commercializing all of the research funding they receive from their government. A new report on the subject has supported this criticism. From Elizabeth Gibney:

“British entrepreneurs are being badly let down by a lack of access to financial support and a system that often forces them to sell out to private equity investors or larger foreign companies to get ideas off the ground,” said committee chair and Labour MP, Andrew Miller.

MPs said they had been encouraged by the work of the Technology Strategy Board and its network of “catapult” centres, but said that they were concerned about the access of small firms to facilities, and that government grant funding was often highly bureaucratic to apply for and only enough to “get an idea off the ground”.

The report, Bridging the Valley of Death: Improving the Commercialisation of Research, adds that while academic research is the “jewel in the crown of UK innovation activity”, the committee had concerns about how universities interact with the commercialisation of research.

It questions whether changes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund, which reward institutions that have already benefited from successfully commercialising their intellectual property, might further decrease the success of already struggling institutions.

“We would like to see how well changes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund improve commercialisation activity; whether there is a need for greater amounts of proof of concept funding in the sector; and challenge the institutions to become more accommodating to non-traditional backgrounds among their academic staff,” it reads.

“We have concerns that driving an innovation agenda too aggressively through universities may have diminishing returns with regard to commercialisation and risk damaging the academic research that is working well,” it adds.

via MPs criticise government over research commercialisation | News | Times Higher Education.

More Barbarians at the Gates of Higher Education | hungry academy

Had a great conversation today with an entrepreneur at a local startup and we discussed technical education for founders. He pointed me to Hungry Academy here in DC. The initiative is a partnership between venture backed giant LivingSocial and JumpStart Lab (both DC based). They offer a 5 month intensive programming program followed by an offer of employment for 18 months. The first class just began on March 5. From the Hungry Academy Website (those who get chosed get medical/dental and work out of LivingSocial’s offices):

Hungry Academy started with the question “If you had good people who had the right attitude but were missing development skills, could we turn them into proficient developers in six months?”

The answer isn’t easy. Collegiate Computer Science programs are an intense four years. But the reality is that academic form of CS only maps to some areas of real world development. If you’re building 3D-game engines, you’ve got to understand complex geometry and eek out every instruction cycle from your CPU.

But the world of web development is a different story. Our real challenge is figuring out how the application should work. If we build out ideas, smooth the rough edges, and follow strong guidelines along the way, we can later turn the slow code into fast code. The real challenge is figuring out what the software needs to do and how to do it.

We take people who have the right spirit, a knack for solving complex problems, and teach them to build those solutions in software. A six month program can’t turn them into true masters of programming — but that’s not the point. To be a great programmer is like being a great artist or musician: you combine a solid foundation with a lifetime of practice. This is the foundation.

The application was released in December of 2011 and due just a few weeks later. The notable requirement was an eight minute video answering five questions. “Video?!?” people asked. We weren’t looking for skills they already had, so how good was a resume? We were looking for character, attitude, and drive. And video was the perfect way to communicate it. A huge pool of applicants led to a selection rate lower than the world’s top colleges.

That’s the story so far as we get ready to kick off with our first class of twenty-four on March 5th, 2012.

I love that they state that are trying to replicate a 4 year computer science degree in 5 months. Oh, and they pay you and offer you a job afterwards with a venture funded firm? Do you hear that higher education?

Also notice the difficulty in getting accepted? Like Y Combinator, the Thiel Fellowships, the Minverva Project etc. They are trying to ‘rewrite’ the rules of education, but by only wanting the best talent, they are back into the elite game that many higher ed critics decry. I also like that they have taken a page out of the vocational training playbook by attaching employment to completion — this is something that traditional higher education and many of the non-profits are having trouble with today.

I love all the experiments and am looking forward to learning more about the Hungry Academy.

via hungry academy.

Visit to ASU Skysong | G3Box | AZ Pro DJs | Coolest College Start-Up

Last week while in Scottsdale I was fortunate to visit with 3 of the founders of G3Box, a start-up out of ASU converting shipping containers into mobile medical clinics. Clay, Gabby, and Billy (John) are dynamic young entrepreneurs looking to solve a specific global problem and their successes so far really highlight the culture of entrepreneurship being built at ASU. Details of their story and the ASU programs, curriculum and people involved in their development will be included as we release portions of my research over the next 3-6 months.

While visiting G3Box at ASU’s Skysong‘s Edson student accelerator I was introduced to Will Curran, founder of Arizona Pro DJs an incredibly successful entertainment service provider that he founded at ASU. Will also works out of Skysong and is building a high impact firm — in terms of revenues, customers, wages paid etc. Will’s story highlights the concept of the campus as market for experimenting with new ideas and iterations and as a launching pad to move beyond campus or to other campuses.

Both G3Box and AZ Pro DJs are in the running for America’s Coolest College Start-Up, sponsored by Inc Magazine. You can watch their videos and vote for them. You can also check out a bunch of other great student firms.

Vote for your favorite America’s Coolest College Start-Up | Inc.com.

College Dropout Advocate Thiel to Teach at Stanford | San Jose Mercury News

Patrick May of the San Jose Mercury News reports on Peter Thiel’s continued bizarre dance with higher education:

Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investment guru who last year offered students $100,000 each to drop out for two years to test their entrepreneurial mettle, is going back to college himself — to teach a class at Stanford University called “Computer Science 183: Startup.”

And on a campus that serves as a veritable metaphor these days for the valley’s innovative spirit, it’s not surprising that the course Thiel is teaching at his alma mater is already oversubscribed.

“It’s puzzling to us what he has to say,” said electrical engineering senior Nruthya Madappa, who jumped at the chance to sign up for the class. “He’s famously known to make people furious with his views and the way he questions things. But he’s challenging us to look at our education here in a different way.”

The apparent irony of Thiel’s current embrace of academia, of course, is not lost on some in the Stanford community who see the uber-investor’s message as a bit hypocritical.

“If he’s opposed to higher education, why would he be a part of it?” wondered Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford’s Rock Center of Corporate Governance. “On the one hand, he’s telling these kids to ‘drop out, you’re wasting your lives.’ But then he comes back to teach. The question to ask him is: Will he pay students to drop out of his class on the first day?”

American higher education has a draw for the smartest people in the world, even those who claim to hate it.

via College dropout advocate Peter Thiel to teach course at Stanford – San Jose Mercury News.

New Master of Entrepreneurship Program | University of Michigan

The University of Michigan, a leader across many disciplines (and my alma mater) has announced the creation of a Master of Entrepreneurship. Its great to see it is a joint venture between business and engineering. I was fortunate to interview Michigan Alum and supporter Sam Zell a few months back and it was evident in our short talk that Michigan, its leaders, and supporters were fully aware of the interdisciplinary nature of entrepreneurship. This is a great development for Michigan and the practice, research, and teaching of entrepreneurship in higher education. From the Michigan Master of Entrepreneurship website:

The Michigan Master of Entrepreneurship (MsE) gives students the ability to create new technology-focused ventures, either as standalone entities or within established innovative organizations.

This instruction is not available through conventional business or engineering curricula. Most business schools focus on the skill set required in larger, more mature organizations. Most engineering programs do not include market assessment and commercialization skills. The MsE program brings these two cultures together in a novel synthesis that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The first students will begin in August 2012 and the application is available online. Go Blue! (I can write that, this is a blog!)

via Master of Entrepreneurship | University of Michigan.

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