'Open Source' Entrepreneurs: Change Agents for a Stalled Economy


Roberto Ramos says collaborative technologies can create unprecedented opportunities for unemployed workers with big dreams

Among the biggest victims of the current economic debacle have been the millions of Americans who have joined the ranks of the unemployed. This has deepened our nation's sense of gloom, as having a job—despite all our mixed emotions about the place where we spend so much time, and the people we spend it with—constitutes a big chunk of our security.

This is why President Barack Obama is making job creation a big part of his stimulus package. But any stimulus, no matter how good, will take at least a couple of years before making a significant improvement on the job market. A more immediate and innovative step in correcting this situation might come from the entrepreneurial spirit of many of those without a job. So it is in our best interest for our government to step in and give as much support to America's innate "can do" attitude that can give a positive jolt to our economy.

Many unemployed Americans simply will not sit around and wait for new jobs. Instead they will follow our commander-in-chief's call for action and create new opportunities for themselves. The bolder and more creative ones will start their own businesses. They will do this by being nimble and by taking advantage of evolving tools such as social media to identify new opportunities and partners. Welcome to the era of the "open-source entrepreneur" and the "open-source economy," where free agents will group together in varying ways to tackle new opportunities and become change agents.

This new type of entrepreneur comes during an unprecedented time for our nation, when a massive creative destruction produced by the crisis is redefining how businesses operate. This reorganization of business, while accelerated by the economic crisis, had been happening for a while as businesses have searched for ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper.

From Outsourcing to Resourcing

This quest created the outsourcing phenomenon of the 1980s and '90s that continues today, ushering in a new phase of our economy that is more focused on the creation of ideas and differentiated services. It is the alignment of this new creative economy's search for the most revolutionary ideas and business' need to keep costs down that is driving us to this more nimble and collaborative way of working that makes open-source entrepreneurship so viable.

If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then the massive layoffs we've been seeing could, indirectly, help bring a more innovative and resourceful way of working that grants our labor market greater flexibility and dynamism. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs have already started this process through communities like LinkedIn and Plaxo where they are already creating new business opportunities. But the impetus and possibilities for collaboration and exchange are much greater now, given the national need to kick-start the economy.

Calling on Obama and the SBA

BusinessWeek's Jane Sasseen asked in a recent article, "Can Obama Jolt Small Business Lending?" The answer, for all our sakes, had better be a resounding yes! It's critical for the U.S. government and the Small Business Administration to look at job creation more expansively to support new entrepreneurs. One immediate solution would be expanding both unemployment benefits and the income cap for the unemployed, allowing them to explore virtual entrepreneurial options.

The government should also explore other incentives including access to preferred government rates and benefits in a pooled health-care system, similar to the one currently available to federal employees. The benefits of this program would be twofold, granting both companies and these new free agents greater security at accessible costs.

DIY Is the American Way

American entrepreneurship has always played a crucial role in the U.S. economy, helping us to innovate and remain competitive. This same spirit, fueled by the financial crisis, could serve as a catalyst for our out-of-work labor force to quickly adapt and help the government and the economy recover.

This task is not an easy one, and these workers on the front lines of changing how we work are taking big risks. That's why Corporate America and the U.S. government must support our unemployed neighbors in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Their success is our collective success, and will be critical in helping America get back on its feet—and back to its roots as a nation founded by hard-working entrepreneurs with not much cash, but big dreams.

Ramos is president and CEO of The Vox Collective, a New York-based boutique advertising and marketing agency.