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Giving Thanks for American Entrepreneurialism

November 24, 2011, 6:15 AM

While America has always led the world in supporting new entrepreneurs and launching innovative new companies, the democratization of the Internet over the past decade means that we are all - to some extent - entrepreneurs now. American entrepreneurs include not just the technology visionaries that we typically think of as “entrepreneurs” - people like Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg - but also the creative types within every organization and every sector of society inspiring people around them to start something new - often in geographic locales far removed from technology hubs like Silicon Valley. America was founded by a bold entrepreneurial class that came to the New World with a passion to start something new as well as a vision for a better future. That tradition has carried forward to the present day.

Nearly every week seems to bring another example of how ingrained the entrepreneurial ethos is withing American society. The latest example? How about the new Venture for America program, which plans to extend fellowships to graduating college seniors so that the first job they have after graduation is a job they create themselves. By 2025, the program hopes to have created over 100,000 new jobs. The program, launched in New York City, plans to extend the venture capital model to troubled cities like Detroit and New Orleans. For young American graduates, the lesson is clear: the path to a better future is through entrepreneurship, not by following a tried-and-true career path.

Unlike other societies, America has a proud tradition of entrepreneurs whom we can turn to as role models. Moreover, in America, failure is taken as a badge of honor in the business world. Ever since 1621 and the first American Thanksgiving, there has been an innovative spirit in this nation. As Amy Wilkinson wrote in The Economist last year: “The risk, vision and triumph of the Mayflower voyagers marked more than just the beginning of a great nation. The pilgrims laid a foundation for a culture that strives toward innovation. Even in the current economic climate, modern pilgrims turn old paradigms on their heads. Using the same tenacity as the original settlers, modern innovators work to create jobs and solve social inequities.”

What’s encouraging is that the rate of entrepreneurship continues to take off across America. While many of these new entrepreneurs may actually be out-of-work veterans from the corporate world forced by circumstance to make it on their own, it’s clear that risk-seeking, entrepreneurial behavior is not limited to the very young or to certain privileged sectors of American society: "In the US, entrepreneurs start approximately 600,000 new businesses each year. The younger generation of 18-24 year olds is starting companies at a faster clip than 35-44 year-olds. In fact, 60% of young business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs."

If there is a meme to accompany the current zeitgeist, it is that the rules of business have been forever changed. In his upcoming book, The Start-Up of You, Reid Hoffman explores this idea in greater detail, arguing that every person starting a career should think about their skills and experiences from the perspective of a start-up entrepreneur. And it’s what The New York Times recently referred to as “Generation Sell”  - the willingness of Millenials to adopt an entrepreneurial stance in everything they do:

“Here’s what I see around me, in the city and the culture: food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet. […] Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.”

So as we sit back and give thanks on Thanksgiving, it’s worth remembering the Pilgrims, who were in many ways the original American entrepreneurs. Just as the founders of America took on hardship to risk a better future, new generations of Americans must be willing to take on hardship to risk a better future. The Entrepreneurial Spirit, which has guided America for so long, is alive and well and more vigorous than ever before.


Image: Entrepreneur with a laptop / Shutterstock


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