Thursday, November 10, 2011

November: Homage to the Entrepreneur

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate.
As many of you know, November is National Novel Writing Month, International Drum Month, and National Pomegranate Month. While the run on pomegranates is inevitably in full swing, another month-long commemoration threatens to take November prominence. On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama officially declared “by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, [I] do hereby proclaim November 2011 as National Entrepreneurship Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities.” In fulfillment of my patriotic duty, I offer this column (read appropriate activity) exploring thoughts on entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs: Nature v. Nurture
Entrepreneurism is a function of both nature and nurture. A recent blog post on Huffington Post by Greg Hosono, the teenage editor of, traces the word entrepreneur back to the Sanskrit word “antha prerna,” which means self-motivation. Hosono says, “Self-motivation is the x-factor, separating those who have the entrepreneurial mindset from others who are trapped in the conventional way of thinking. Self-motivation is not an ability, but a desire to reach for something greater.” While I agree that making the jump into entrepreneurship takes courage and motivation, I also think that our current economic malaise mandates that we cannot give up on teaching entrepreneurial concepts and trying to activate the next cohort of entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial concepts and skills are cultivated in many high school classrooms, but rarely are they cemented together in a class on entrepreneurship. In October, the Washington Post ran a column by Marty Nemko, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. specializing in the evaluation of innovation, in which Nemko argued that high school geometry should be replaced by a course in entrepreneurship. Such a course could require groups of students to start a business and compete to be the most profitable. Citing esoteric concepts in high school geometry and the empowerment of high school students to create “new products and services – not to mention new jobs,” Nemko advances a credible and viable model that would surely invigorate students.

Perhaps the best commemoration we can give past and present entrepreneurs is to invest in teaching those who will succeed them, and lead the nation in job and wealth creation.

Entrepreneurs: Where are they?
If we want to commemorate especially great entrepreneurs, we need to be able to find them. While entrepreneurial education should be ubiquitous, we may want to analyze where entrepreneurs are doing especially well. To proxy the health of entrepreneurs, the following lists use survival rates of new businesses, between 2006 and 2009 and 2008 and 2009 to establish where new businesses are flourishing. 


Of course, entrepreneurism is partly defined by the ability to rebound from failure, I guess that’s why “serial” so often precedes the title of entrepreneur. However, the geography of successful business ventures is important not only for job creation, but also for identifying and widely translating best practices that support entry into entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs: Creating Jobs?
Small business can proxy entrepreneurism, as most new ventures start small. As seen in the chart below, employment in small businesses (when indexed against 2001 employment levels) has grown faster than in larger firms. In fact, only employment in firms with less than 50 employees is above levels seen in 2001.

In fulfillment of my American duty to commemorate National Entrepreneurship Month, I will conclude that all of this has been to say, I agree that entrepreneurs are integral to long-term economic recovery, and we need to support them…giving them a month is a good start, but I think they need 12.