Entrepreneurship Epidemic

Watch out. Entrepreneurship might be contagious. I see it a lot these days. A lot of my family members are involved in it. Then I go over to the University of Oregon a few blocks from my office, where I teach Starting a Business one quarter every year; they are not business majors, but they do want their own businesses. It’s an epidemic.

I’ve seen a lot of it in different research outlets, different blogs. This was in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, an opinion piece by Michael Malone, called The Next American Frontier:

The most compelling statistic of all? Half of all new college graduates now believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job. Today, 80% of the colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on entrepreneurship; 60% of Gen Y business owners consider themselves to be serial entrepreneurs, according to Inc. magazine. Tellingly, 18 to 24-year-olds are starting companies at a faster rate than 35 to 44-year-olds. And 70% of today’s high schoolers intend to start their own companies, according to a Gallup poll.

An upcoming wave of new workers in our society will never work for an established company if they can help it. To them, having a traditional job is one of the biggest career failures they can imagine.

Much of childhood today is spent, not in organized sports or organizations, but in ad hoc teams playing online games such as Half Life, or competing in robotics tournaments, or in constructing and decorating MySpace pages. Without knowing it, we have been training a whole generation of young entrepreneurs.

And who is going to dissuade them? Mom, who is a self-employed consultant working out of the spare bedroom? Or Dad, who is at Starbucks working on the spreadsheet of his new business plan?

In the past there have been trading states like Venice, commercial regions like the Hanseatic League, and even so-called nations of shopkeepers. But there has never been a nation in which the dominant paradigm is entrepreneurship. Not just self-employment or sole proprietorship, but serial company-building, entire careers built on perpetual change, independence and the endless pursuit of the next opportunity.

Without noticing it, we have once again discovered, and then raced off to settle, a new frontier. Not land, not innovation, but ourselves and a growing control over our own lives and careers.

So that’s a very powerful set of numbers and facts.

Meanwhile, on the very same day, I get an email for a webinar on how to manage Generation Y employees. Is this related? Different sides of the same coin? Big companies find them hard to manage, but they’re out starting their own little companies instead.

Maybe that’s just coincidence.

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