The New Entrepreneurship

A generation ago kids who aspired to be entrepreneurs were oddballs.

Few colleges had entrepreneurship programs or startup competitions, let alone majors in entrepreneurship. Although Inc. magazine, which began in 1979, was the first magazine to put Steve Jobs on its cover, at the end of the 1980s its articles were more likely to feature food companies, restaurants, clothing companies and hair care competitors than, say, tech companies in Boulder or taking university research to market—topics in last month’s issue.

Now starting a company is seen as a viable career option. A couple of years ago a poll by Gallup found 77% of middle and high school students aspired to be their own bosses and half intended to start their own businesses. Maybe as important, 91% said they were willing to risk failure.

What’s changed?

Surely the well-publicized successes of guys (and it’s almost always guys, demonstrating that this trend hasn’t made it to the mainstream yet) like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Larry and Sergei, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have helped legitimize entrepreneurship as a career path. Tech entrepreneurs who have built successful companies and made fortunes are obvious role models, especially since no major technology leaders have ever starred in a perp walk. Finance, law, politics, even manufacturing and retail can’t make that claim.

Universities, governments and NGOs have latched onto startups as the antidote for what ails economies all over the world. Accelerators like Techstars, 500 Startups and The Founder Institute have spread like Starbucks to dozens of countries on 6 continents.

Startup competitions like Stanford’s BASES E-Challenge and the MIT $100k have grown from curiosities to major events since starting over a decade ago.

Economics matter too: It’s cheaper now to start a tech company than ever and there’s more available funding for new ventures than any time since at least the 1990s.

More proof that it’s different? The number of undergraduates opting for an engineering major at Stanford has doubled in the past 5 years. It’s ok now to tell your parents you really don’t want to be a banker or a lawyer because you’re going to join a startup instead, or even start your own company.